It’s estimated that 9% of those who use cannabis regularly will develop some level of physical dependence or addiction to it. For alcohol and harder drugs, the number is closer to 20%. As an avid fan of cannabis and a professional farmer myself, I wish I wasn’t in that camp, but I am.
I remember first coming to terms with my cannabis addiction at age 17. It was during my senior year of high school, approximately two years after using for the first time, that I began needing cannabis to get my day going. All my friends “waked and baked,” but I was the only one who became anxious and nauseous without it.
I pleaded with my folks to purchase me enough grass each week so I could stay focused on school and sports, but the concept of “functional” addiction was lost on them, despite that being their personal m.o. As a result, cannabis became quite disruptive until age 20 when I met a few grower buddies who would keep me in product at no cost. I subsequently entered college and earned straight A’s throughout two undergraduate degrees and an MBA while using copiously.
The current literature on cannabis addiction tends to downplay its severity. Cannabis withdrawal has been compared to quitting coffee and is normally associated with loss of appetite, moodiness, and trouble sleeping.
Having experienced cannabis withdrawal five times over the past two and a half decades, each experience was much more severe for me. Despite a weaning off period where I decreased my use for a couple weeks prior to abstinence, each episode was both trying and disruptive. When I stop using, I don’t sleep for the first two or three days. I have severe nausea and anxiety and lose approximately ten pounds due to loss of appetite and occasional vomiting. Sensory overwhelm is near constant and I simply need to be alone as conversation and work are just too much. After seven days or so I become more human, but am plagued by nightmares for several weeks following.
While I consider myself the exception, not the rule, I can strongly attest to the fact that cannabis addiction and withdrawal are real. Because I believe addiction is hereditary or genetic at some level, I encourage those with serious family histories of addiction to tread cautiously when considering whether or not to use cannabis. I share with my children that they got a crappy roll of the dice in relation to substance abuse proclivity, so advocate they abstain from recreational use. I’m a strong advocate for medicinal use regardless of patient age, but have shared the risks for my kids outweigh potential benefits as far as adult use is concerned.
For those struggling with cannabis addiction I recommend first changing your method of consumption to break the habitual side of things. I also advocate for a reduction in use prior to going cold turkey. Chamomile tea, ginger ale, easily digested foods, and in severe cases, sedatives can help you through the temporary, but very uncomfortable adjustment your body makes. Share your experience with family and friends and try to stay away from others who use for a few weeks while you build resolve and start feeling better.
The good news is that after going through withdrawal, I feel great on the other side. Energy levels improve, strength and fitness (despite a very active using lifestyle) improve, as does my physical appearance, especially a reduction in eye circles. I tend to become more optimistic, more outgoing and more social as well.
While cannabis tends to enhance my empathy and creativity while reducing headaches and chronic pain, withdrawing from what I largely consider to be a life saving and life improving substance is important for me every several years. It allows me to sort of reset or recenter myself and often allows for different perspective and improved levels of interpersonal relationship.
Conversely if and when I become too self centered, too hard working, too moody, or just not quite at ease with myself or the world, returning to cannabis can also have very similar positive impacts, at least for a time.