Trail Blazers is a series of portraits by photographer Maria Levitov spotlighting cannabis consumers from all walks of life.
One young man struggling with alcoholism and a variety of mental pains believes that the plant is key to overcoming his demons and health issues, yet his family hasn't been as embracing. As Michael Cavin continues to coax loved ones into accepting the cannabis use he feels is essential to a good quality of life, he's also realizing how much more of his story is left to be written.
"My name is Michael Cavin, and I'm a 21-year-old student, artist, hip-hop artist and saxophone player. I'm going to school for graphic design, and my focus is to work within the cannabis industry. The beginning of my long road to becoming the artist I am today starts with a Christian family made up of law enforcement and military people who don't condone the use of cannabis for recreational or medical use.
"As a naturally creative kid, I began drawing things that already existed to see if I could copy the detail on paper. I was inspired by Where the Wild Things Are, and in a matter of days, I created my own unique designs and typography to go with them. After that, I continued to create little sketches and drawings. But even before that, I remember creating intricate birthday cards for my family members as a young child. I knew I always had creativity in my blood, but my parents wanted me to follow in their footsteps and become a great football player and police officer, which wasn't me.
"When I got to high school, my parents fought me about everything, and I was extremely angry at them all the time. I thought of my home as a work-release center for jail, because I wouldn't be allowed to go out unless I told them every detail of what I was doing, and who I was hanging out with. This began the caged mentality, and that anger bubbled until I exploded my hatred on basically anyone around me. This initially began my interest in cannabis and how it could help me as a young adult with my anger issues and creative mind.
"Once I got out of my parents' house I felt free, but with that freedom began the start of adult responsibility —and the use of cannabis. This began The Art Institute of Colorado college adventure, and I felt so much better about life in general after being let out of my parents' grasp and onto the start of my use with cannabis. As always, I had my downfalls and the desperation of needing to find friends and socialize; I used cannabis to break the ice and made a great group of friends."
"Although I made plenty of friends, I was struggling with organizing my life and keeping up on cleaning. As time passed through college, very stressful events occurred, such as hearing and watching people die in a low-income neighborhood I lived in, being pistol-whipped by loaded gun, and getting my tire slashed. Those experiences in my life caused me to have post-traumatic stress disorder, high anxiety, major panic attacks, manic-depression disorder and paranoia. Those mental stressors started to affect my school work and my social life, and people started to realize I wasn't doing well. This is when I was really researching the medicinal side of cannabis and not just using it recreationally.
"My friends were great supporters in my life during the whole process and had my back no matter what. They smoked with me whenever they could or had cannabis on them. However, my parents and family blamed the alcoholism and the “cannabis addiction" I had acquired after the first PTSD event, and sent me to a hospital to get analyzed by a federal doctor, where I was then sent to a psych ward thinking it would help me. I was doing it voluntarily, but when I realized most of the people in that place actually needed help and I was just depressingly drinking due to self-blaming for other people's problems, I got out of that place as soon as I could. They then put me on a cocktail of prescription drugs that made me feel like a zombie and killed everything that made me who I am. This killed my creativity and even my will to live at some moments in those hard times."
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"After a few months, I took myself off of every pill they put me on. That was the beginning of this year, and I started using cannabis instead to help my diagnosed issues. This was heavily against what my direct family believes in, who kept shutting down the idea that cannabis had any medical purposes for my problems I am currently dealing with. Yesterday, I showed my family documentaries about medicinal uses of cannabis, and they actually started to be reasonable about it. They're giving me leeway, but still some tight restrictions on how much I use and when I use it around them. I don't believe they have the right to do that, but I have to be reasonable and keep loving them, because they're my family and have always had my back.
"I've experienced many high-stress situations, and still pulled through as an artist and cannabis user and never gave up on my dreams. That's why I want to complete my degree and make something of myself no matter what happens in life. My art, music and use of cannabis will be an expression of my soul and the hardships I've been through."