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I Know I’m Dependent on Weed But I Don’t Want to Quit

At my fifth grade graduation from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, I stepped to the podium sporting a blue button-up shirt, braces, and uneven bangs, and played the flute. I can’t remember exactly how D.A.R.E. had molded me into an eleven-year old who believed that doing drugs was a crime and a sin, but it had succeeded. Some weeks later, I caught my teenage sisters smoking weed behind our back porch during a dinner party. In a brainwashed fervor, I cried and screamed at them, “Well I hope you know you’re going to hell!”

At fourteen I took my first hit, lay back, and said, “This is heaven.”

Weed is complicated for me. It has been an escape, a ritual, and a medicine. And it has been a trap, a habit, and a source of pain. I’ve gone from glass bowls and bongs to grape Swisher Sweet blunts to spliffs in RAW papers. I smoke with friends and by myself, while I’m making music and while I’m watching TV. I smoke when I am sad and when I am overjoyed. I smoke a lot. I know I’m too dependent on weed, but I don’t want to quit.

Quitting means giving it all up, including the times when weed is a conduit for connection and creativity, an extra eye for the subtly sweet things, like Riis beach at sunset, sitting on the boardwalk, dusty turquoise benches and lavender sky, with all my favorite people, passing a joint between us. Or stuffed with homemade pasta at my parents’ house in the winter with a fire in the living room, when I step onto the back porch and smoke a spliff. Springtime on a stoop in Brooklyn, my friend and I burning one with some beats on, her freestyling like a fool and me laughing hard.

But most of the times I smoke are not necessarily special. It’s pretty easy for me to find reasons to roll up.

If the morning feels bleak and I need a lift, I’ll smoke a little something. When the words won’t flow and a draft is due, I light one to get loose. Maybe it’s one of those days when my chest gets tight when I think about leaving the cocoon of my room to dive into the current of the city but I have to go to work, make money, be an adult. I roll up and relax, hoping that if inside I’m easy, nothing outside can rock me.

I’ve been smoking regularly for over half of my life and I’m not in denial about the toll it takes on my lungs, my wallet, my mental health. I know that I’m much more productive without it, that I’m too quick to curl up with it as a way to avoid others, my desires, and my fears.

So once or twice a year I go stone-cold sober for two or three months. Then I’ll re-engage, but with boundaries: Only smoke at night. No more than two joints. No smoking before the gym. No buying weed twice in one week. No cereal in the house, ever.

These rules will last for a time, but soon I’m back to smoking multiple times a day. Going sober is an attempt to eliminate the problem without fixing it: It doesn’t make me a stronger or more balanced person. It doesn’t give me more control over my behavior.

For the past two months I’ve been doing consistent crunches. Before, if I had to do any exercise that involved balancing on one leg, I would fall out of it within seconds. But after taking months to build the muscles of my core, I can finally hold the position. I can hold myself up.

So what’s the crunch for my mind or my heart, to strengthen that core, so I can indulge sometimes, party and get trippy, eat my heart out, drink and sweat and spend, and still be able to return to my baseline? I want my vices to be vacations, wonderful and wild, but then I want to come back to balance. I don’t want to need weed. I also don’t want to need complete sobriety. I want a stronger core.

Quitting weed is something I think about a lot but I'm not a moderate person, and I have no desire to be. Maybe I can still achieve moderation.

Trying to Give up Smoking Weed? Start Here

Many assume cannabis is pretty much harmless. Maybe you occasionally get some weird side effects, like paranoia or cotton mouth, but for the most part it calms you down and improves your mood.

Nothing wrong with that, right?

While past research does suggest that cannabis may be both less addictive and less harmful than other substances, addiction and dependency can still happen.

Some people also experience unwanted effects, from physical symptoms to hallucinations to strained relationships.

If you’re looking to cut out cannabis — for whatever reason — we’ve got you covered.

Deciding you want to change your patterns of cannabis use is a good first step. Increasing self-awareness around the reasons why you want to stop smoking can help increase your chances of success.

“Our ‘why’ is an important piece because it provides information that anchors us,” says Kim Egel, a therapist in Cardiff, California. “Clarity on why we want to change can validate our decision to break habits and motivate us to seek out new coping methods.”

In short, your reasons for quitting can help strengthen your resolve to stop smoking and outline goals for success.

Maybe you started using it to relax or manage anxiety. Perhaps it helps you deal with chronic pain or sleeplessness. But over time, the downsides may have started to outnumber the benefits.

People often consider cutting back when they notice cannabis affects their quality of life, often by:

  • becoming a go-to method for managing emotional distress
  • causing relationship problems
  • affecting mood, memory, or concentration
  • reducing interest in hobbies
  • becoming something to do instead of a solution to a specific symptom
  • decreasing energy for self-care

There’s no perfect way to quit smoking cannabis. What works for someone else may not help you much, so it’s often necessary to go through some trial and error before you land on the best approach.

Considering pros and cons of different methods can help.

Maybe you want to do it quick, like ripping off a bandage. In that case, you might decide to try packing up your cannabis and going “cold turkey.”

If you’re concerned about withdrawal symptoms or think you’ll need some support to quit, you might decide to talk to a substance use counselor or call an addiction helpline for a few pointers.

