I used to vape a lot, every day.

Most days there would be periods where I would just haul on it steadily, every minute or so, for hours at a time. I loved it. The clarity, the headrush, the relaxation, the taste, and even the look of breathing huge clouds just felt so satisfying!

Photo Credit: Phi Vernon of Thirdeyearts

Initially, I had a sacred and respectful relationship with tobacco. I would have just a little bit when I was writing. Or sometimes with dear friends in celebration of life! Sometimes in ceremony in the form of mapacho. All raw and organic, every time I smoked tobacco it was a prayer. I had a deep respect for this plant.

When I moved back home to Ontario, I knew I needed to stop smoking tobacco because I was moving in with my parents. They have a strong stigma against smoking and understandably so as they watched their loved ones destroyed by cigarette addiction. My paternal grandfather and my mom’s best friend both died due to complications related to cigarettes, for example. I was brought up in a smoke-free home and the anti-cigarette paradigm was powerful (and thank goodness because it was that paradigm that kept me from cigarettes throughout my teenage years and into my early twenties, not counting spliffs in Australia.)

It wasn’t until I was about 25 years old that I started with tobacco and by that point, I had grown the capacity for respecting the plant, as well as understanding the difference between cigarettes, tobacco, and nicotine (related but qualitatively different). So when I moved back home from Alberta to Ontario at 28, to settle and recover the costs of moving cross-country at my parent’s house, tobacco needed to go. I knew they would not undersatnd that my relationship with tobacco was sacred and that I had control of it, that it was different than what they have known. I knew that they would only see me with eyes having witnessed lives ruined by cigarettes, and it would break their hearts (especially given that both of them had to face multiple health crises regarding my lungs as a child as I was hospitalized for asthma several times, and I even had the croup at one point). I didn’t want that to happen, not when I am back home for the first time in nearly a decade. (maybe I was ashamed of their reasonable disappointment in me as well).

Baby James, before the hospitalizations for asthma.

I started with nicotine lozenges at first, while writing. Over time I switched over to vaping because the act of vaping had a nice feel to it, it had much less stigma in the eyes of my parents, and I could do it inside. Little did I know, however, that I was also in the early phases of post-traumatic stress disorder at that time and the stress of that condition. Mixed with the alienation from my established community in Alberta, and the significant challenges of living with my parents, I was vaping more and more as I tried to compensate for the stress and stay (maladaptively hyper)focused on my work. All of this mixed with a lack of reverence for vapour (compared to the tobacco plant) and increased symptoms of ADHD due to stress (and a head injury in the winter of 2014/2015) and I was, very quickly, vaping all the time.

I jumped onto the vaping trend and started to nerd out about the technology, too, upgrading my rig to get better flavours and bigger clouds. It wasn’t long before vaping became part of my identity.

I stopped a couple of times, having recognised it wasn’t good for me. The first time was in the summer of 2016. I was leaving to do some speaking in Australia, then some holiday in Thailand, and another speaking tour in Europe. I decided I was going to leave the vape behind, knowing that the switch to vapour had broken the sacredness that once appropriately situated my use in a revering context. I figured I’d leave the vape and bring some tobacco. I figured by switching back to tobacco I could drop back into sacredness and reduce my use. But, I just ended up smoking multiple times a day, especially when bored. Three times in Australia I had moments where I just simply couldn’t breathe. Be it the smoke, or the air quality, or the heat, or some combination of it, I don’t know. But I knew the smoking thing was not gonna work for me. Synchronistically, I had my second ever kambo experience at this time and asked to let go of whatever it was that was holding me back. Turns out it was the nicotine.

Post-Kambo, Australia 2016. See my Kambo vlogs here.

There was an empowerment to resist the desire to smoke during the days following that kambo journey. It was as though, before the kambo, the voice that said SMOKE was loud and the one saying oh, I… I don’t think it’s a good idea, was meek and powerless. After the Kambo, the smoke-voice was the same but the voice that said no did so with confidence and power. I didn’t smoke or vape or take in any nicotine for three months (note even while travelling through Thailand!). But eventually, I was tired and worn out, having arrived in Belgrade Serbia after a long transit, and some spliffs (cannabis + tobacco) were being passed around. I just said fuck it cause I wanted that sweet cannabis relaxation in my bones. Spliffs became commonplace for the rest of my trip and eventually rolled cigarettes as well (tobacco is cheap AF in Berlin, in case you didn’t know).

