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I’m Sick of Pretending: I Don’t ‘Get’ Weed

Say the word “weed” and you might imagine a few friends giggling together on a couch, or maybe giggling while eating junk food. But that’s not actually what weed is like.

In my experience weed goes like this: I’ll be at a party, getting loose, getting in the mood, and I’ll smell a joint and think: if this is how good I feel now, imagine how good I’ll feel after some of that! And in that moment I succumb to the myth of weed. I imagine being surrounded by friends who alternate between nodding at my insights and laughing at my jokes: how random are dogs, like they just walk around all day—but where are they going? And in my imagination everyone is like whoa and then we eat burritos.

But that’s not reality. In reality I have a single puff of a joint and I’m immediately plunged into crisis. Suddenly I’m surrounded by people who can see with laser precision just how lame and pathetic I am and they take pleasure in watching me pretend otherwise. I take a sip of beer and feign nonchalance but I hear their recriminations: That was such a weird sip. Did you see that weird sip Julian just did? What the hell was that?!

And so, within about one minute of smoking a joint, I start to formulate an escape plan, only to realise that leaving the party will mean saying goodbye, which is impossible. There’s simply no way I can look people in the face and say “goodbye,” but I also know that if I leave without saying goodbye everyone will think I’m a spineless coward. So I’m trapped. There’s no way out, and I stay at the party for hours longer than necessary. I sit in the corner and avoid all eye contact. I avoid all conversation. I feel the same way a cat might feel stranded on a beach: frightened, desperate, very exposed.

Of course, this isn’t everyone’s experience of weed, but I think it’s an experience shared by many. For me and lots of others, smoking weed induces only paranoia, fatigue, and as I’ve observed in friends, mental illness. And yet weed holds such a lofty position in popular culture that it’s almost blasphemous to say “I hate weed.” But here I am, saying just that. I hate weed, and I’ll tell you why.

Let’s start with its coolness. Not a single advertising creative worked on weed throughout the 20th century and yet weed was somehow gifted with the kind of prestige for which companies like Nike or Red Bull would have paid millions. Not just that, but weed got endorsed by the most famous people on the planet. Imagine what it would have cost to get The Beatles to endorse a given product—let’s say, a certain brand of canned tuna—at the height of their fame in the 60s. Or what it would have taken to get Snoop Dog to champion a line of mattress toppers in the 90s. And yet these cultural titans threw all their weight behind weed, for free, and likely against the wishes of label management. And this celebrity-studded campaign was rolled out internationally, without financial backing or central planning, and maintained year after year until weed became semi-legal in the 2010s. It’s kind of a miracle really.

It was this coolness that suckered me in. By the age of 17 I was well-attuned to the soft rebelliousness of weed and keen to try it out. The first time I got stoned I laughed like stoners do in movies. Then I ate a large pile of pancakes coloured with green food dye and decided weed would be my vice. I always quite liked the idea of having a vice, and so I set about becoming a stoner. One time I got stoned and ate grilled cheese and thought it tasted like sunshine. Another time I stumbled upon 2001: A Space Odyssey on late night TV and decided to study film. But slowly, the good times drifted further apart, and tentacles of paranoia and discomfort wriggled in. And at that point I did the smart thing and persisted for another 10 years, at least.

By 21 I was smoking weed most days. Pipies, bongs, little covert joints at university. I wasn’t fussy, just so long as it enhanced reality and made everything slightly more stressful. I became the stoner guy among my friends. I tried growing hydroponic weed in the attic at my parents’ house, until my little brother noticed yellow light leaking around the light fittings in his ceiling and told my parents. I also smoked weed at work and at uni. But slowly, as the years rolled over, weed became less and less pleasurable in ways I refused to admit.

I think I clung to weed for its aura of artistic intellectualism. I never truly loved the feeling of being stoned, but I loved the idea of being stoned. Take a list of Nobel laureates, me and my stoner mates used to assure each other, and two thirds would probably have a little sneaky pipe in a bottom drawer somewhere in their office. I never fact-checked this, but I didn’t need to. I knew weed was a brain-enhancer. I knew weed amplified creative sensibilities and produced special insights. But most importantly, I knew that smoking weed identified me as a thinker, an artist, and a maverick who was unafraid of the law.

In reality, I was 27 and cleaning bathrooms at a backpacker’s hostel while living with my parents. And I’m not saying my lack of direction was all weed’s fault, but it didn’t help. And slowly, as my more focused friends started earning more and calling less, I started seeing holes in the myth.

I started to wonder if I was really a budding film director, as I’d assumed. And I started suspecting that getting stoned in the middle of the day and watching old movies with the curtains drawn wasn’t essential research. But I didn’t stop smoking weed, I just started to see myself as more and more of a loser.

