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A Place of Mercy

Head Shops: Offering More Than Quirks and Kicks

By Joshua Scott Hotckin

Since I was a teenager, head shops have meant many things to me. They began their journey through my heart as places of curiosity, joy and excitement. Later they became places of employment, business and livelihood. They have been playgrounds of creativity, imagination and innovation. It would be nearly impossible to list all of the things that smoke shops have meant to me, but the most recent is one I would never have expected—a place of mercy.

When I was eight years old, I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. I can still recall laying there as the bubblegum-flavored fluoride treatment did its work in my gaping maw. At the end of the cleaning, the dentist called my mother into the room and made a proposition. There was a new, experimental type of braces that he believed would correct some spacing issues, and if we agreed, he could provide the equipment and labor free of charge. Shortly thereafter I was fitted with a few pieces of metal and promised a brighter future smile. But then things did not go as planned.

A few months later, my father passed away and many life changes followed. We moved from central Iowa to western Colorado to stay with family while we sought comfort and balance in our lives. This began a years-long journey of regular relocations. During this time, the dental gear I had in my mouth began to dysfunction. However, because of its experimental nature other dentists were not comfortable dealing with it, and so it took a few years before I was able to return to my original dentist and get the situation taken care of. Yet in the meantime much damage had been done, and I had developed a negative view of dentistry and unhealthy dental practices as a result.

These problems plague me to this day. Over the past few decades I have had multiple teeth break, some of which were pulled, and others still awaiting treatment in a long-term plan I have finally begun to develop. There have been times when I was in so much pain that it became unbearable, and left me little choice but to self-medicate with whatever was at my disposal, which was often alcohol. That route does provide a temporary relief from agony I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies, but it comes at the cost of new or exacerbated problems. Poor choices are easy to make when you lose the ability to eat, sleep or even exist comfortably for prolonged periods, and boy, I have made some poor choices along the way.

A few months ago, it became clear that the remaining teeth were going to start to crumble pretty quickly, but I was in a transition period without insurance and preparing to move. I had to prioritize other things in my life. Before I began the relocation, I went to a dentist to get an emergency extraction, and was treated so inhumanely by business-minded dentists that it triggered my distrust and disdain for that industry yet again, but after much pleading I was able to get the tooth removed. But before I could finish packing for my next move, two more teeth began singing their siren call of distress. Within a few weeks of having settled into a new home, I began seeking help for these issues only to be greeted with more disheartening responses from the dental profession.

While I was failed completely by our medical system, sentenced to suffer the consequences for its own sins, the head shop became the light at the end of my tunnel.

I woke up one Friday morning in extreme pain, with which I was familiar enough with at this point to know how it would play out. I contacted a local low-income dental option, but they said the best they could do was to make me an appointment for a consultation in six months. In the meantime, they said, if I began to experience swelling I could make an emergency appointment. By Sunday the swelling had begun, but I had to wait until Monday before they would see me. Desperate, I went to urgent care to get some help with the infection and pain. I was prescribed an antibiotic and told I could take Ibuprofen for the pain, even though I explained it had long stopped being effective and was doing a harsh number on my stomach. They did not seem to care, and I was sent on my way to deal with it.

Here is what happened. I was too honest about being a medical marijuana user and having had some alcohol issues in the past. This raised some red flags, and they saw me, as they are trained to, as a risk for addiction to pain meds. Having played a major part in the opiate crisis of the past decade, the medical establishment has become overly cautious about prescribing painkillers. And while I can understand that, I was in extreme agony. It was unthinkably inhumane, from my perspective, to let me suffer simply because they had made some mistakes in the past. But that is what it came down to. By that evening, I was in so much pain that I began contemplating my continued existence. Things got pretty dark. I knew that alcohol was not going to help, but I needed something to get me through the night—before I reached the point that I could no longer live with what was happening to me. That is when I remembered that kratom was a safe, legal option that might be able to mitigate my misery—and made a beeline to my nearest head shop.

Within an hour I was in a much better place. The pain had mostly subsided, and I was once again able to look forward to a life without it. The next day, I went to the clinic and got the emergency extractions, knowing they would also deny me any pain relief, which I didn’t even bother to ask for. A few tiny bottles of full spectrum kratom extract got me through that day, and the next, and the next, until I didn’t need it anymore and was able to carry on like a regular human being again, albeit one who had developed a toothless lisp and had a lot of soup to look forward to for many months before all the issues in my mouth could be resolved.

I can now say, without hyperbole or exaggeration, that a smoke shop saved my life. It provided crucial relief at a point in which I was almost unable to carry on. While I was failed completely by our medical system, sentenced to suffer the consequences for its own sins, the head shop became the light at the end of my tunnel.

“Self medication” often carries a negative connotation, but sometimes it is one’s only choice. So, to all you head shop owners out there braving the shifting sands of legislation and commerce to help people deal with the intricacies of life, I would like to say thank you. You are not just a business; you are a place of mercy, and the world is a better place because of you.

Editor’s Note: The personal experiences described in this article are unique to the individual and are not an endorsement or recommendation for the use of head shop products as substitutes for medical treatment. The products mentioned are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease.

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