Quitting weed cold turkey
February 21, 2019 2:09 AM   Subscribe

I have bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder and until three days ago a daily marijuana habit that was getting worse and worse (I would smoke constantly and it barely even got me high anymore). I thought stopping cold turkey would clear my head but I've feeling my psych symptoms really strongly ever since. I'm getting back into treatment but could really use some suggestions on how to get through this.

I've had bipolar disorder for the last 25 years, although it was misdiagnosed as unipolar depression for 20 years. I've also been anxious my entire life, with an official anxiety disorder diagnosed five years ago as well.

Ten years ago I moved in with my partner, who has been a regular daily smoker for decades. I had been smoking for decades myself but just at parties - I never bought it myself. They can take a toke here and there and be perfectly satisfied but it turns out that I absolutely cannot modulate my intake with regular access, and I've basically been baked for a decade.

I got very scared after having some struggles at work and went cold turkey three days ago. I've been well medicated since my bipolar was diagnosed but suddenly after quitting I started getting panic attacks and crying uncontrollably and it is freaking me out. I had been out of therapy for a while but just went in for an appointment with a new provider today. So I'm going to be having better support from now on but I'm still so intimidated at the thought of quitting for good.

My parents were huge smokers in the house until I was in high school and it brings back very nostalgic feelings. My sibling is a hardcore smoker, the kind that is always looking for new strains as if they were fine wines, and it's something we've always enjoyed sharing with each other. I love going to Grateful Dead concerts and smoking up and getting into the groove with the whole audience. (I know there are the wharf rats but do they still have fun?)

There is so much I will miss about smoking and it's so embedded in the culture of my friends and family and I love them and don't want to cut people out or have to start judging them. I know there is the phrase one day at a time for a reason but I'm still super sad and intimidated at the idea that something that's been so enjoyable for so long and so much a part of my life is bad for me and that I probably can't do it ever again if I want my mental health to be more stable and not jeopardize my job performance. (Not to mention that I feel guilty about my partner having to stop too because I can't handle having it in the house.)

I guess my question here is, how do I handle this? Wtf do I do with myself if I'm not smoking? I don't like the idea of 12 step groups - I don't connect with the concept of a higher power and frankly I have enough shame in my life that I don't need to be shamed by the punitive framing of substance abuse struggles as a moral failing. And honestly, being sober sounds like much less fun than smoking. I know there will be positives but those are way in the future and right now it just sucks hard.

So any advice or personal perspectives and experiences with mental illness and marijuana addiction would be so helpful and appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's likely that your friends and family don't have bipolar illnesses. Bipolar and weed can be a really bad combination. Family and friends who genuinely care about you should be cool about you quitting.

In the interim, your current awful melange of symptoms could well be due to weed withdrawal, which is absolutely a real thing, and cold turkey after decades of daily use is going to fuck you up. The anxiety and depression are part of that. If you have access to a psychiatrist that would be good, but you can also treat yourself.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:56 AM on February 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this.

There's a lot to unpack here, but I might suggest that a lot of what you are feeling is fear about whether you can stand up on your own. It sounds like you've been using cannabis as a crutch for a long time now, to insulate yourself from the more painful effects of your anxiety and bipolar perhaps, and now that the crutch is gone you're afraid you can't live without it. I've felt a little bit of that fear before myself, but nothing like what you are experiencing.

You can live without it, though. I mean, there was a time when you did, right? You've done it before and can do it again. I think that rather than having faith in a higher power, you need to have faith in yourself. And the way to develop that confidence, I think, is just to do the things you've always done—even if they seem really scary right now. Power through the day regardless of your fears, or at least make yourself do a few things each day, and then a few more the next day, etc. You'll quickly learn that you can still do it.

Being stoned is just a mental state. It can be a pleasant one, and it's one that can only be accessed through cannabis use, but that's all it is. You still have access to all the others—you can feel happy, sad, anxious, angry, mellow, whatever—you just can't be stoned. You've still got a whole human being's worth of mental possibility to work with, just not this one extra one. You'll get used to it. With time, you will achieve a new normal. You may even eventually find that you can smoke socially from time to time—maybe not, but don't count out the possibility. Being in therapy also sounds like a good idea, because you are clearly having some very strong and overwhelming feelings about this and it sounds like you could use some help managing them.

But you can do it. Remind yourself that most people do not go through their whole lives stoned, including past versions of yourself. Their lives are as happy and fulfilling as anyone's—there's plenty to enjoy in life besides cannabis. If they're all doing it, and if past you used to do it, then you can do it too.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:05 AM on February 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Never mind one day at a time; a whole day is too much time to be thinking about. Take it back to a minute and a half.