I think that was the turning point, though. Loathing myself and my place in the world made getting stoned unpleasant, so I cut back. And then as I smoked less, the lethargy lifted, and I noticed some of my friends were getting interesting jobs. I noticed others were dating interesting people. Then I looked at myself and saw only squander. Life, I decided, was about doing things. Life was not about sitting around in dark rooms thinking that I could do things, if I wanted to.

I know I’m describing a fairly common experience of being 20-something and I can’t pin all my problems on weed, but I do believe it was a handicap. It brought down the bar too low. It made mediocrity feel like a form of protest. It made getting up early impossible. But worse, it made lowly humdrum wins feel momentous because I was just so stoned and easily overwhelmed all the time.

Long story short: I quit weed. I started putting in effort and showing up on time. And life got better.

Today I still know a lot of people who smoke weed and manage to be happy and successful. But I also know people who are not. I have this one friend I’ll call Ben. Him and I were very close and I liked Ben because he was funny. But slowly he became the kind of guy who couldn’t start the day without a cone, and he stopped being funny. Worse than that, Ben’s ability to hold a conversation went down the toilet and he just wanted to talk about the same boring shit all the time: how cops are dickheads, how corporations are evil, how all pharmaceuticals are evil, and how all illegal drugs are misunderstood elixirs with magical healing properties.

Ben doesn’t seem happy. But once, when I gently suggested he rein in his bong habit, he gave me all the same nonsense I used to espouse: weed is natural, weed is demonised by the government blah, blah, blah.

It’s true that weed is natural, but then so is asbestos. Being natural doesn’t mean shit. And I’d wager that on a long enough time scale, anyone with enough weed can discover their propensity for mental illness. There’s an increasing amount of data suggesting that’s true, and while this article isn’t the place for a dissection of the medical literature, I’d recommend this 2019 article by Malcolm Gladwell as a starting point.

The point of all this isn’t to say weed is evil. It’s not even inherently bad, but it can be, and it was for me. So if you ever find yourself wondering, do I actually, really enjoy this feeling?, take note. Don’t do it unless you love it. And if you do, maybe try a week without weed anyway, just to double check.

I enjoy parties these days and crowds no longer make me anxious. In fact, just the idea of getting stoned now makes me nervous. Remembering that feeling of being trapped inside my own head, I don’t miss it. Life is better without weed and I wish I’d realised that earlier. If I had, I might have skipped 15 years of wasted afternoons, terrifying parties, and a whole lot of wondering what people think of me as a twisted form of entertainment.

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After 15 years trying to like it, I'm ready to admit I hate it.

What Happens To Your Body The Morning After Smoking Weed

Why you feel blah after eating that brownie.

If you’ve ever been hungover from drinking, then you already know how one night of boozy indulgence can really mess with your mood, well-being, and productivity the next day. And you might have found yourself in a similar sitch the day after eating both halves of a pot brownie. But are weed hangovers real? Some cannabis consumers swear they’ve endured weed-related hangover symptoms, but the experience is far from universal.

If you’ve experienced weird symptoms after staying away from weed for a while, it’s possible that your body has become used to a certain amount of cannabis regularly, and is having difficulty adjusting. “Marijuana withdrawal would be a more appropriate name for [a weeed hangover]” Dr. Scott Braunstein M.D., medical director of healthcare organization Sollis Health, tells Bustle. But a lot of the research on cannabis hangovers is based on people who use it heavily, seven times or more per month, and there’s not a lot of studies about occasional users and how they feel the morning after a big night.

With all of that in mind, here are four commonly reported symptoms of a weed hangover, why they happen, and what you can do to make yourself feel better if you ever experience one.

1. Headaches

Dr. Jordan Tishler M.D., an emergency medicine physician and cannabis specialist, tells Bustle that headaches are more likely to happen while you’re still intoxicated. If your head aches the morning after, you might just be dehydrated. A review of cannabis withdrawal symptoms after heavy use published in Current Addiction Reports in 2018 found that headache was a common symptom, along with chills and shakiness. It’s not really clear why this happens, but it’s possible that it’s to do with brain activity.

“Cannabis binds to neuron receptors, and has a complicated effect on neurotransmitters in the brain,” Dr. Braunstein says. “In chronic users, the brain becomes accustomed to a high level of dopamine.” Dopamine is is a neurotransmitter that plays a big role in sensations of pleasure and reward. Without cannabis, dopamine levels can crash possibly leading to migraine, as one 2017 study published in Neurology found. But it’s not clear if all these puzzle pieces fit together for weed smokers.

The next time you spend your Saturday night getting baked with friends, just be sure you’re drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your cannabis adventures.

