Global Drug Survey
Cannabis: how to cut down or stop using
By Professor Adam R Winstock
Founder and CEO, Global Drug Survey
Adapted from the Global Drug Survey | Safer Drug Use Limit Guidelines:
The world’s first safer drug use limit guide
GDS stresses that because of the huge amount of evidence that the onset of drug and alcohol use before the age of 18 years of age can cause long lasting impairments in your cognitive and emotional ability and potential, our guidelines are strictly for people over 18 years of age.
For me the development of the Safer Using Limit guidelines is a natural follow up to the GDS Highway Code (HWC). Safer Using Limit guidelines was developed from data collected from 40,000 people who used cannabis and who took part in GDS2015. They were designed to raise people’s awareness of the level of risk that different patterns of drug use places them at over the next couple of years. We did this by asking respondents to rate (on a scale of 1 to 10) how the risk of harm from various drugs (including alcohol) is heightened with increasing levels of use.
Risk here refers to the probability, range and severity of harm. The higher the score, the more likely it is for a person to experience any harm and the higher the score, the more problems that person is likely to face and the more severe those problems are likely to be.
We asked our respondents to think about the likelihood of a person experiencing harm over the next 1-2 years. By harm we mean anything that causes a person a problem, be it to do with their mental or physical health, their relationships and behaviours, their finances or their ability to work, study or just do the things in life they want to do.
Part of the Safer Use Limits app is a doctor’s guide to cutting down.
Here are some of the key points.
Why cut down?
Data from over 250,000 cannabis users suggests that about 1 in 3 cannabis smokers would like to use less in the coming year. Most are motivated to do so because of health concerns (mood, memory, motivation, respiratory health), while others report issues such as work, the ability to study, impact upon relationships or money worries. Cutting down is also advisable if you are planning on stopping altogether, since any withdrawal will less severe if you reduce your intake gradually.
The benefits of cutting down?
The potential benefits of cutting down vary between person to person but for most people the problems that motivated them to want to use less in the first place, start to get much better. They lose tolerance, get more stoned on less cannabis and get more things done. Most feel sharper, brighter, look better and notice improvements in their memory and chest. Most people say their mental health gets better but this is not always the case and for people who may be suffering and self-medicating either physical or mental health issues, rather than get better, these sometimes might get worse. So, I guess everyone has to make their own mind up about the benefits or not of cutting down.
How to cut down
Less cannabis per joint/pipe/bowl – make your weed go further
Delay the time of your first smoke of the day
Increase time between joints (or equivalent). Avoiding smoking spiffs back to back and leaving gaps between smokes, mean you lower your tolerance and also nudge down your consumption.
Cut down on tobacco (if you mix with it) and consider switching to vaporising as an alternative method of consumption. Both are better than mixing your cannabis with tobacco
Reduce your caffeine intake. Coffee and other caffeine-containing products can counter the sedating effects of cannabis. As you cut back, you might need less and reducing this will also reduce the potential effect on sleep your cannabis reduction may induce.
Increase ‘not stoned’ activities, especially exercise. As you spend more time being less stoned, you may find you have time to kill or a tendency to get bored. Spending your time doing physical activity is a great way to help you feel good, with the endorphins produced during exercise providing a natural high (no drugs required).
Ration your daily use. Having a big bag of weed in front of you can make it hard to know how much you are using and difficult to work out how effectively you’re cutting back.
Watch out for an increase in alcohol use. If you miss that stoned feeling be wary of topping up with booze. It can be a slippery slope for some.
Rate of cutting down: Slower is better and associated with less severe withdrawal, that is disturbance of mood, sleep and appetite. Most people should be reduce their daily cannabis intake down by about 25% each week without noticing much withdrawal.
Managing withdrawal once you stop
After cutting down preferably to less than 0.5g a day, then you are probably ready to try to quit (if you want to!)
Withdrawal symptoms occur in about 75% of daily cannabis users and are worse in women, tobacco users, those who stop because they had to and those with mental illness. The more you are smoking when you stop the more intense your withdrawal. This starts on day 1, peaks on days 2-4 and is over for most people after 5-10 days, though sleep problems and moodiness can continue for several weeks.
The most commonly reported symptoms are difficulty sleeping, weird dreams, irritability (and sometimes increased aggression), restlessness, craving for cannabis and low mood. These last 4-10 days for most people.
It can be easier to stop any drug if you are away from home. A change of environment can make it harder to score, easier to avoid bumping into people and places you associate with cannabis and the distraction and novelty of being away can help a lot.
Continue to reduce caffeine intake, cut out tobacco, increase exercise and avoid increasing your alcohol intake, see above.
Other problems. Some people get headaches, lose their appetite, feel sick, get very sweaty, get the chills or become very angry.
