This week, I write about…drugs.

Yes, drugs. Because to an extent, I’m a virgin to the topic. I’ve never taken drugs. I’ve never even smoked weed before, as odd as that sounds considering I’ve spent a good part of the past 20-odd years writing about rock bands and rock music and rock shows where no doubt handfuls of pills and bails of cheeba have been consumed somewhere below my sullen gaze. 

There was a time in American politics where an admission such as the one above would make the admitter a prime candidate for political office. But these days, lack of “consumption” immediately raises suspicions: Either the person is lying or the person is so out of touch with modern culture that s/he cannot be trusted. After all, didn’t Obama admit he imbibed in his youth?

My excuse for not partaking has nothing to do with any sort of self-righteousness. I simply couldn’t stomach the thought of my parents knowing I smoked dope or took drugs. As a child, I was never disciplined in the Adrian Peterson school of the switch. Instead, the most stern and effective punishment was simply… a look of disappointment from my father. 

Fear of disappointing him was enough to keep me out of any smoke-filled vans. Even after I got older and realized some of his disapproving looks were unfounded (Dad always thought buying records was a waste of money), I still did what I could to avoid them. The thought of being walked up to the front door of our house accompanied by a cop with strobe lights blazing in the background for every neighbor to see — and my dad’s reaction — well, that embarrassment was too much to bear.

I’ve been told by musicians that my lack of drug experiences has tainted my music criticism, that some music (certainly heavy rock music) was created to be consumed under the influence of hallucinogens. And that most certainly the musicians making that music were stoned out of their gourds when they recorded it. I have no doubt that’s true. 

My take on other people’s drug use: I could care less if someone smokes weed or partakes in things heavier. What they put in their bodies is their decision, it’s their lives. Sure, I’m concerned about their health, but we all make choices we know may come back to haunt us. I’ve met drug addicts. But most people I know who smoke dope handle it just fine. Only a few have let dope consume their lives, have let the drug get in the way of getting things done. Not surprisingly, its those same habitual dopers who complain the loudest about their art or music not getting the respect it deserves, never admitting they’ve wasted countless afternoons getting high instead of refining their craft.

What brought me to this topic was reading another in a series of articles where an ’80s pop singer emerged from years of drug addiction, seemingly unscathed. Throughout the story, the guy went into great detail about all the heroin and other drugs he’d gobbled up for the past 20 years. We’ve all heard similar stories of people who mainlined cocaine or lost their 20s and 30s (or 40s) tripping on LSD and somehow emerged from the rabbit hole with perfect hair. A few look back on those lost drug years with regret, but just as many nod with a wry, knowing smile (and a few say they’d do it all over again). 

Meanwhile, here I am, struggling to find a simple blood pressure medication that doesn’t turn me into a zombie. The background: I’ve worked out in a gym at least three times a week since I was 15. Four years ago I also began running three to four miles every other day. I try to eat well. I avoid processed and “fast food.” I literally eat an apple a day, along with a cup of carrots. 

Despite that, my blood pressure has slowly crept up over the past decade and is now at a point where my doctor said I need to start taking daily medication. There’s nothing else I can do. I can’t exercise more. I can’t lose more weight. I can’t eat better. Sometimes high blood pressure is genetic. 

So my doc put me on a drug called hydrochlorothiazide, a mild diuretic. Within a week of taking it, I began feeling jumpy. The floor swayed if I stood up too fast. Within two weeks I was having a hard time sleeping. My heart pounded in my chest like a freight train. I couldn’t concentrate at work. It felt as if I’d drunk a dozen espressos. During dinner one night Teresa noticed my fingers were trembling.

Always the hypochondriac, I looked up the symptoms on the internet (the wrong thing to do) and began wondering if my thyroid was acting up. Maybe I’ve got cancer. Or maybe it was the drug. My doctor told me to stop taking it. It hadn’t lowered my blood pressure, anyway. And within a week, the symptoms were gone. My mind… cleared. 

But my blood pressure remained the same. 

I know I have no reason to complain. There are people who would trade their medical problems for my high blood pressure in a hot second. There are people out there fighting cancer. There are people who are having a hard time simply getting out of bed in the morning. 

And yet, this week I begin a new drug regimen for my blood pressure, and I’m scared. There’s nothing I can do about it. Modern medicine has made drugs unavoidable. For some, drugs provide pleasure, for others drugs are for survival, and for some like me, they stem off the fear of what could happen without them. 

Down the hatch. 

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

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