If you think you smoke too much weed but you can’t get yourself to stop, you’re not alone.
Statistics show that millions of people around the world struggle to control their marijuana use. In the United States alone, roughly 4 million people have a marijuana use disorder. Thousands seek treatment every month.
Yet marijuana addiction remains poorly understood. Much of the advice out there about how to quit smoking weed is lacking real insight into the unique trap that is marijuana addiction.
If you’ve been thinking you should stop smoking weed then you probably know what I’m talking about.
It took me years to realize that trying to quit using sheer willpower is useless. Nor does it help to remind yourself of all the logical reasons you’re quitting: I’ll save so much money; My partner will be happy with me; I’ll smell better.
[Editor’s Note: The advice in this program really helped me.]
On a fundamental level, quitting cannabis for good requires a new understanding of the drug and your relation to it.
Important Truths About Quitting Marijuana
There are some basic truths about giving up marijuana that you need to understand. A lot of people believe things about it that aren’t true, to their own detriment.
Trying to quit without a clear picture of what you’re up against will make the struggle much more uphill. You’ll be inclined to try strategies that just don’t get the job done, because you don’t see what’s really going on.
Physical Addiction Is Real
One of the biggest myths is that cannabis can only cause a psychological addiction.
I agree that it’s mostly psychological. But there is still a physical component, and it’s important that you recognize this.
Heavy marijuana users store up large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids in their fat cells. They also have a dramatically higher number of cannabinoid receptors in their nervous system compared to a non-user.
When you stop getting high, the THC and other stored cannabinoids begin to leave the body. This leaves more and more empty cannabinoid receptors, creating a variety of uncomfortable sensations in the body.
There is an actual, physical reason for this. Your body is actively removing THC, and your many cannabinoid receptors are waiting impatiently for their regular dose.
Relapse Is Common
The relapse rate with marijuana is quite high – comparable to other commonly abused drugs.
People who are thinking about quitting should keep this in mind for two reasons: 1) to make a plan for avoiding relapse, and 2) so they won’t beat themselves up if they do relapse.
One of the most common mistakes people make is giving up after they relapse the first time. Or rather, they let one bowl turn into two, and then one more the next morning, and so on. They may not consciously decide it, but they indeed give up after one small slip up.
The key is to not see relapse as a big deal. If you went five days without weed and smoked on the sixth, you still benefit from the work you did during those five days. You put a dent in your habit and you can easily pick the momentum back up if you choose.
In my opinion, the biggest reason people who want to stop smoking pot struggle is what I said at the beginning: they never really changed their opinion of weed. If you think marijuana has benefits for you, there’s a good chance you will find your way back to it.
Cannabis Creates The Problem
You smoke to feel better than you did before, right? For most chronic users that’s what it comes down to.
Sometimes we get high to go from a low mood to a more positive one, and sometimes we smoke to enhance an existing good feeling. In either case it’s about feeling better than before.
But feeling “better” is an illusion. What you’re really doing is easing the discomfort caused by cannabinoids leaving your body.
Why do you think heavy stoners consistently wake up unhappy? It’s because the cannabinoid levels in their body are depleted after hours of sleep.
That’s not to say that marijuana withdrawal isn’t real. Cannabis leaving your body is uncomfortable.
The problem is that we observe two things: 1) I feel uncomfortable, and 2) getting high made me feel less uncomfortable, and then conclude that marijuana is beneficial for me.
This is the wrong conclusion to make, and it keeps people hooked for years… decades… entire lifetimes.
Yes, some people never stop smoking weed. There is no guarantee that you will quit “someday” like you always tell yourself.
You Won’t Quit Without Your Own Help
Like I said, continuing to use pot your entire life is a real possibility. We’ve already seen how it can keep people trapped in an endless daily cycle. Unfortunately this cycle will often go on indefinitely.
One of the lies we tell ourselves is that “of course I’ll quit someday”.
Well, your habit has been awfully persistent up to this point, right? Perhaps a long time ago you would have assumed that you’d be over it. That it was just a phase.
For me it was at first just a fun thing I was going to try a few times in high school. Then I starting smoking regularly, but told myself I’d clean up my act once I graduated. Then when I got to college. Then when I got a job. But none of these things ever actually caused me to quit, and I was foolish to assume they would.
Us human beings cling tightly to our habits. And so a lot of stoners greatly overestimate their willingness to give up the drug in the future.
Quitting won’t happen on its own. It will take effort on your part.
I argue that your effort is best spent on challenging your beliefs about cannabis and its role in your life. Having a proper perspective will make the temporary physical withdrawal symptoms much easier to manage, and will set you up for permanent success.
