Relaxing alternatives to marijuana use
November 18, 2009 3:03 PM   Subscribe

How can I unwind in the evening if I give up pot? And no, alcohol is not an option. I'd like advice for sober ways to unwind, as well as tips for making the transition.

I'm an intense, hard-working person who often puts in 12 hour days at work, runs and lift weights, volunteers and has a robust social life, and most of it does not involve pot. I've also smoked weed in the evening probably 5 or 6 nights a week for the past decade.

It doesn't take much. I go through an eighth of an ounce every month or two. I also go without a few weeks a year while traveling, and have quit for months at a time during job searches. But when I have it on hand and I'm having a tough day, it's better than anything else. When I'm having a normal day, it's still pretty nice.

I'd like to stop smoking except when offered by others (a rare event in my life), and I don't want to replace this drug with something else. But I have a constantly-whirring brain that sometimes goes off the anxiety rails, and I'm worried about controlling my worry. I know that pot increases anxiety in some people, but before I started smoking I was WAY more stressed than I am now. Nights when I don't smoke, I often wake up in the morning with a sore jaw from grinding my teeth in my sleep, which is something I've been doing since I was three years old.

Can anyone suggest new, intoxicant-free rituals that might help satisfy the role that marijuana has played in my life? I'm already exercising regularly after work, which helps me relieve tension, but it doesn't shut off the brain churn. I'm thinking meditation might be a good thing to try. What else? I don't want to take on activities that will make me MORE productive. I think I'm inclined to be too productive as it is, which is what leaves me seeking shortcuts to relaxation.

I'd also appreciate tips for sticking with this plan. Pot has become an important part of my life, and I know that it will be psychologically hard to give up. Will I still be able to smoke once every month or two when I get together with my brother or visit my pothead friend? Or should I worry about "falling off the wagon"? Can you share your experiences with giving up or cutting back on pot?

(Nod to this thread.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (48 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
not pot specific, but two things:
- meditation is great -- try to go to guided meditation at first, it's a little easier that just trying at home.
- on the other end of the spectrum, what about a team sport in the evening -- you can keep worrying while lifting, or running, but it's a lot harder while getting the crap kicked out of you in rugby or basketball, or something
posted by mercredi at 3:10 PM on November 18, 2009

Bubble bath
Sex and/or masturbation
posted by Jacqueline at 3:12 PM on November 18, 2009

Read a book.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:17 PM on November 18, 2009

Video games? I love reading but my mind tends to wander if I'm already worried about something. The only thing I've been worried about while playing Modern Warfare 2 lately is where the bastard that just killed me went.

I will find him.
posted by InsanePenguin at 3:26 PM on November 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

Maybe sit down and start listening to some music. Old favorite albums from start to finish or symphonies from start to finish, etc. i.e. something you can direct your focus on for listening and paying attention to?

Do you have any creative outlets? If so, start developing personal projects that utilize your creative skills and that the whole can only be the result of slowly building something up over time by doing a little bit of it everyday. That way you can focus on the skill and not too much on the whole project at one time.

Or maybe some very light fantasy or detective novel reading. Things that pull you in to the stories with mystery or fun visual imagery. There are many, many series of books you could set out to read from start to finish (Discworld could keep you occupied for a long time, for example.)
posted by smallerdemon at 3:28 PM on November 18, 2009

dude, i could have written this question a few months ago. i have scaled back back from daily smoking to about once a month.

you are already on the right path with exercise and meditation. the psychological aspect and the daily patterns will be the hardest to whenever you sit down in front of the TV, you're used to reaching for the pipe, you're used to relaxing and getting your head in that new space. it's a mental addiction, and going without will probably be rough for the first few weeks. once your brain gets used to not having it, you'll be surprised how your desire wanes. obviously, it helps not to keep a stash on hand, or put your stash somewhere that's difficult to get to.
posted by gnutron at 3:33 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

For the meditation I recommend finding some chants, I know I've heard some Tibetan Monks chanting on a cd and it was quite relaxing. Headphones work better than a stereo, too.

