When Andy Davies smoked his first joint at the age of nine, cannabis became the catalyst for the rest of his life. He tells AASMA DAY his belief that cannabis has ruined his life.
At the age of nine, most young lads are kicking a football with their mates or hooked to the latest console game.
However, when Andy Davies was nine, he was experiencing his first drag from a joint of cannabis.
Andy, now 44 who lives at the Emmaus community in Ribbleton, Preston, grew up in Wales. He recalls: “Cannabis was rife in those days - everyone was doing it.
“When I was nine, everyone around me was smoking cannabis. There was nothing else to do in Wales.
“I had mates a few years older than who smoked it. I used to hang around with them and just wanted to be in with the crowd.
“I had already experienced smoking before that. I remember nicking my mum’s fags from the age of seven and had the odd cigarette.
“The first time I smoked cannabis, we were all sat by the river on a hot summer’s day. One of my mates pulled out a lump of weed and made a joint.
“After smoking it himself, he passed it around and I smoked it the same way I would have smoked a cigarette.
“I liked the way it made me feel. It wasn’t like being drunk. It was more a floaty feeling.
“The more cannabis I smoked, the more I floated.”
Andy confesses he partook in underage drinking too and used to go to the off licence during his school dinner time to buy cider.
Andy says: “Drugs and alcohol became part of my life from an early age.It was more to be in with the lads at school. You don’t want to be seen as a snob and want to be part of the crowd.
“Those using cannabis and drinking seemed to be having a lot more fun than everyone else.”
Andy paid for his cannabis and alcohol with money earned from his paper round and window-cleaning jobs.
He says: “I used to get my older brother to buy cider for me - and he’d get me cannabis too.
“After first trying cannabis at nine, I carried on smoking it whenever I could.
“I smoked it at least two or three times a week.
“I wasn’t addicted - it was my choice because I liked it.
“Little did I know when I took my first drag of cannabis that I’d end up smoking it for the next 30 odd years.
“I knew a lot about drugs from an early age because my brother Peter was a heroin addict.
“He was 10 years older and although he’d get me cannabis, he warned me off harder drugs because of how addicted he was. But I soon got bored of cannabis and began experimenting. I started trying things like amphetamines, LSD, temazepam and diazepam.
“Even though I saw what damage hard drugs were doing to my brother and other people, it didn’t stop me.”
Ruefully, Andy adds: “I thought I was just young and enjoying myself.”
The stark reality of how drugs could ruin lives hit Andy when he was just 14 and discovered his older brother dead.
His eyes filling with emotion at the bleak memory, he recalls: “I found my brother Peter dead at the age of 24 in his derelict flat.
“I hadn’t seen him for two weeks, so I went to his flat and let myself in. He was there dead in front of the fire. He’d died of a heroin overdose.”
Instead of terrifying Andy from using drugs, the tragedy had the opposite effect and led him to heroin.
Andy explains: “When I saw my brother dead, I wanted to go with him.
“He was my big brother and I had looked up to him.
“The first thing I did after discovering Peter’s body was go out and score a bag of heroin.
“It was the first time I did heroin.
“It made my pain go away immediately. That was the main attraction of heroin for me.
“Nobody sets out to become a drug addict. I just wanted the pain of losing my brother to disappear.
“After three days, I was addicted to heroin and hooked for the next 17 years.”
Andy describes his life subsequently as going on a downward spiral as his drug addiction meant his only goal was getting his next hit.
He says: “I stole to fund my drug habit and was in and out of prison for robbery and theft.
“There was usually a warrant out for my arrest for theft or for failing to appear in court or not paying my fines.
“I was homeless most of the time through not paying my rent. I would sleep on the streets, under bushes and anywhere I could get shelter. It was very frightening at times.
“Prison didn’t change me either. Drugs are rife in prison anyway. Everyone does a two week detox in prison. But even when I got clean in jail, I’d come out and go back to the drugs.”
Andy confesses he reached rock bottom twice and tried to kill himself. He says: “I attempted suicide twice - once at the age of 14 after my brother’s death and once at 23 when my mum died.
“I slashed my wrists the first time and tried overdosing with alcohol and pills the second. I was unsuccessful both times.”
Andy knew he needed to stop using drugs as his life was spiralling out of control.
He tried getting help from drug services but says they were few and far between in those days.
At the age of 31, he decided enough was enough. While in a bail hostel in Cheshire, he contacted drug services and told them he wanted help stopping heroin. Andy says: “There was a new drug called subutex which was a blocker for opiates and I was put on that and have been on it ever since.
“Basically, it means if I use heroin, it won’t work.
“I was initially put on 16mg of subutex and then went down to 8mg. Then I was stable for a long while. Now, I am on 4mg and within a couple of months, I am hoping to be totally off it.”
“I did try coming off subutex last year, but wasn’t given the right after-meds.
“I went cold turkey for nine days and on the 10th day, I felt I couldn’t handle it and went out and did some heroin for one day. It was the first time I’d scored heroin in 13 years.
“Now I’m back on subutex.
“Subutex has been like my comfort blanket for years as I know that even if I got the urge to do heroin, it wouldn’t work.
“But now I’m stable, I want to come off subutex as I don’t want to be on tablets for the rest of my life.”
Andy ended up in Preston two years ago after contacting his step-brother who lives in the city. At the time, Andy was homeless and his step-brother offered him his couch.
Andy says: “I lived with him for a couple of months, but it was causing problems for him. He had children who would stay over and I was a heavy drinker at the time.
“One of his friends told me about Emmaus and I went for an interview and have now been living here for two years.”
Emmaus provides a home to people who have been homeless or socially excluded.
Everyone who lives in the Emmaus community makes a contribution by working full time in their social enterprise business which is recycling furniture and household goods.
Andy says: “Since I’ve been at Emmaus, I’ve changed for the better in many ways. I don’t drink as much any more. I only drink about two cans a night now - and that’s not every night.
“When I was drinking at my heaviest, I drank two three litre bottles of cider and six to eight cans of strong lager a day. I would drink until I was comatose.
“But now, apart from that one time last year, I haven’t done drugs. I smoked cannabis quite often last year, but now I could take it or leave it.
“I am now happy and stable living at Emmaus and work 40 hours a week. I do the maintenance work at the house and shop and do woodwork, decorating and putting up curtain poles.
“It gives me a reason to get up in the mornings.”
Andy believes cannabis led to him ruining his life and disagrees with people who describe it as “harmless”. He believes it is a gateway drug.
He explains: “Cannabis itself is not the problem, but when people try it, they soon get bored and start experimenting with other drugs looking for a deeper thrill.
“It depends on your individual character and personality as to how far you go after trying cannabis.
“I have a very addictive personality and have abused most substances.
“When I was younger, I tried every drug including LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, crack cocaine, morphine and heroin.
“Whenever I saw someone having a better time than me, I always wanted to do whatever they were doing.
“If I could turn back time to being that nine-year-old kid, I wish I’d never taken that first drag of cannabis. “If you have an addictive personality, by taking cannabis, you are treading on thin ice and it’s a slippery slope.There are plenty of people who just smoke cannabis and leave it at that.
“But for some, it is a gateway drug to a more destructive life.
“I learnt that the hard way and wasted years of my life through my own stupid fault.
“But I’m determined to reclaim the rest of my life.”
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