Changing Your Beliefs About Marijuana
Simply put, if you see mary jane as a source of pleasure you will have a terrible time giving it up. You will crave it long after all the THC has left your body and your receptors return to normal.
This is what the psychological addiction looks like.
Once I had to quit weed for six months because I was going to be drug tested. (They kept telling me the test would be “any day now”, hence the six months.)
Let me tell you, I craved it every single day of those six months. This, despite the drug probably having left my body within the first few weeks. It’s because I missed the “benefits” I thought it gave me. It felt like there was a big hole in my life.
But later in life, when my beliefs changed and I finally saw pot for what it was, I was able to move on quite quickly.
You have to put your habit under the microscope and see what’s really going on. That seems to be the most effective way to beat the habit once and for all.
There are some common beliefs stoners have about weed that we will critically examine here.
The idea that weed makes you feel relaxed goes almost unquestioned today. Even critics will say that it makes you feel relaxed – just too relaxed.
Yet in my own experience (and knowing many other heavy stoners) the “relaxation” you experience is fleeting. It really isn’t relaxation at all, but rather a temporary relief from THC withdrawal.
If you look at it from a slightly larger time frame it isn’t so relaxing after all.
Consider that the acute effects of THC last about 15-20 minutes, and the entire high is usually 2-4 hours. Then you have the unpleasant experience of coming down. It always left me feeling tired and irritable.
And that’s assuming that the temporary high is relaxing, which is also questionable. Not only can it induce paranoia, but it can also make you ruminate about troubling things in your life.
There were times when I would be in a happy mood while sober but once I smoked I started dwelling on regrets, worries, my own flaws, other people’s flaws, my miserable job… you name it.
Weed might give you a short reprieve from your discomfort (caused by weed), but it’s far from my idea of relaxing.
Which part, exactly, is fun?
Is it dragging yourself to your dealer’s place or the pot shop? Torturing your lungs with smoke? Feeling disoriented and drowsy?
Usually the answer is something that has nothing to do with weed. I like to smoke and laugh with my friends, or I like to get high and listen to music, or eat food or explore nature or hang out with my cat… so on and so forth.
Of course, none of those things have anything to do with marijuana.
You enjoy being with your friends. You enjoy music. Food. Nature. Whatever. It’s not like the drug is making you enjoy them when you otherwise wouldn’t. Weed doesn’t actually “enhance” these things the way we think it does.
I’m ashamed to admit that I used to think smoking pot somehow gave me a cooler persona. Like I was rebellious or something.
Looking back, I probably just seemed sad. Like a guy who couldn’t get his act together.
I can promise you that weed is neither cool, nor unique, nor edgy.
It’s not unique. I see large crowds all the time at the recreational shops where I live. In fact a surprisingly large percentage of the general population at least dabbles in marijuana.
In our culture of instant gratification, the people who are unique are the ones who can put off empty short-term “pleasures” like drugs or other vices in order to create something meaningful over the long term.
These are the people society looks up to: creators and leaders. Sure, there are some well-respected stoners, but we respect them for their contributions and not their drug use.
“It Makes Good Times Even Better”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
It just makes good times hazier and it gives you less energy to enjoy them. Or sometimes it just makes good times worse.
I had that experience over and over again. I’d be relaxed and feeling good while sober, but by the time I finished my joint I was miserable. Angry, in fact.
No. It just makes you feel strung out, wishing you could go back to enjoying things without weed. But really, you’ll enjoy everything much more without it!
“It Inspires Creativity”
This is another belief that somehow persists despite a total lack of evidence that it’s true.
Perhaps it’s all the famous artists who were huge stoners. Or maybe it’s because people who are high often think ordinary thoughts are profound.
But I fail to see how it actually makes you creative. There are tons of proven ways to cultivate creativity but cannabis isn’t one of them.
“It Makes You More Introspective”
A lot of us sensitive introvert types are drawn to weed because we think it helps us further our own understanding of ourselves. That somehow we see our life from new angles and perspectives when we are high.
To me, getting high is the opposite of getting to know yourself. You only get to know the stoned, slow-witted version of yourself. But that’s not the real you.
Where Does This Leave You?
You may have noticed that I haven’t written much about the typical reasons people give for quitting, like saving money or improving your health. That’s because you already know about those things.
Most of us continue to smoke despite these consequences because of our unquestioned beliefs about the benefits of marijuana.
However, you now hopefully see it doesn’t have so many benefits after all. Just a lot of downside.
If you’re not convinced then I suggest you look closely at your own experiences. Think about the times you got high recently. What was it really like for you? If you get high tonight, pay careful attention to everything you feel. You might find that it’s not so great after all.
