I want to quit self-medicating with weed. Help me clear my brain.
February 7, 2015 4:40 AM   Subscribe

I have been a daily smoker for 5 years (after work) to self-medicate my anxiety, insomnia, and loss of appetite. I attempted to quit recently, and got 2 weeks out before having 2 severe panic attacks in 2 days. My insomnia and loss of appetite also returned. What do I do?

My main issue is that my thoughts immediately return to that dark place when I'm having sober downtime. This, coupled with no appetite and sleepless nights make my work suffer.

I want to quit because I feel like habitual smoking completely quells my creativity to the point where I can't create when I'm high. I also feel myself becoming more absent-minded and spaced out when I'm sober during the day, which is awful. I also don't want to be dependent on a substance.

I'm in my 20's.
I exercise.
I'm in therapy.
Things like yoga and meditation have been tried and failed, vis a vis spiraling anxiety.
Help me get my life back.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about going to rehab? Have you discussed with your doctor?

Withdrawal is a very real thing, and you may need professional support, either with appropriate medication or with talk therapy.

Perhaps you might feel better if you were in a community of other folks who have quit. I have a friend who enjoys AA.

Dependance on anything, for whatever reason, is not easily stopped. If you have underlying issues with anxiety and depression, you may very well need to address these as well. And yes, sometimes you may be put on the appropriate medication.

Just as yoga and meditation won't help if you have appendicitis, they can't help you if you have an anxiety disorder.

So get professional, medical assessment.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:27 AM on February 7, 2015

You might find some advice and support on this subreddit.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:43 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

You're walking a fine line here with the notion of "not wanting to be dependent upon a substance."

There's chemical dependency, and there's being medicated for ongoing mood disorders, which it's possible that you may have.

I am neither a pot smoker nor a medical professional of any sort. I agree that pot has legitimate medical use. But if you have depression and/or an anxiety disorder, like I do, I would encourage you to investigate pharmaceutical options with your PCP or psychiatrist.

As crappy as the pharmaceutical industry can be as a whole, you owe it to yourself to see if there's something out there that will allow you to manage your anxiety while living a normal life. Consider it just as necessary as insulin for a diabetic. Therapy, even a few visit, sounds like it could be helpful as well. If cost is an issue, there are tons of people out there who operate on a sliding scale.

It just plain sounds like you could benefit from having someone else in your corner to help you navigate some of the complexities of your life. You deserve support, no matter what has gone on.

Good luck! I hope things go well for you.
posted by Madamina at 6:22 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with Madamina, it appears you've tried meditation but not medication? I encourage you to try meds. There are meds that can help with both anxiety and insomnia. Needing medication is not a personal flaw. It may be that when you have your mental health under better control, your appetite will improve as well.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:52 AM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Talk to your therapist about trying actual medication for anxiety. Quitting pot in favor of prescription drugs saved my husband's life, no exaggeration. You deserve better than this. It's going to be hard but you can get through it and come out the other side a happy and fully functional person, I promise.

And also: I was never dependent on pot myself but I smoked regularly for years, and there's no way around the physical side effects that come from quitting. I had absolutely insane dreams for weeks afterward. But it passes. You will be okay.
posted by something something at 6:53 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Regarding Ruthless Bunny's answer, I do think support would be very helpful for you, but most rehab facilities will only treat people who abuse substances like alcohol or heroin (where withdrawal symptoms are severe). Narcotics Anonymous would probably be a better bet.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:54 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also don't want to be dependent on a substance.

I think you should go read this askme from yesterday, and think about whether you want to end up in the category of "god, I wish I'd gone on meds years ago ," because a blanket proscription against "substances" is not your friend.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel, and being on medication is not a sign of moral weakness.
posted by rtha at 7:22 AM on February 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

From Marijuana Anonymous:

The following questions may help you determine whether marijuana is a problem in your life.

1. Has smoking pot stopped being fun?
2. Do you ever get high alone?
3. Is it hard for you to imagine a life without marijuana?
4. Do you find that your friends are determined by your marijuana use?
5. Do you smoke marijuana to avoid dealing with your problems?
6. Do you smoke pot to cope with your feelings?
7. Does your marijuana use let you live in a privately defined world?
8. Have you ever failed to keep promises you made about cutting down or controlling your dope smoking?
9. Has your use of marijuana caused problems with memory, concentration, or motivation?
10. When your stash is nearly empty, do you feel anxious or worried about how to get more?
11. Do you plan your life around your marijuana use?
12. Have friends or relatives ever complained that your pot smoking is damaging your relationship with them?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:25 AM on February 7, 2015

Ok, what matters it that you don't like this and you think it's a problem and you want a change.

I didn't get a chance to comment in that SSRIs for anxiety thread yesterday linked above, but I'll just say here what I wanted to say there: try a low-dose SSRI. Seriously, try it. It worked for me. It might not work for you, but I had your exact issue and taking this low-dose SSRI solved it for me.

I also don't want to be dependent on a substance.
Define substance. I am, I suppose, "dependent" on my SSRI. Sure, I can live without it, but after I tried everything you've tried -- everything -- I found that the SSRI is what clicked for me. I am now able to just live my life. Lots of people take medication for lots of stuff. I'm also "dependent" on other medications I take: much more dependent; without them, I'd die (not exaggerating). I wouldn't die without the SSRI, but I'd be a huge mess of anxiety. At least, I was for 30+ years until I started taking it.