When you notice yourself freaking out, the thing to hold onto is focusing on evening out your breathing and getting through the next ninety seconds without building the freakout any bigger than it already is.

What to think: right here right now feels very very bad. It's OK to feel this bad right now. I am breathing, so feeling this bad is not me dying, just me adapting to a major change in my drugs regimen. This will pass. Right now all I need to focus on is the breathing. No, not the panting, not the gasping and sobbing, those are no good. Breathing. Evenly. Count to five breathing in, sucking in hard through mostly closed lips and over the front teeth like I'm pulling a long cone. Let it out slow, count six. Seven pulling the next breath. I have bong skills, I got this. Eight out. Nine in. Ten out. Keep it going at tens. Holy crap, that was a hell of a peak. Getting better now.

The more often you deal effectively with a massive anxiety-induced adrenalin spike with no help from anything but your own mind and body, the more confidence you will acquire that you can do that when you absolutely have to, and the less anxiety you will experience about the prospect of further attacks. Reframe attacks as opportunities to practice rather than something looming and dreadful.

You've been baked for a decade. Your inner space cadet is strong. Use it.
posted by flabdablet at 4:20 AM on February 21, 2019 [10 favorites]

Been to 100+ Dead shows. Still go see Bobby shows and Phil at the Cap.

Had to quit for drug tests at work and for life insurance. I am usually the designated driver. I still enjoy shows and getting into a groove with the audience. Despite my user name, I am not a complete Wharf Rat. I still drink beer.

There is life after quiting smoking. It is a good life. It is a one day at a time life. I would not look at it as quiting for good. You're just not smoking today. Get your partner to support you by not smoking near you and not giving you access to the smoke.

If you asked me, and I think you did, I think you are past the hard part. The first few days are tough.

He's gone. He's gone. Like a steel locomotive rolling down the track smoking is gone. Nothings going to bring him back.
posted by AugustWest at 6:08 AM on February 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

For personal perspectives, this interview last week with a neuroscientist and former addict about how different drugs work on your system and the pernicious side-effects of withdrawal was fascinating. A Neuroscientist Explores The Biology Of Addiction In 'Never Enough'. She covers marijuana as well and your experience seems spot-on. I’m glad you will have support as you go through this.
posted by amanda at 6:13 AM on February 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Over a long period of time, weed reduces your naturally available dopamine, which can aggravate anxiety and depression. In people who have bipolar DO specifically, frequent, long-term use can increase the risk of manic and psychotic episodes, and is generally correlated with worse long-term outcomes. It’s really really good that you’re prioritizing your mental health.

You can find peer support on Reddit at r/leaves and r/bipolar (where a lot of people have had to make the same choice).

“Motivational interviewing” is a reasonably successful approach to addictions. More or less, it is “find something you like doing more than you like being high”. Initially, this might be tough since you’re temporarily dopamine-depleted (so nothing will really feel as fun), but with time, your receptors will heal and you will rediscover pleasure in things. In the meanwhile, I think it’ll help to keep focusing on the fact that this is a health issue for you, and your health matters. (Maybe support at r/leaves will help in this time.)

Diabetics who give up beloved foods (with all the associations that go with them) to save their lives have to do something similar, maybe that’s a useful parallel?

Congratulations on having the wisdom to recognize what’s going on and respect your health, not everyone can do that.

I’m wondering - could your psychiatrist offer support, as well?

Best of luck!
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:33 AM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Well, one thing: you don't have to cut people out, really you don't. Please don't be sad about that part because it doesn't have to happen. A lot of my social life used to be hanging out with musician friends day after day week after week all smoking and drinking and all but a couple smoking pot. Then one of us who was a few years older than the rest quit smoking cigarettes, and I couldn't understand how she could watch everyone smoking and not want to smoke, too, and then she quit drinking and pot, and that seemed completely out of the question, but she was fine and still hung out with us and was still fun and engaged and found everybody else fun and engaging. I thought she must be some kind of tower of strength and incredible willpower, but then about seven or eight years later, I did it, too.

You probably do have to lay low for a while at first, and everybody'll have to think a little harder and plan some pot-free time to be with you, but eventually you'll be able to see people smoke and not have to sit on your hands. You won't lose your friends forever or have to miss all the fun.

