I’m Sick of Pretending: I Don’t ‘Get’ Weed
Say the word “weed” and you might imagine a few friends giggling together on a couch, or maybe giggling while eating junk food. But that’s not actually what weed is like.
In my experience weed goes like this: I’ll be at a party, getting loose, getting in the mood, and I’ll smell a joint and think: if this is how good I feel now, imagine how good I’ll feel after some of that! And in that moment I succumb to the myth of weed. I imagine being surrounded by friends who alternate between nodding at my insights and laughing at my jokes: how random are dogs, like they just walk around all day—but where are they going? And in my imagination everyone is like whoa and then we eat burritos.
But that’s not reality. In reality I have a single puff of a joint and I’m immediately plunged into crisis. Suddenly I’m surrounded by people who can see with laser precision just how lame and pathetic I am and they take pleasure in watching me pretend otherwise. I take a sip of beer and feign nonchalance but I hear their recriminations: That was such a weird sip. Did you see that weird sip Julian just did? What the hell was that?!
And so, within about one minute of smoking a joint, I start to formulate an escape plan, only to realise that leaving the party will mean saying goodbye, which is impossible. There’s simply no way I can look people in the face and say “goodbye,” but I also know that if I leave without saying goodbye everyone will think I’m a spineless coward. So I’m trapped. There’s no way out, and I stay at the party for hours longer than necessary. I sit in the corner and avoid all eye contact. I avoid all conversation. I feel the same way a cat might feel stranded on a beach: frightened, desperate, very exposed.
Of course, this isn’t everyone’s experience of weed, but I think it’s an experience shared by many. For me and lots of others, smoking weed induces only paranoia, fatigue, and as I’ve observed in friends, mental illness. And yet weed holds such a lofty position in popular culture that it’s almost blasphemous to say “I hate weed.” But here I am, saying just that. I hate weed, and I’ll tell you why.
Let’s start with its coolness. Not a single advertising creative worked on weed throughout the 20th century and yet weed was somehow gifted with the kind of prestige for which companies like Nike or Red Bull would have paid millions. Not just that, but weed got endorsed by the most famous people on the planet. Imagine what it would have cost to get The Beatles to endorse a given product—let’s say, a certain brand of canned tuna—at the height of their fame in the 60s. Or what it would have taken to get Snoop Dog to champion a line of mattress toppers in the 90s. And yet these cultural titans threw all their weight behind weed, for free, and likely against the wishes of label management. And this celebrity-studded campaign was rolled out internationally, without financial backing or central planning, and maintained year after year until weed became semi-legal in the 2010s. It’s kind of a miracle really.
It was this coolness that suckered me in. By the age of 17 I was well-attuned to the soft rebelliousness of weed and keen to try it out. The first time I got stoned I laughed like stoners do in movies. Then I ate a large pile of pancakes coloured with green food dye and decided weed would be my vice. I always quite liked the idea of having a vice, and so I set about becoming a stoner. One time I got stoned and ate grilled cheese and thought it tasted like sunshine. Another time I stumbled upon 2001: A Space Odyssey on late night TV and decided to study film. But slowly, the good times drifted further apart, and tentacles of paranoia and discomfort wriggled in. And at that point I did the smart thing and persisted for another 10 years, at least.
By 21 I was smoking weed most days. Pipies, bongs, little covert joints at university. I wasn’t fussy, just so long as it enhanced reality and made everything slightly more stressful. I became the stoner guy among my friends. I tried growing hydroponic weed in the attic at my parents’ house, until my little brother noticed yellow light leaking around the light fittings in his ceiling and told my parents. I also smoked weed at work and at uni. But slowly, as the years rolled over, weed became less and less pleasurable in ways I refused to admit.
I think I clung to weed for its aura of artistic intellectualism. I never truly loved the feeling of being stoned, but I loved the idea of being stoned. Take a list of Nobel laureates, me and my stoner mates used to assure each other, and two thirds would probably have a little sneaky pipe in a bottom drawer somewhere in their office. I never fact-checked this, but I didn’t need to. I knew weed was a brain-enhancer. I knew weed amplified creative sensibilities and produced special insights. But most importantly, I knew that smoking weed identified me as a thinker, an artist, and a maverick who was unafraid of the law.
In reality, I was 27 and cleaning bathrooms at a backpacker’s hostel while living with my parents. And I’m not saying my lack of direction was all weed’s fault, but it didn’t help. And slowly, as my more focused friends started earning more and calling less, I started seeing holes in the myth.
