The Deeply Unchill Things That Happened When I Tried to Quit Weed
When I realized my weed use was completely out of control, I had to ask myself some hard questions. Will I ever be able to smoke again? Is life—God forbid—better sober? And what if "Shark Tank" isn't actually good?
Illustration by Jennifer Kahn
One cliché that I know about is that "things change in an instant." Another cliché that I know about is that clichés are true. Three Saturdays ago, I spent the entire day in bed, constantly packing bowls of weed, compulsorily smoking them, and watching increasingly bleak and uninteresting TV shows from sunrise to bedtime, feeling self-loathing and like shit.
After four years of having days like this often—punctuating my daily routine of leaving work and immediately getting my hands around my amethyst crystal pipe, which I purchased via Etsy for $100—it just hit me: Weed is sort of ruining my life. I noticed the thought and sat with it, unsure of what would happen next.
Before that moment, I had been making some slight tweaks to my lifestyle for the sake of my mental health. I started seeing a therapist, exercising regularly, and getting acupuncture. The day after I smoked myself sick, I happened to have an appointment for the latter. After I sat in the waiting area for some time, my acupuncturist, Max, came out from behind reception to greet me. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked me if I was enjoying the weather, which had been sunny and warm for a few days despite it being winter. I said yes, and joked about how I had spent the day prior shrouded in darkness and was making up for lost time. Then I got serious, and the words kind of just fell out of my mouth: "I love weed... But I think I need to quit?" As I said it aloud, I scared myself.
Max and I were previously working on getting my Qi flowing in such a way as to make me less depressed and anxious. (The first time I went to him, I was high, and my experience with acupuncture was amazing. He stuck a needle in my head, a few others in my arms, my hands, and my feet, and I felt like the concept of a "third eye" was totally real and mine was open.)
He gently pointed out that my weed use was probably contributing to my problems. And although I agreed, which is why I just confessed to him, all the good times I had with weed flashed across my mind like memories of a lover immediately preceding an inevitable break-up; in my head, I was holding onto a "dank nug" that had arms and we were spinning around in slow motion. Outside of my reverie, Max was saying that he was going to stick some needles in my ears to make it easier for me to say goodbye to my beloved drug, and I nodded. It was time.
I love weed... But I think I need to quit?
The auricular treatment was extremely unpleasant, and I sort of felt like I was hanging upside down for an hour. When Max finally took the needles out, I earnestly felt rescued. I left feeling optimistic and insane. I was quitting weed! Outside on the street, I called my boyfriend, Rion, and told him I was leaving my stoner lifestyle behind, at least for a good chunk of time. He was shocked, but also happy; he seemed to always hate when I smoked, which was all the time. "I'm going to get my girlfriend back," he said.
When I got back to my apartment, I took my weed and bowl off of my nightstand and tucked it into a dresser drawer. It didn't occur to me to throw it away as some sort of grand gesture. It was February. I would quit for a month, maybe two, and then check in with myself to see how to proceed, I thought. Maybe I could even celebrate my triumph of will on 4/20.
I saw my therapist on Tuesday and told her the news. I think I said something about how I wanted to "try to have a better relationship with weed." Instead of smoking every day, perhaps a short break would help me learn to imbibe in moderation?
She smiled and replied that it typically didn't work like that, implying that I should consider dropping the habit altogether. Weed isn't so much a treatment for depression as it is an avoidance of the treatment of depression, she said. I told her I planned to stop for a month and then see how I feel. She said that was a good idea, and she was proud of me. Now, she added, I would be "feeling feelings"; I was taking a step in the right direction.
I nodded, and started to consider what my life would look like without weed... for good. It seemed unfortunate and unbearable because weed makes everything so much more fun. Like, that's basically a rule of nature. But maybe that's why she was right.
When I got home from work that day, I craved weed vaguely. I was triggered, I joked to myself, by the memories of my old routine. Instead of smoking, I looked at the Reddit page for people who are trying to quit weed—which was a mistake! Horrifyingly, there were all these posts that said the symptoms of weed withdrawal—which I was already experiencing big time—would last for months. My sleep had been poor. My throat was sore and it seemed like I had the flu, or something. My lungs hurt periodically and I was cranky. But it could be worse, I gathered: Some of the denizens of r/leaves were writing about how they were coughing up resin.
On the third day of being sober, I woke up to Rion prodding me at 6:30 AM, making extremely urgent facial expressions and arm movements. For some reason, we had masochistically decided the night before to try and get to the gym before work. Reluctantly, I sat up in bed and made a big show of unhappiness. I had hardly gotten any sleep in between strange dreams, though it was better than the first night, when I had a panic attack. The melatonin I started taking, in lieu of a fat bowl, helped.