If cannabis helps you manage physical or mental health symptoms, you’ll want to try smoking less without quitting entirely or cut back gradually. Professional support can help here, too.

Feel like you’re ready to stop using cannabis immediately? Here are some general steps to consider:

Get rid of your gear

Holding onto a stash of weed and smoking paraphernalia can make it tougher to succeed with quitting. By throwing it out or passing it on, you prevent ready access, which can help you avoid slip ups during the withdrawal period.

Make a plan to deal with triggers

Triggers can have a powerful impact. Even after you decide to stop smoking, specific cues you associate with using it may lead to cravings.

These triggers could include:

  • trouble sleeping
  • work stress
  • seeing friends you used to smoke with
  • watching the TV shows you used to watch while high

Try coming up with a list of go-to activities you can turn to when these triggers come up, such as:

  • taking melatonin or a warm bath to help you sleep
  • restarting your favorite comedy TV series to decrease stress
  • calling a trusted friend who supports your decision

Vary your routine

If your cannabis use often happened at routine times, changing your behaviors slightly can help you avoid using it.

If you have a habit of smoking first thing in the morning, try:

If you tend to smoke before bed, try:

  • reading
  • journaling
  • enjoying a relaxing beverage, like tea or hot chocolate

Keep in mind that changing up routines can be hard, and it usually doesn’t happen over night.

Try experimenting with a few options, and don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble sticking to your new routine right away.

Pick up a new hobby

If smoking is something you tend to do when you’re bored, some new hobbies may help.

Consider revisiting old favorites, like building models or crafting. If old hobbies don’t interest you any longer, try something new, like rock climbing, paddleboarding, or learning a new language.

What matters most is finding something you truly enjoy, since that makes it more likely you’ll want to keep doing it.

Enlist support from loved ones

Friends and family who know you don’t want to keep smoking can offer support by:

  • helping you think of hobbies and distractions
  • practicing coping methods, like physical activity or meditation, with you
  • encouraging you when withdrawals and cravings get tough

Even knowing that other people support your decision can help you feel more motivated and capable of success.

Get help for withdrawal symptoms if needed

Not everyone experiences cannabis withdrawal symptoms, but for those who do, they can be pretty uncomfortable.

Common symptoms include:

  • trouble sleeping
  • anxiety
  • irritability and other mood changes
  • headaches
  • fever, chills, and sweats
  • low appetite

Withdrawal symptoms generally begin a day or so after you quit and clear up within about 2 weeks.

A healthcare provider can help you manage severe symptoms, but most people can handle symptoms on their own by:

  • drinking less caffeine to improve sleep
  • using deep breathing and other relaxation methods to address anxiety
  • drinking plenty of water

If you use a lot of cannabis and smoke regularly, quitting abruptly might be difficult. Slowly reducing use over time may help you have more success and can also help decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Here are some pointers to get you started:

Choose a quit date

Giving yourself a deadline of a few weeks or a month can help you design a realistic plan for quitting.

Just keep in mind that picking a date too far in the future can make it seem far enough away that you lose motivation early on.

Plan how you’ll taper off

Do you want to decrease weed use by a specific amount each week? Use less each day? Use as little as possible until you go through your current supply?

Some dispensaries now offer lower-potency strains or products that contain lower THC content. Switching to a weaker product that produces fewer psychoactive effects may also be helpful to cutting back.

Keep yourself busy

By getting involved with new activities as you cut back, you’ll have an easier time continuing with these established patterns once you’re no longer using cannabis at all.

Staying busy can also help distract you from withdrawal symptoms.

“Therapy can be a great option when you want to develop new habits and ways of coping,” Egel says.

She explains it’s common to turn to substance use to cope with or avoid difficult feelings.

A therapist can help you explore any underlying issues contributing to your cannabis use and offer support as you take the first steps toward confronting dark emotions. They can also help you address any issues in your life or relationships that might be a result of your cannabis use.

Any kind of therapy can have benefit, but the following three approaches might be particularly helpful.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Most therapists have training in CBT. This treatment approach helps you learn to identify unwanted or distressing thoughts and emotions and develop productive skills to address and manage them.

For example, if you use cannabis when stressed, you’ve probably learned (both consciously and subconsciously) that it helps reduce stress and calm you down.

CBT can teach you to recognize signs of stress, challenge your desire to smoke cannabis, and replace the habit with a more helpful one — like seeking support from a friend or working through the problem that’s upsetting you.

Contingency management

This approach reinforces quitting behaviors. In other words, it rewards you for not smoking.

Someone participating in a contingency management treatment plan might, for example, receive vouchers for restaurant gift cards, movie tickets, or an entry for a prize drawing with each negative test result.

Motivational enhancement therapy (MET)

MET involves examining your reasons for giving up cannabis. Instead of trying to address any underlying issues that factor into your use of weed, your therapist will help you explore and prioritize goals associated with your use, usually by asking open-ended questions.

This treatment can serve as a first step to any therapy approach for substance use. It can be especially helpful if you know you want to quit smoking but aren’t quite sure why.

If you're ready to stop smoking weed, we've got tips and tricks to help you navigate the process, regardless of your reasons. ]]>