I started to wonder if I was really a budding film director, as I’d assumed. And I started suspecting that getting stoned in the middle of the day and watching old movies with the curtains drawn wasn’t essential research. But I didn’t stop smoking weed, I just started to see myself as more and more of a loser.
I think that was the turning point, though. Loathing myself and my place in the world made getting stoned unpleasant, so I cut back. And then as I smoked less, the lethargy lifted, and I noticed some of my friends were getting interesting jobs. I noticed others were dating interesting people. Then I looked at myself and saw only squander. Life, I decided, was about doing things. Life was not about sitting around in dark rooms thinking that I could do things, if I wanted to.
I know I’m describing a fairly common experience of being 20-something and I can’t pin all my problems on weed, but I do believe it was a handicap. It brought down the bar too low. It made mediocrity feel like a form of protest. It made getting up early impossible. But worse, it made lowly humdrum wins feel momentous because I was just so stoned and easily overwhelmed all the time.
Long story short: I quit weed. I started putting in effort and showing up on time. And life got better.
Today I still know a lot of people who smoke weed and manage to be happy and successful. But I also know people who are not. I have this one friend I’ll call Ben. Him and I were very close and I liked Ben because he was funny. But slowly he became the kind of guy who couldn’t start the day without a cone, and he stopped being funny. Worse than that, Ben’s ability to hold a conversation went down the toilet and he just wanted to talk about the same boring shit all the time: how cops are dickheads, how corporations are evil, how all pharmaceuticals are evil, and how all illegal drugs are misunderstood elixirs with magical healing properties.
Ben doesn’t seem happy. But once, when I gently suggested he rein in his bong habit, he gave me all the same nonsense I used to espouse: weed is natural, weed is demonised by the government blah, blah, blah.
It’s true that weed is natural, but then so is asbestos. Being natural doesn’t mean shit. And I’d wager that on a long enough time scale, anyone with enough weed can discover their propensity for mental illness. There’s an increasing amount of data suggesting that’s true, and while this article isn’t the place for a dissection of the medical literature, I’d recommend this 2019 article by Malcolm Gladwell as a starting point.
The point of all this isn’t to say weed is evil. It’s not even inherently bad, but it can be, and it was for me. So if you ever find yourself wondering, do I actually, really enjoy this feeling?, take note. Don’t do it unless you love it. And if you do, maybe try a week without weed anyway, just to double check.
I enjoy parties these days and crowds no longer make me anxious. In fact, just the idea of getting stoned now makes me nervous. Remembering that feeling of being trapped inside my own head, I don’t miss it. Life is better without weed and I wish I’d realised that earlier. If I had, I might have skipped 15 years of wasted afternoons, terrifying parties, and a whole lot of wondering what people think of me as a twisted form of entertainment.
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After 15 years trying to like it, I'm ready to admit I hate it.
30 Days Without Weed
Much like alcohol before it, marijuana is becoming more accepted, more legal, and more accessible. And, while some medical institutions prescribe marijuana for pain relief or to encourage appetite (especially after undergoing radiation treatment), people who suffer from Marijuana Use Disorder should be cautious about such prescriptions should they arise. Much like opioid addicts who often need to refuse pain medication due to addiction, so too should frequent marijuana users be wary. This is not to say that marijuana is as dangerous as cocaine, alcohol, or even tobacco, but addiction is a disorder. When youвЂ™ve reached a point where your end goal to each day is to get high; when youвЂ™ve discontinued activities and social events if they prevent you from getting high or only to get high; when you find it difficult to get through the day without getting high, these are problems that need to be addressed.
One of the benefits of marijuana becoming more legal and wide-spread is the prevalence of research and studies on the drug. There has been a lot of misinformation about cannabis and addiction in the past, however now weвЂ™re starting to see the real issues that repeated (and heavy) marijuana use can cause, such as memory loss, disrupted sleep, inability to learn, lowered attention span, increased risk of lung cancer (in the case of smokers) and heightened anxiety. Many people with frequent and long-term marijuana use become dependent on the drug and may need help to recover.
With that in mind, hereвЂ™s what to expect with your first 30 days without weed.
Day 1: Cravings, Cravings, Cravings
For those addicted to marijuana, withdrawal symptoms can start as early as 24 hours since your last use. Most people report feeling intense cravings their first day without weed. They feel cloudy & lethargic, but the worst element is the cravings.