Rather than think about it as a catastrophe, you might want to recast it as a pretty natural life transition. People don't react the same way to the same substance over a lifetime. People do tend to slow down the frolic at some point, and nobody can do at forty, or even thirty, what they did at twenty. Another thing: you may be the first but you most likely won't be the last to put it down. You definitely do not have to start judging your friends. You can be like my musician friend who quietly showed us all how to be a good nonsmoking nondrinking friend among good smoking drinking friends. That woman probably saved several people from emphysema, just by sitting there among us happily engaged and neither smoking nor judging.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:48 AM on February 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

check out the contributions on r/leaves from user stonethrownaway, who was both a long-term user and who has been sober for a long time.
posted by thelonius at 12:30 PM on February 21, 2019

Hi past me, though my thing was drinking, not pot. I was looking for release, for just getting the hell out of my head, for putting away the issues I was having and the stress I was feeling and the sorrow I was feeling at the bottom of a bottle - and it turns out, the answers were not there.

Other people have great things to say about doing this hour by hour, so I'm here on the other end of things to tell you that it really does get better. I quit drinking cold turkey, no meetings, just doing it, last April. I started out saying "maybe I can moderate eventually, maybe I just need to quit for a little while", but the longer I went without, the more I realized that one will just turn into two will just turn into 10 (last night, when I was having kill cramps, I really missed whiskey. But it's not worth it.) So it is what it is.

The first few weeks were really, really hard. When you are used to being able to filter reality at will, being able to turn off reality when you want - it takes a hot minute to get used to having to deal with reality all the damned time. It just refuse to go away; reality is a bitch like that. I don't think casual drinkers/smokers/etc get that, exactly? That was one of the hardest parts, for me (your experiences will vary). But that does get easier, and I'm getting to the point where I actually like unadulterated reality. I like going to parties and not stumbling for words, I like remembering my conversations with people, I like being clearheaded during concerts. (I've never been high, and I know it's a different set of sensations than being drunk.) I'm super busy, and I could never get done what I'm doing this spring if I were still drinking and still spending time drunk.

The social bits started out hard and got easier. I'm luck to have super duper supportive friends, so even though my friends are a lot like your friends and family (weekend potlucks with drinking games, cider tours, cabin trips where we never really stop drinking, booze all the time and everywhere), I hang out with them and I don't drink and they do drink and it's fine. I play my drinking games with La Croix (at least I'm hydrated these days) and they play with rum and it's whatever. I know I keep saying that, but if your friends and family are at all kind, it will just be whatever - and if they're not kind, you're going to have to stay away until they can be, because we get one you, and hopefully they realize that too.

Harder are social events where I don't know the people involved very well or work events (and because academia, it's booze all the time); at my wife's office Christmas party, I made an offhand comment about needing to find something to drink without a proof and got a long explanation from someone about how they know they drink too much but they like it but they drink less than their family but but... some people are going to awkward at you about how they want to stop or their uncle stopped or whatever (ask me about my dissertation chair awkwarding at me, I didn't want to have this discussion with her but it was easier than at our next conference when she was trying to buy me a drink). I just say "it's ok, you do you, is there any diet coke?" You'll get better at "it's ok, you do you, I'm going to get closer to the band|play darts|watch the knitting demo|pee|play Tetris on my phone|whatever." There's been a couple of social events I had to duck out on (the end of conference bar run at our regional conference in the fall, I was just overpeopled and out of bandwidth and could not do it), and real friends will understand that it's okay for you to make that call. You've got to take care of you.

Take up something to keep your handles busy. Doodle, knit, do whatever you need to do. When my wife quit smoking (cigarettes) she took a fidget spinner everywhere and dared anyone to say anything about it. It's been a year, she's doing great.

There are practical benefits. There's no more "shit, we both got too drunk, now we have to wait around for hours or grab a Lyft." I'm the perma-DD and I don't mind - I know we're getting home. No more embarrassing stories. No more rolling down my friend's hill drunk out of my mind, no more apologies to make the next morning. It's really nice, actually. (Sometimes this is annoying to - if you're the always sober one, you are always the DD, always the person making sure everyone gets tucked in and no one leaves the oven on from that middle of the night snack adventure. But it is what is it.)

Just keep doing what you need to do, and you're going to wake up in a year and go, wow, it's been a year, I'm still here, FUCK, I feel great, I'm glad I did this. In the meantime, it's been three days, you're doing great. Tomorrow will be day 4, and you'll still be doing great.

Feel free to memail for internet hugs and cheering. You can do this.
posted by joycehealy at 12:35 PM on February 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

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