Sudoku also helps me unwind, as can painting or taking pictures. Anything to occupy my brain for a while.
posted by wild like kudzu at 3:33 PM on November 18, 2009

My opinion is that you have to find an indulgent activity. Fully prepare to do it for about 3-4 nights in a row until the need to do something else wears off. Find a great video game, watch a series like Deadwood, or pick out 5 books that you've always wanted to read, and leap right in, headfirst; don't think about it, just do it. Get some munchies or whatever you like to help make it a special and enjoyable time, at least for the first day or two until you start really enjoying the new activity. I speak from my own experience where I tend to get "recreation momentum" and can't think of anything to do except what I've been doing on past nights... but committing to 2-3 nights of something different tends to fix that and resets my pleasure centers' expectations.
posted by crapmatic at 3:34 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

posted by exogenous at 3:36 PM on November 18, 2009

2nd'ing gnutron. I don't know about rituals, but you won't have a problem unwinding.
posted by rhizome at 3:38 PM on November 18, 2009

Yoga is a marvelous way to relax. Not to get all woo woo on you, it helps to do it with a lit candle to focus on. Pleasant aromatic oils help create a relaxing environment as well. Lastly, I'd carve out a part of your home where you go to unwind, and decorate/arrange it accordingly.
posted by bearwife at 3:39 PM on November 18, 2009

Really, really mindless TV or reading helps me. I find I need to sort of zone out for a while to get my brain to stop going going going, and that requires something that focuses my brain on something not-too-stimulating, while giving the rest of me a chance to be totally passive. For me, TV shows (but not news or anything educational) is perfect for this.

Also a vote for video games, though they can be frustrating if you're all focussed on winning. I used to come straight home from work and play Crazy Taxi for half an hour before I even spoke to my spouse.

I guess in general the idea is something that is purely fun, not intellectually taxing or stimulating, and that gives you that zoned-out, semi-meditative feeling. Even washing dishes while singing along to good music will do that for me.

And, actually, I like singing just by itself because it takes up your brain power with something that you focus on, but which is non-taxing, and it forces you to breathe in a methodical, controlled manner. But may not be your cup of tea. Playing a musical instrument might have a similar effect, especially if you're just goofing with it and not trying to become some kind of genius. But that seems to be hard for grown-ups to do. Pity.
posted by Ouisch at 3:41 PM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Another vote for yoga, at home or in a studio. Make sure you end your practice with an adequately long savasana (which I find needs to be at least 10 mins., preferably more, to be of use).
posted by scody at 3:42 PM on November 18, 2009

One more thought -- few things relax me more than petting our cats or training/walking/running with my smart dog. Animals are great for distracting me from and putting in perspective all the other noise in life.
posted by bearwife at 3:42 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yoga is a great way to relax, and baths definitely help me unwind too. I also find a good cup of hot herbal tea does the trick (most of these aren't even tea per se, and most if not all are caffeine free). Playing an instrument is also great for blowing off steam, especially the drums.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 3:44 PM on November 18, 2009

cooking or baking? i find the rituals of preparing food (chopping onions or stirring risotto, for example) to be quite distracting.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 3:49 PM on November 18, 2009

Sounds like regular massage would do wonders for you. Human hands (and elbows, etc.) are best but massaging chairs and devices are nice too if you don't have a willing someone to help.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:50 PM on November 18, 2009

I find that some sort of craft/hobby is very engaging and really takes my mind off any work-related stress because I have to use my hands and concentrate on the task at hand. I really enjoy sewing, knitting and pottery. My boyfriend also enjoys the pottery (it takes a surprising amount of strength!). Something like wordworking, pottery or blacksmithing would obviously be difficult to set up in a small home and require a lot of equipment. However, I think other crafts such as painting, drawing, papercraft or stained glass would be easy to set up on the kitchen table. For me, crafting is really a sort of meditation, and the end product is always very gratifying. The nice thing about crafting is that you can always set it aside and come back to it as time permits.

(It is unclear if you are a man or a lady, but don't let the stigma "crafts are for ladies" get to you if you are a man. Men Who Knit!)
posted by sararah at 3:51 PM on November 18, 2009

Spend some time reflecting on how pot makes you feel, and on ways you can achieve similar feelings without pot. For me it means slowing down and noticing my breath. TV actually makes it harder to do this IMO. Exercise is great too, partly I think, because it makes you aware of your breathing.
posted by ginky at 3:52 PM on November 18, 2009

I find the bike commute home helps me forget about anything at the office. It's a nice time and distance barrier, and the exercise revs me up yet chills me out.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:53 PM on November 18, 2009

I like to both a) play a video game that doesn't require too much concentration (an Elder Scrolls game on low difficulty, tetris, the sims, whatever) and b) listen to something (podcasts, audiobooks, etc-- something with people talking). Both at once help me stop my brain.
posted by NoraReed at 4:05 PM on November 18, 2009

Nth-ing yoga. I enjoy the Ashtanga Vinyasa style ("power yoga") particularly the linking of movement to breath. Yoga leads nicely to meditation.