I got up, walked to the bathroom, and, when I got to the doorway, turned on the lights. As I acutely felt the electromagnetic radiation burning holes in my eyes, I recoiled and flipped the switch back. Then, in the dark, I proceeded to walk into the tiled wall near the shower, headfirst, and collapsed to the floor crying. It didn't even hurt.
Still, I made it to the gym and then to work, but the rest of the day I felt tired and bad. At the time I just thought it was because I woke up too damn early in order to go workout during Real Achievers Hours, which I certainly had no business doing. (The place was swamped with blondes in eerily match-y, and expensive, workout clothes, carrying those big leather totes. I feel confident that even if I stop identifying as a stoner, I will always identify as a slacker. I don't think I desire to become ambitious. I'm just trying to have peace.)
In hindsight, I'm pretty sure that it was a withdrawal side effect, because the next day I felt equally exhausted. I dragged myself to a DSA meeting after work when all I really wanted to do was sleep. I met up with my comrade, Andrew, who smokes as much as I used to. I told him I had quit weed a few days ago and his face dropped a little.
"Wow, I'm sad," he said.
"I know, me too."
But when I thought about the current moment—I was outside my apartment, with a friend, getting ready to discuss tactics to resist the president and protect and improve our communities—I had to give being sober its due. Before Sunday, if I was tired, I would probably just flake on whatever plans I had and go home and smoke.
One of several weed-related t-shirts I own. I have also spent $200 weed leaf earrings and far too much money ($15) on these.
It's been a little over three weeks without pot, and I'm still feeling the effects of THC leaving my system. It's hard to even write this. I'm tired, my concentration is terrible, and I feel so much dumber than I ever did when I was high.
I've been thinking of all the dramatic parts in Infinite Jest—David Foster Wallace's tome about the things that we worship to get through this life, often counter to that aim—about weed addiction. When I read the book in earnest (and while stoned) last year, the passages seemed stupid to me, but they make sense now. I had always thought I could end my habit, which I refused to consider a habit, at will. I just didn't see a reason to. It has, however, been a difficult thing for me to stop lighting up. I constantly think that the effects of detoxing from weed could be mitigated so easily... with weed! The nausea, the headaches, the mood swings, the loss of appetite.
My face is also breaking out, which is so annoying. Annoying, in fact, is an accurate word for what it feels like, to me, to go through weed withdrawal. It's not overwhelmingly horrible, but it is wearing me down. I've missed a few days of work because of the vague awful feeling that hangs over me on a day-to-day basis. But I somehow I feel happier.
Also annoying is the fact that the bad TV I used to enjoy ironically just flat-out sucks now. "Shark Tank" is bad. "The Voice" is bad. Even "The Bachelor," which I still watch while half-paying attention to it because I'm way too invested in Nick's journey to stop now, is actually boring and bad. Of course, I still love television—it's hard to escape escapism in all its forms, as ineffective a salve as it is. I hope to God that when the new season "Terrace House" is released on Netflix, I can still find joy in it. Watching less TV, however, is a welcome thing.
'Shark Tank' is bad.
What has kept me from smoking again—relapsing?—is remembering how I got to the point where I wanted to stop. A depressed woman in Infinite Jest puts it this way, referring to weed in embarrassing 90s slang: "I'm getting more and more miserable and fed up with myself for smoking so much... I start getting high and thinking about nothing except how I have to quit smoking all this Bob so I can get back to work and start saying I'm here when people call, so I can start living some kind of damn life instead of just sitting around in pajamas pretending I'm sick like a third-grader and smoking and watching TP again..."
She is caught in a cycle of quitting and smoking and quitting and smoking, and I don't want to be. Cannabis is a benign plant; it should be legal, and the people who use it should be free to do so. It has been proven to do so many wonderful things for so many people, but perhaps not for me.
Still, that's hard for me to fully internalize, and deciding whether I'm actually quitting for life makes me uneasy. (How can weed be bad when it's good?) At the end of week one, I went to acupuncture again and as I lay on the table, with needles placed slightly below my skin at points on my ears, forehead, hands, legs, and feet, I started thinking about weed, getting all kinds of ideas about reforming our relationship. Maybe I could just use it sacramentally, and create some sort of witchcraft ritual synchronized with the full moon? Maybe I could just observe 4/20, yearly? Am I being an insane addict?
I left not knowing the answer, and I still don't. But I know that when I have to go through the drawer where I've stashed my weed, I don't even consider pulling it out, though I note the good smell. I know my boyfriend says I seem like a more present person in subtle ways, withdrawal side effects aside. I know that everyone keeps saying they're proud of me, and I love getting praise and compliments. My new addictions are therapy, exercise, and acupuncture, as I dedicate myself to at least a month of being weed-free. I keep telling myself that I won't let things go back to the way they were.