Arriving home from that long trip, back to my parent’s house, I happily let go of the tobacco to get back to my trusted vape rigs sitting in a drawer in my office desk. The vape was on again.

I later quit once more, in the spring of 2018. I had already been really feeling the consequences of my vaping. It was catching up with me more and more. My lung capacity was clearly reduced (I couldn’t dance for more than a couple minutes at a time without getting lethargic, my sexual fitness similarly affected). And my workflow, the very reason I started vaping, was actually being harmed by it because I would overload on nicotine and get spacey and unfocused, only to vape more to ease the distress.

Furthermore, there was a pain in my lungs now and then, one that concerned me. All of this came into consideration and mixed with the deep learning that I underwent in May during four days with Stephen Jenkinson at his farm in Golden Lake, Ontario. The irresponsible disrespect of my capacity to be healthily alive that I was embodying with my vaping came full centre and I decided to let it go. I was abstinent for about a week, at which point I went back to vaping. I had become so overloaded with work stress as I prepared to leave for my 2018 speaking tour, my ADHD symptoms so dramatic, that I went back to vaping, heavily. 

Fast forward through a heavily vapoured summer, and I am now two months without nicotine after a recent psychedelic revelation that shifted something deep inside me, which is where the video below begins.

It also explores:

  • How I felt two weeks into withdrawal (spoiler: I was a wreck).
  • The psychedelic trip that shifted things for me.
  • What quitting was like for me (withdrawal).
  • Vaping and Biological Rudeness.
  • Psilocybin and smoking cessation.
  • How I feel now after two months without it.

I am a bit nervous to share this video, honestly.

I think the biggest thing is the sense that maybe it is too soon to make a video about quitting nicotine. At two months, I may just go back to it at any time. The sense of shame and guilt that surrounds that potential return comes as a sense of failure for me, one I’d rather not publicly undergo. (perhaps this will help me stay away from it through fear of pain!)

Furthermore, I also feel a bit embarrassed talking about how intense the nicotine addiction was for me given that I never heavily smoked cigarettes, and my vapour was always at a 3mg or less. Perhaps this is the machismo conditioning of my boyhood in public school coming in to say that I couldn’t be strong (a man) because I didn’t push hard enough, or something.

Finally, I am also concerned about something, that people will miss undersatnd where I am coming from and think that I am against vaping or have some kind of stigma against it. I am not and do not. I have no particular issues with vaping, generally. In fact, I think it’s a great thing to switch to if you are a smoker, is likely reasonably inconsequential health-wise for most people (especially compared to smoking), smells better in public spaces, and is, I think, still pretty cool looking! (I love watching vape trick videos). This video is really about me and my problematic relations with vaping, not vaping itself.

Anyways, I hope you find something valuable in all this.

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  1. I really enjoyed this video story and I’m glad to see that you’re long down the path of being free of nicotine addiction.

    I smoked cigarettes for 20 years, from the age of 14 to 34 and by the time I decided to quite for good I was putting tobacco into my body thru just about every orifice possible. My final push to rid myself of tobacco for good was visualizing my future if I continued to smoke, and it was a dismal vision. I quit cold-turkey and haven’t smoked or taken nicotine for 30 years now.

    I think the new age of vaping , which did not exist when I was smoking, actually makes it harder for people to quit. With vaping there can be the rationale that vaping is less harmful and there is all the associated flavor pleasures that come along with vaping addiction. And, as you experienced, vaping can still lead back to a cigarette habit.

    Nicotine addiction is very powerful and physical and it is not healthy for anyone. It is a vasoconstrictor, increases your heart rate and blood pressure. You ponder that in the future you might somehow use tobacco in a purely ritualistic fashion, but this, in my opinion, is your lingering addiction speaking to you. It takes months, if not years, for nicotine addiction to be entirely cleansed from your being.

    Best of luck to you!

    • Your last comment hits home, for sure. I certainly wonder about the root behind that lingering desire. Honestly, I think (and this might be the addiction talking) that nicotine and tobacco can be used in a safe and responsible way that does not lead to addiction. I don’t think there is anything wrong, in principle, with enjoying a substance periodically even if there are some negative health consequences. It is the capacity for nicotine to infiltrate my entire life that I am concerned about and wonder if I could ever have one without the other. We shall see, I guess. Thanks for the well-earned wisdom.

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