Speaking of meditation, don't expect to "catch on" right away. It's a gradual process with peaks and valleys and requires dedication. The payoff is the stillness of mind and ease of being you are seeking. [self link on meditation]

Also, you might find working with your hands mentally relaxing. Why not try some drawing, painting, sculpting, whittling, etc. Or maybe a musical instrument.

Sticking with it means replacing old habits with new ones.
posted by stungeye at 4:13 PM on November 18, 2009

audiobooks - totally relaxing - I have a cd player right by my bed so I fall asleep to them every night. If I wake up in the middle of the night and start to worry, I just put the book back on and drift off.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:36 PM on November 18, 2009

Yeah, I use videogames for this: brain emptying.
posted by rokusan at 4:43 PM on November 18, 2009

If recorded music will be part of the ritual, make it instrumental. It's just more relaxing for the mind to not have to process speech, regardless of how smoothly lyrics are sung.

Make playlists that have up-tempo songs first, then some mid-tempo, then slow stuff (if your collection is digitized, tagging can help automate this.) Perhaps use some Chinese meditation balls as you listen.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 5:43 PM on November 18, 2009

I deal with pretty serious anxiety, and I know what you mean about shutting off your brain when you're trying to sleep.

I lay down and play my Nintendo DSi until I am literally falling asleep. When things are really bad I take Valerian Root.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:44 PM on November 18, 2009

Breathwork has been helpful to me in recovery from smoking cigarettes. Twenty minutes or more of full, connected breathing is incredibly relaxing, and so consciousness-expanding that I'm surprised it's legal.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:46 PM on November 18, 2009

Strenuous exercise at the end of the day can rev you up more than it relieves tension. Try getting up earlier and doing the strenuous stuff before work instead, and then do some light exercise in the evening.

Avoid caffeine, eat well.
posted by mareli at 5:50 PM on November 18, 2009

Like DrGail, I'm wondering why you want to quit when the herb has such beneficial effects for you. I feel a bit envious because for me, pot can make me paranoid, anxious and spacey, so I haven't turned to it for relief from my lifelong GAD. But if it affected me like it does you, I'd probably use it a lot.

I've had to turn to many things to calm myself down. So far, here are things that have worked:

L-theanine derived from Suntheanine, available at health food stores, 200 mg two or three times a day.

Alteril, available at Wal-Mart, a compound of several amino acids and herbs, two right before bed.

Deep breathing exercises.

Long, brisk walks several times a week.

Avoiding caffeine.

Buspar, an antianxiety medication. I only take 5 mg in the morning. YMMV.

I do not recommend Xanax. I went through withdrawal when I stopped it. I do take Klonopin very rarely, as needed, when I'm having a rough time. If you start on a benzodiazepine it's easy to become dependent on them. At least pot is natural.

Good luck!
posted by xenophile at 6:04 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Chamomile Tea (Medicinal Medicinals is good quality). I'm drinking some right now.
posted by saxamo at 6:17 PM on November 18, 2009

Yerba Maté. Get yourself a gourd and a bombilla and kick back!
posted by mazniak at 6:26 PM on November 18, 2009

A very (very!) light hit of salvia is relaxing. Too much, on the other hand, is something else entirely. On the plus side it is legal.
posted by twblalock at 6:39 PM on November 18, 2009

Talk to your dentist about getting a TMJ mouth guard for the teeth grinding. It's basically a very well fit mouth guard you wear in your sleep. It feels super strange for the first week, but you get used to it, and your jaw will thank you. (It's also possible you still grind your teeth, just less noticeably on the nights your jaw doesn't hurt). I also recommend sleepy time tea and mindless TV.
posted by fermezporte at 6:47 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I get like that, with the brain running in circles chasing its tail, I will sit down and sketch something.

I'm going to dismiss your "I can't draw" objections out of hand. Everyone can draw. End of story. This isn't about creating Great Art That Other People Will Like Or Even See, it's about taking time in your day to really be present.

No need to go overboard with the tools. A sheet of blank paper and a ballpoint pen will do the trick. Pick an object nearby, and spend about five minutes to really look at it. Set aside your preconceptions about what it looks like. Just see it for what it is. Then draw what you see.

I totally get flow from sketching.