Preparing To Quit
Once you’ve concluded that cannabis is doing nothing for you whatsoever, all that’s left is quitting.
It’s not necessary to make lots of preparations. If your beliefs about marijuana are properly adjusted then you can handle whatever comes next.
Just acknowledge that you will feel uncomfortable for a few days. But this is something to celebrate, actually, because it means that the drug is leaving your body for good.
You don’t need to make a big fuss about quitting. If you were drinking formaldehyde and someone told you it’s poisonous, you would just put it down and never touch it again. No emotional goodbyes or anything like that.
It can be the same thing with pot. If you see that it’s 100% downside with zero benefits… and that there are major benefits to stopping… you can just leave it be and move on with your life.
Quitting Cold Turkey
Most of the people I know who quit successfully did it cold turkey. That is, they stopped smoking weed and never looked back.
The alternative is to gradually cut back your usage until you are completely weed-free. In theory this seems fine if the ultimate outcome is the same. But in practice this is a very difficult way to go.
People who have a problem with cannabis can’t just go from smoking twice a day to once a day, to every other day, and so on. The very nature of the problem is that you smoke more than you wish you did. If you can control your use like that then you might have such a problem.
Plus, quitting weed cold turkey means that on some level you still see it as an enjoyable thing that you’re giving up. As I said earlier, if you feel like you’re depriving yourself of weed – rather than freeing yourself from it – you will have a harder time quitting. Ideally you will want to give it up all at once because you realize you don’t really benefit from it.
There are, of course, side effects of quitting weed cold turkey. They are the usual withdrawal symptoms that I will describe coming up. But keep this in mind: there are side effects either way. Tapering off your usage will still cause side effects – and the process will last much longer.
The prospect of the tense muscles and sleepless nights keep many people from attempting to quit.
There are common physical symptoms of withdrawal that you may experience:
- Muscle tension
- Night sweats
- Vivid dreams
- Nausea and/or Lack of Appetite
- Emotional “flatlining”
None of these are too bad. And they won’t last. It will be a couple weeks until these symptoms are pretty much gone for good, with their peak around the end of the first week.
Remember: these withdrawal symptoms are just the result of cannabinoids leaving your body. Nothing else.
If you interpret them as signs that marijuana actually made your life better and you should go back to it then you’ll run into trouble. That’s when the intense cravings will hit.
People worry that stress will consume them after they quit. But stress is a fact of life.
You will experience stress. That’s true whether you quit or not.
Cannabis is a terribly ineffective way of coping with stress. It might help you tamp it down for a few minutes, but after that you just end up tired, moody, and less capable of actually handling your problems.
You don’t need to look for “alternative” ways to deal with stress, because smoking weed isn’t dealing with it at all. You simply need to find actual effective strategies for stress management.
Sleep disturbance is common for the first few days after cessation. Lots of people have problems falling asleep, and some report muscle tension and restless legs at night.
There is no special trick to dealing with these sleep problems. All of the general advice about insomnia applies here.
Make sure you’re eating enough. You won’t have the same appetite for a few days, so it’s easy to get low blood sugar without even realizing. That can make you feel anxious and depressed and keep you from getting a good night’s sleep.
If you are overheating at night, get a fan or a cooling mattress topper.
And if all else fails and you lose some sleep, just remember that you still probably have as much energy as when you were stoned all the time. When I was a heavy smoker I used to feel like I was going on four hours of sleep even after a full night’s rest.
After The Withdrawal Phase
You will face a different challenge as time goes by: remembering why you quit in the first place.
It might be a few weeks or a few months in the future, but there will likely be a time when you think it would be okay to light up just this one time.
This doesn’t make sense, if you think about it. Why partake in something that has absolutely no benefit to you?
A great way to maintain your new healthy lifestyle is to become completely engrossed in something exciting. Finding a new goal or purpose that you desire will give you even more reason not to limit your abilities with cannabis.
If you relapse at any point, do not panic.
Remember, you are still quitting. You had a minor slip but it does not have to weaken your resolve.
In fact your relapse might just give you more evidence that you don’t actually like the drug anymore. You might be surprised by how little your experience of getting high matched your inflated expectation.
After your relapse there is a short window of time when it’s easy to get back on track. The more smoke sessions you have after your initial relapse, the harder it will be to get back. And at some point you will be right back where you started.
Your New Life
You are at an exciting moment in your life. Pretty soon you will be free from something that has kept you stuck and unhappy for too long.
The sky is truly the limit after you lift the heavy burden of addiction. You’ve thought about it long enough. Time to get moving!B