It's such a far cry from being a habitual smoker. My brain works. I can create stuff; I can also just fucking function like, I don't have that dark spot that my brain wants to go to anymore. It's just... not there. No more spirals of anxiety. No more attempts to dull the pain. Just... I just... exist now. It's really nice. I've been a creative machine lately: I'm finally writing this huge damn manuscript I've been trying to work on for years, and I've been knitting like a fiend during my down time at night. This is after years, years, of feeling stuck and anxious and self-medicating and trying yoga and meditation and exercise and and and and... yeah.

I'd strongly urge you to try an SSRI. Talk to your doctor about your anxiety. See what they say. I was really wary at first but now, like many people in that thread from yesterday said, my only thought about it all is: why the fuck didn't I try this sooner? Why?

Take care, and sorry for all the cursing. I feel very strongly about this, evidently!
posted by sockermom at 8:32 AM on February 7, 2015

There are medications that are specifically for taking during panic episodes. There are medications that can help anxiety. There are support groups. Talk to your doctor and therapist about the situation. Ask for help. Let them help you.
posted by zennie at 8:38 AM on February 7, 2015

I'm on a low dose of an SSRI. After 20 years of being very much against medication I joined the people for whom it's no big deal. It didn't make me stop smoking but it provided motivation and I ended up doing so many things I didn't have time left over for uncreative smoking sessions. Last year I landed bigger and better gigs, did a thing for a major broadcaster and had more income.
I realise this might be controversial but The SSRI also gave me motivation to start growing my own. Dealer weed is grown for quantity, dull stony shit, I picked strains with energetic and antidepressant properties. I do admit when they run out it is still a comedown. But being divested from the whole dealer sector is worth it. Sorry I realise that if it is illegal where you live then it's not viable for you to do that.
Though I had a good run I shut the garden down for a few months now to detox and clear my head. (Still taking the SSRI.) I was lucky to find a source with a dependable and economic moroccan hash that's sort of like the methadone of weed. Highly functional.
posted by yoHighness at 9:28 AM on February 7, 2015

Did you attempt to quit by going cold turkey? I found when I was struggling with my relationship to cannabis that I was able to lessen my intake and see big benefits. Can you try smoking less?

I'd recommend trying lower potency strains or rolling joints with an herbal smoking blend and lessen your intake that way. Trying to take fewer hits didn't really work for me because I was habituated to the ritual.

I sense from your question a sort of black-or-white thinking: I need to stop entirely but when I stop my mind goes to dark places so I can't stop. For me, *lessening* my dependence allowed me to approach my demons in a manageable way.

I also started CBT-based therapy, which I found far more helpful against my negative thoughts than the previous more general talking therapy that I had been doing.

Good luck, friend. There is a tough road ahead but what's on the other side is worth the struggle.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:41 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

can you engage in creative pursuits when you go to the dark place?
posted by macinchik at 9:07 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you smoke before bed so you still get the calming therapeutic effects, but you get to still feel motivated and creative during the day? Also, is it possible smoking every other day or every couple days would be enough to give you what you need medicinally? What about smaller doses, like a one-hit bat instead of a full bowl?

Pot will indeed make you absent-minded and spacey, but at least for me, I was also less irritable and stressed out. I guess it's a trade-off. You will feel sharper without weed in your life, no question -- but for me, it also means back to being my high-strung self. I haven't smoked pot in many years, but I will say that sometimes I miss it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:27 PM on February 7, 2015

I was a chronic smoker for many years and quit last year. I found that self-care is huge. You have to pamper yourself. Invest in your own comfort. Surround yourself with calming things, your favorite media, a great blanket. Get a massage. Even if you're a man, treat yourself to pedicures. Get some really good quality coffee. Treat yourself like you've got a three-week flu.

In a lot of folks (myself included) cannabis worsens depression symptoms. You've got to get clean before you can feel better, and yeah, the first few weeks are no picnic. Cannabis inhibits proper REM cycles and definitely affects your sleep quality over time. So if you can get past two weeks, your dreams will return to normal and your sleep will improve immensely. After that, if you can get past the first month, you've quit. Is there any possibility of timing your next sobriety attempt with a vacation?

Coming off chronic marijuana use is also incredibly boring when you can't just burn away six hours doing nothing in particular. I know how easy it is to get stuck in your head when you're that bored, driving yourself into a panic; in my case, I treated myself to a game console. Granted, gaming isn't really a more useful way of spending your time, but you have to find something that's not substance use to get through those first couple of weeks. Eventually your perception of passing time will normalize. But you don't have to jump right back into writing the great American novel the moment you quit.

Should you decide to try SSRIs, be aware that SSRIs and pot can interact unpredictably for some folks. If I were in your shoes, I would try to get through a whole month, and if at that point I was still feeling foul with panic attacks, would see a psychiatrist to treat depression. Do not think that you can successfully self-medicate a mood disorder with cannabis, without the advice of a medical professional, and especially with illegally-purchased drugs the quantity, sourcing and quality of which you cannot know. The depression will trick you into thinking that weed's a great idea because it makes you feel better, but clearly you know it's not.

Remember, you have to quit. Don't taper, don't reduce use, but quit. It is the only way to get to a place where you can feel better, and doesn't have to last for the rest of your life, but you need to get back to square one right now.

/r/leaves, mentioned above, is a great place to visit, but try not to get caught up in all of the posts with people "starting again for the nth time". /u/stonethrownaway is an awesome poster on that subreddit, so shoot them a message if you're looking for some support.
posted by theraflu at 4:36 PM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

/r/leaves and /u/stonethrownaway really are excellent (from the perspective of now not having smoked for a couple days and using their advice). Also you wrote meditation wasn't working for you but was it a course or a book? A course didn't work for me at all but the book "The mindful way of dealing with depression" by J Kabat-Zinn really worked for me.
posted by yoHighness at 5:17 AM on February 15, 2015

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