If you want to overachieve at it, I recommend "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," and Danny Gregory's "Creative License."
posted by ErikaB at 7:03 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

From what I hear, the best thing about weed is that you really won't miss it once you've gone a while without it. Above all, I would recommend getting it out of your posession and stop frequentig wherever you get it.

Then, I've found melatonin more effective for sound sleeping than anything else. If you need to smoke something, there are weird herbs like kinnickinnick and damiagna and freaking catnip that will scratch an itch and simultaneously make you regret wanting to smoke plants.

Then again, ianyd.

And just stay the hell away from pills, hard stuff, coffee and tobacco. The herbs are probably a bad enough idea already.
posted by metajc at 7:31 PM on November 18, 2009

Many, many great suggestions above, well worth exploring. To add on:

My mind always was and still is far too razory gerbil-wheelish to just SHUT THE FUCK UP with meditation or yoga. What does work is knitting, sanding, weeding, planting: doing something repetitive and tactile, out here in the physical world. The feel of the wool and the needles, the smell of the wood and seeing the grain come up, the plants' fuck-you-we-ain't-waitin schedule and the taste of a tomato right off the vine—they're all incredibly grounding, in a literal sense.

Of course it's not instantaneous. Pick a project and see it through. Something will click. Which applies also to meditation or yoga or any other activity anyone has recommended. Give each one a month or six weeks, and if it's doing nothing for you, move on. Something will click.

Here's the most important thing:

Whatever you're doing, keep it to yourself. (The only exception is a trusted, supportive, and discreet partner.) If you tell friends and co-workers, "I'm learning to knit" or "I've started meditating," then you open yourself up to judgments and expectations and competition: "Let me see what you're working on!" or "You gotta see my practitioner!"

Fuck that. This is about reconnecting you* (the amazing but beta array of neocortical activity that constructs a narrative of you and your abstract activities) with you# (the extremely sophisticated but inarticulate meatsack that experiences and responds to the 3D world). The former has literally lost touch with the latter.

Let yourself do something badly, just because you like doing it. Go play.
posted by dogrose at 7:38 PM on November 18, 2009 [14 favorites]

Just as a quick response to mazniak, yerba mate is quite caffeinated and will manifest the usual alertness associated with other caffeine sources in a much different (and interesting) way.
Check it out when you need to be awake, but man...I've lost a lot of sleep on that stuff because everyone told me it was decaf until I took the time to google it.
posted by Texasjake987 at 7:47 PM on November 18, 2009

Might be a stretch, but how about a God Helmet? Wired talked about it here. Never tried it myself, but I'd love to sometime, as I could never do the whole meditation thing.
posted by asranixon at 8:08 PM on November 18, 2009

Get some massage oil or lotion and rub it all over yourself ... like a proper self-massage... and then have sex or masturbate. Then watch some tv. Might be a little bit hard to share with friends... but should relax your brain a little.
posted by taff at 8:46 PM on November 18, 2009

I know exactly how you feel... And I must wholeheartedly second InsanePenguin. My PS3 just arrived today!

For real though, the thing which is great about weed (for me) is that it relaxes me without actually slowing my mind down. Video games do the same thing because they are full of complex patterns with no consequences.
posted by Truthiness at 10:39 PM on November 18, 2009

I just realized how pervey my answer sounded. What I meant about the massage part was just to give your muscles a good rub from head to toe..... (I haven't really improved the perveyness, have I?)
posted by taff at 11:36 PM on November 18, 2009

Can you share your experiences with giving up or cutting back on pot?

A few years ago, I was smoking much more frequently than you, and was much less productive while I was doing it. But personally, I found I needed a good 6 months entirely abstaining from weed before I was able to return casually to smoking (and I mean, it's now maybe one puff of a joint at a party every couple of months). The time off allowed me to break the habit and after around a month of minor difficulty sleeping and some restlessness in the evenings, I found that I sleep SOO much better without it on the whole. You may find it the first couple of weeks you have AMAZINGLY vivid dreams, really cinematic. But with the relatively small amount you're smoking, I doubt you will have many really troubling physical withdrawal symptoms at all.

It might help to write out the reasons why you want to give up - you don't mention these, as you might think they are self-evident, but for me, writing out a very honest pros and cons list of the benefits of quitting/continuing, and vice versa, personalised my own attempts to quit, rather than just feeling it was something I 'should' be doing for my health. Health probably should be enough of a reason to stop doing something harmful to us, but hey we're only human - usually it's not. Good luck and be well...
posted by Weng at 3:15 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can I add one more thing...