2. Brain Fog

Of all the reported symptoms of a “weed hangover,” Dr. Tishler says brain fog and fatigue are the ones he anticipates. “The mechanism is unknown, but I suspect largely related [to] over-stimulation of the CB1 receptors.” These are the main receptors in the brain where cannabis ‘docks’, giving you all its positive effects.

If you smoke regularly and then stop, it could mess with your cognitive abilities. “If marijuana use is discontinued, dopamine levels drop and within about one week, the person can feel a state of anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and even depression,” Dr. Braunstein says. This is why cannabis is seen as psychologically addictive, he says; it gives you a hard emotional time if you go through withdrawal. An overview of cannabis withdrawal in 2017 in Substance Abuse & Rehabilitation found that irritability, restlessness, disturbed mood, depression, and anger could all appear as symptoms.

Other than coffee, good food, and lots of sleep, one way to deal with brain fog is to get out and exercise. Try going for a long walk or run, then cool down with some yoga, and take a hot (or cold) shower afterwards. It may not make your mental fogginess go away completely, but you’ll definitely feel sharper and more alert.

3. Feeling Dehydrated

While studies show that THC can bind itself to the CB1 receptors on our salivary glands, causing them to dry up — aka, dry mouth — Dr. Tishler tells Bustle that dehydration isn’t directly caused by weed. “Dehydration and dry eyes are really not related to cannabis,” he says. If you’re feeling dried out the day after consuming cannabis, it’s probably because you were already dehydrated when you started smoking; or it might be because you didn’t remember to hydrate while you were getting lifted.

Dehydration is pretty easy to avoid. To rehydrate and recover after waking up dehydrated, drink lots of water, and chow down on water-rich fruits and veggies throughout your day.

4. Fatigue

For the most part, weed can actually help some people fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer. But if you smoke weed before bed, it’s possible that your high could be messing with the quality of your sleep, ultimately making you feel fatigued the day after you smoke. A study published in 2017 in Psychopharmacology also found that withdrawal from cannabis meant a rise in poor sleep quality, so if you’re a heavy user going without for a while, you might feel a bit more tired.

Naturally, the best way to remedy this hangover symptom is by getting lots of sleep — but if that’s not an option for you due to work or social obligations, then all you can really do is try to treat your body well throughout the day. Drink coffee and water, eat healthy meals, go for a long walk, and consider taking the day off from weed.

The Bottom Line

Dr. Tishler says time is really all any cannabis consumer should need to get back to “normal,” and he advises practicing moderation in all things. “If you’re experiencing weed hangover, likely you’re using too much,” Tishler says.

Also worth remembering? Any product that claims to relieve a pot hangover is likely too good to be true. “There are many products claiming to address this problem, or over-intoxication in general, and I’d advise staying away from them,” Dr. Tishler says. “There is no science yet to suggest that these products are effective, and since they are not regulated at all, there’s no reason to expect that they are safe to use.”

Readers should note that laws governing cannabis, hemp and CBD are evolving, as is information about the efficacy and safety of those substances. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as legal or medical advice. Always consult your physician prior to trying any substance or supplement.

Dr. Scott Braunstein M.D.

Dr. Jordan Tishler M.D.

Baron, E. P., Lucas, P., Eades, J., & Hogue, O. (2018). Patterns of medicinal cannabis use, strain analysis, and substitution effect among patients with migraine, headache, arthritis, and chronic pain in a medicinal cannabis cohort. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s10194-018-0862-2

Bonnet, U., & Preuss, U. W. (2017). The cannabis withdrawal syndrome: current insights. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 8, 9–37. https://doi.org/10.2147/SAR.S109576

DaSilva, A. F., Nascimento, T. D., Jassar, H., Heffernan, J., Toback, R. L., Lucas, S., DosSantos, M. F., Bellile, E. L., Boonstra, P. S., Taylor, J., Casey, K. L., Koeppe, R. A., Smith, Y. R., & Zubieta, J. K. (2017). Dopamine D2/D3 imbalance during migraine attack and allodynia in vivo. Neurology, 88(17), 1634–1641. https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000003861

Jacobus, J., Squeglia, L.M., Escobar, S. et al. Changes in marijuana use symptoms and emotional functioning over 28-days of monitored abstinence in adolescent marijuana users. Psychopharmacology234, 3431–3442 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-017-4725-3

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Prestifilippo, J. P., Fernández-Solari, J., de la Cal, C., Iribarne, M., Suburo, A. M., Rettori, V., … Elverdin, J. C. (2006). Inhibition of salivary secretion by activation of cannabinoid receptors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16946411

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This article was originally published on Oct. 14, 2015

Cannabis withdrawal can feel like many different things, but people commonly report these four symptoms of a weed hangover.