For some, the cravings are a result of being dependent on the drug; for others, it provided a comfort or escape from what they were feeling. In either case, formerly frequent users will notice how ingrained the drug was in their routine, which can make their day seem all the more alien without it.
Day 2: Anxiety & Poor Sleep
By day two, most people are struggling with sleep and some are facing anxiety.
Most people with Marijuana Use Disorder reportedly use some form of cannabis before sleep вЂ” wrongly thinking it helps. The reality is, marijuana can help relax the body before bed вЂ” helping you to fall asleep вЂ” but it inhibits deep, restful REM sleep. Those dependent on marijuana have difficulty falling to sleep on their own, but once sleep occurs, it will be much more restful (with a happy helping of vivid dreams).
Day 3: Peak Withdrawal Symptoms
Day 3 is the peak withdrawal symptoms with many frequent and heavy users experiencing severe sleep deprivation due to insomnia and increased irritability. The mental and physical distress of not having marijuana in their system can cause angry outbursts and heightened frustration.
While day 3 can be challenging, from this point, most side effects get better even if not all at once.
Day 4-5: Sweet Dreams
Although anxiety tends to increase during this time for many in recovery, sleep usually comes naturally and easily. WhatвЂ™s more, many report vivid dreams which, according to some, is due to a вЂњdream debtвЂќ thatвЂ™s been built up over a long period of time.
That said, although uncommon, some people with severe symptoms experience vivid nightmares. In many cases however, this can have more to do with emotional distress that has gone unchecked since the heavy pot use began.
Day 6-7: Anxiety Improves; Appetite Issues
By day 6, most marijuana users in recovery report their anxiety improving although itвЂ™s important to note that this can vary for people who have suffered from anxiety prior to using marijuana versus those that started having anxiety issues during or after.
At this point however, one element that can worsen for some people is appetite. Many report feeling less hungry and being disinterested in food. One thing that can help during this time is exercise.
Days 8-9: Feeling Feelings Again
During the second week of marijuana abstinence, most people are experiencing a net positive in their day-to-day feelings. For those that used marijuana as an escape or to block their feelings, they start to feel whole. Many have caught up on sleep and seen their anxiety improve and as a result, feel better now than they have in a long time.
There are some, who experience heightened anxiety at this point (even if they were feeling better a day prior), however after this period, anxiety appears to universally improve.
Days 10-11: Memory Improves, Vocabulary Increases
By day 10, many people experience a sharper mind. TheyвЂ™re able to problem-solve faster, converse faster, and experience better recall. In addition, numerous studies have found that heavy-marijuana users in recovery start to have a much more expansive vocabulary becoming more articulate.
Days 12-14: Mental Wellness
By two weeks without marijuana, many report feeling more mentally healthy. Many feel more patient, more deliberate, and more self-respect. Feelings like anxiety, paranoia, and guilt tend to have decreased significantly, if not disappeared altogether.
Week 3: Physical Health
In the third week without marijuana, many people notice a significant change in their physical health as well. They have more energy, better sleep, and see a noticeable improvement in their skin. For those who mostly smoked marijuana, they noticed an improvement in their vision as well.
In addition, many users in recovery by this time are eating better overall. No more late night snacks or empty carbs from sugar-rich foods. Most start to have regular meals at consistent time periods.
Week 4: Better Relationships
By this point, many marijuana users in recovery notice that with their improved memory and attention span comes improves relationships. Instead of being in their own head or enjoying the euphoria of an artificial high, many in recovery feel closer to their friends, loved ones, and family.
Additionally, many report being more driven to pursue other areas of self improvement, be it creatively or personally.
Day 30 & Onward: Breathe that Fresh Air
Within a month, most people felt better rested, more creative, more in touch with themselves (with old memories resurfaceing) and others вЂ” able to connect with others on a much deeper level.
One of the most fascinating elements of sobriety is finding out how much time and money is dedicated to the drug. Once youвЂ™ve endured withdrawal, you enjoy your time more, feel more self-confidence, and experience better health overall.
Marijuana addiction is real and withdrawal can be severe, but you can get through it.
How to build new habits
I Am Sober is an app that helps you get some control back in your life.
I Am Sober is a free app that helps you get some control back in your life.
Marijuana withdrawal is severe in the first 3 days of sobriety. While poor sleep and anxiety can increase over the next week, by 2 weeks most feel renewed.