Will I still be able to smoke once every month or two when I get together with my brother or visit my pothead friend?

I have found that if I stick to the general rules - 1) don't buy it yourself; 2) don't smoke it alone - they usually help me to differentiate between 'social' smoking and problematic use. YMMV.
posted by Weng at 3:21 AM on November 19, 2009

Based on personal experience with weed (I smoked everyday during junior and senior year in high school) and running, I recommend the runner's high.
posted by qsysopr at 5:43 AM on November 19, 2009

a few months ago i went from smoking multiple times a day to quitting cold turkey. I'd been smoking for 15 years. So far, i haven't touched the stuff in 3 months. I have to say I agree with the people that have said you won't miss it. I loved it, but now I don't care much. I don't know if its cause of my personality or what, but there was no hole to fill really.
As for touching the stuff, I could see it, but I haven't yet. I have an addictive at least for me weed is a good every day activity. The people I know that smoke occasionally get too fucked up and paranoid.

I also excercise a lot (and did previously). I quit for no real reason except to try it. I haven't noticed much of a difference physically or mentally, but its still new. Maybe my memory is a bit sharper.

It is weird when i'm around other stoners and am no longer one of them...I miss that part. That's really all I miss is liking weed a lot, if that makes any sense. I don't miss it itself, i just miss liking it.

Feel free to mail me if you have any other questions.
posted by alkupe at 7:59 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have brain churn.

Things that have worked well for me:

* ultra-simple meditation. No rules, no books, no sense of failure if it only lasts 13 seconds. It's just this: when I notice my mind chattering, I focus on my breath, thinking: "In. Out. In. Out." I do this a lot while I'm walking. I bet it'd work well while you're exercising, if you get brain churn then.

* relaxing things to think about. Especially when I'm trying to fall asleep, I turn aside from the brain churn with a pleasant scene - creating a very vivid, detailed imagining of a beach cabin with the windows open, for example. I focus on that, and it gives my mind something to occupy it until sleep comes. I used to spend hours lying awake, going over all my undone to do lists and fretting about things. Since I started developing a little roster of pleasant scenes and focusing on them when I'm ready to sleep, I've had very little trouble with brain churn at night.
posted by kristi at 2:28 PM on November 19, 2009

Isn't this when an "anonymous answer" pony would come in handy? Ah, screw it. In my eponysterience,* going away on a trip to some weedless place, as described previously, always worked best - even a week breaks that initial craving. For me it works like downtime while you modify your behavioural script. Like Ketamine.**

After that it's fine - like described above, neither want nor desire for pot once you've broken the initial craving and have a chance to adjust your lifestyle. Doing something new literally means taking a new neuronal pathway in the brain. (The debated concept of neuroplasticity, but bear with me...) If you have a few dirt roads to one side (neuronal pathways grown during the time when you made the decision "Don't smoke pot but do X") versus a superhighway on the other side then you'll have to consciously go down that one side with the single dirt road every time hating that motherfucker until it gets extended with all the traffic. I find whenever I switch sides now it's actually well built and I get ahead quite well - it's really just shifting gears now, loading the coping strategies for that reality from passive memory.

However the scenario where I'm deciding to suddenly have no stash from one day to the next still doesn't work so well, with day 3 or 4 being the crunchy bit. Sleeplessness, crazy dreams, and toothgrinding (the medical term is bruxism). My alternatives involve games and books as described above, but then I overdose on the games or books and end up being more miserable. I say be careful and have some kind of plan B ready because friends have dealt with short but intense bouts of depression and anxiety after going cold turkey. Also anger control issues. Several friend have also, interestingly, related intense dreams in which they are confronted by something really "evil". All that is part of teh crazy potentially involved here (which IMHO is what the "psychological" in "psychological addiction" stands for).

Lastly, did you know about potsmoking in social circles: if you quit together, it's less difficult. WIRED UK had an article about a study on the impact of networks on habits last month - allegedly even 3 degrees of separation away someone smoking cigarettes still has an effect on your own choices.

* eponysterical experience; I've quit lots of times and it's easy to do.

** A one-off Ketamine trip works just as well, or so I've heard (obvious disclaimer: don't get hooked on k, that'd suck).
posted by yoHighness at 6:31 PM on November 19, 2009

amiltriptyline--12 milligrams. Take it two hours before bedtime.


Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness

[I am not a doctor]
posted by mecran01 at 9:19 PM on November 19, 2009

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