Anger. Some people (especially men with a history of being angry and or violent) can become very aroused, snappy and even aggressive when they stop using cannabis. Make sure those around you know you’re trying to stop and that you may have a tendency to be a bit snappy or irritable in the short term. If this places other people at risk (especially children) then make sure you gets some professional help (and maybe some medication to calm you down) or ensure that that those people are not around.
What can my doctor do to help? Cannabis can be a cause of health problems. (Yes, we know it can help with some conditions too.) If you are having difficulties cutting down or stopping or are worried about how cannabis is impacting on your health or how it might be interacting with other medications, go chat to your doctor. Your doctor will probably know local specialists who may be able to help with problems that she / he is unfamiliar with.
When should I seek help? If you can’t stop or cut down on your own, or if your cannabis use is effecting your relationships, your ability to work or study or your health in other ways such your lung health (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath) or your mood then go have a chat and a check up.
Global Drug Survey runs the biggest drug survey in the world
How to stop smoking cannabis (weed)
When you use cannabis regularly it can start to harm other parts of your life.
You may find it’s affecting your finances, your work or education, or your relationships with friends and family.
With a bit of planning you can cut down or stop and get your life back on track.
Before you cut down
Build some structure into your day
If you’re smoking lots of cannabis, life can feel a bit all over the place.
You may be sleeping irregular hours, not eating properly and neglecting things like college or work.
If you want to cut down or stop, it’s helpful to get some structure back into your life first.
- Set alarms to get up and go to bed at the same times each day.
- Try to eat regular meals and drink plenty of water.
- Plan activities you can do every day. This could be going for a walk, doing some exercise or making some art – whatever suits you.
Once you’ve got more balance in your life you can think about your cannabis use.
Get an idea of how much you’re using
It’s important to understand your cannabis use before you start cutting down.
You can do this by keeping a simple cannabis diary on your phone or in a small notebook.
Aim to do this for one week.
Each time you smoke, note down:
- What day and time you smoked
- Where you were and who you were with
- How much you smoked
- How you felt before you smoked
- How you felt afterwards
It may look something like this:
In my bedroom on my own
Before: felt worried about school
After: felt more relaxed
If you do this for a week you’ll have a good idea of how much cannabis you’re using, when you use it, who with and why.
You should also start to see where you can cut down.
Think about how cannabis is affecting your life
Make a list of everything that’s most important to you right now – your favourite people, foods, places you like to visit, things you own and what you’d like to do in the future.
Then think about how cannabis is affecting those things.
Have you stopped doing things you used to enjoy? Is it harming your work or education? Are you arguing with friends or family?
How would that change if you stopped smoking?
Decide what you’ll do instead of smoking
The best way to get rid of old habits is to swap them for new ones.
If you cut down or stop smoking what will you do instead?
Look at your list of things that are important to you.
Could you spend more time with people who don’t smoke, for example, or do more of the things you used to enjoy?
Set a small, realistic goal
Decide on one small, realistic goal as your first step.
You’re more likely to stick to small, achievable goals.
For example, if you’re smoking six joints a day, perhaps you could cut down to five.
Or you could carry on smoking six joints but put slightly less cannabis in each one.
Once you’re confident you’ve achieved this goal you can think about your next step – and so on.
When you start cutting down
Use ‘delay and distract’ if you get cravings
Each time you feel the urge to smoke, see if you can delay smoking by just five minutes.
Set a timer on your phone if that helps.
Distract yourself with something else – watch a video, have a shower, make a cup of tea or tidy up.
Cravings are like waves that build up to a peak then fade away.
By the time you’ve watched a video or had a shower, you may find the craving has passed.
See if you can gradually build up to delaying each joint for 10 minutes, then 15 and so on.
Ride out the lows
People who smoke regularly often feel low if they don’t smoke for a while.
This is because, each time you smoke a joint, your brain releases a “happy” hormone called dopamine.
Your brain starts to rely on its regular hit of cannabis to make dopamine and stops making it naturally on its own.
That’s why you may feel low when you’re not smoking.
These post-cannabis lows usually last about four to 10 days.
You may get other withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- difficulty sleeping
- strange dreams
- irritability (and sometimes aggression)
- cravings for cannabis
Try to get through them without lighting up another joint.
It won’t be long before your brain starts producing dopamine naturally again and then you’ll feel better.
Get some support
It’s easier to cut down or give up cannabis if you have some support.
Think about who you trust and would feel comfortable asking for help. It could be someone in your family or a friend, teacher or work colleague.
If you’d prefer to talk to someone who doesn’t know you, you can:
You’ll find lots more advice about cutting down or stopping cannabis on the Pot Help website.
How to cut down or stop cannabis (weed), with advice on how to prepare to cut down cannabis and coping with cannabis cravings