This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
For the past six years or so, I've started my day with the same mantra. I peel my eyes open after an extended battle with the snooze button and pledge, "I'm not going to smoke weed this morning." The mantra is usually followed by a heartfelt promise to myself that I will spend my day writing, as opposed to floating through the world in a weed haze.
I repeat the mantra steadily as I drag my ass out of bed and over to the staple white Ikea shelf that houses my dearest treasures. A black-and-gold witch medallion that belonged to my grandmother hangs there. A small bejeweled elephant perches on top of the shelf—my best friend acquired him for me during her travels. He has a secret compartment, and housed within is a piece of red jade. Red jade, Ashley says, has the power to help combat hesitation and fear.
Alongside the medallion, the elephant, and the jade is my deep blue glass pipe. As the final words of my mantra wisp out of me, I pick it up and stuff it full of weed. I perch on the edge of my bed and smoke "just one bowl."
As I said, I've been a proponent of the wake 'n' bake for about six years. But I've been smoking just about daily for over a decade now. It started when I was 16, and I'll be 27 in a couple of weeks.
Given the opportunity, I smoke about three times per day: once in the morning, then in the afternoon, and between one and infinity joints at night, depending on how much weed I have. I smoke just to get through the boring parts of my day: grunt tasks like making breakfast, showering, running errands, and walking to work.
Some days, I feel like I don't get high anymore—just transcend to another mood. While I'm not as productive as I could be, I am what they call a functioning stoner: I can usually read, write, drive, do chores, and carry on conversations while high. The only problem is that I usually just decide not to bother with said activities.
Despite my mantras, I've found myself pissing away endless afternoons getting stoned. My work has undeniably suffered. Could the myth that chronic use adversely affects motivation be true? A productive day, for me, usually maxes out at sending a couple of emails, working a few hours at my insanely chill part-time job, and two or three hours of writing. Case in point: The pitch for this very article was approved over a year ago. Instead of writing, I often wind up getting stoned during the workday, watching a lot of dirty AF group sex on Pornhub, and eating cheese and crackers. Before I know it, it's FRIDAY, and I obviously deserve a break from this hectic-ass work week.
I tell myself it's fine: My life is not traditionally depressing. I have a masters degree, some regular writing work, a job, a partner, friends, and a beautiful apartment on the subway line. I wash (sometimes). I can't be a total failure, then, right? Obviously, I'm not addicted.
In high school, I took an AP psych course. I wrote my final paper on whether or not weed was addictive. My goal was to dig up some hardline science with which to refute the buzzkills who waxed superior about weed being bound to dull my intelligence. I found what I set out to find: Weed is not physically addictive. It's just psychologically addictive. Which means you can convince yourself that you need it. But it also means that there are physical changes in the brain. Healthcare centers like Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health say that weed can cause problems with motivation, and that those who stop using can experience loss of appetite, anxiety, and other side effects. They say it's addictive, point-blank.
But I've always strenuously refuted these claims. It's just a plant. It's harmless. It's a medicine, I say to myself. I can't be addicted.
Then why is this harmless little plant that humans have smoked for thousands of years controlling my actions?
I can now admit that I've been psychologically addicted to weed for the past decade-plus. If I need to eat, sleep, relax, be amused, calm down, forget a horrible experience, practice self love, run errands of any kind, watch TV, or create something: I smoke.
Smoking numbs any pain I might have, helps me forget my troubles, makes the band Sublime sound sonically plausible, and is the ultimate hangover cure.
In recent years, the negative effects of smoking, for me, have begun to outweigh the positive. You may have heard the claim that weed makes you a wee bit stupider? Well, my memory has started to fail me. I have endless amazing story ideas when I'm high (I know, I know, every stoner makes this claim, BUT IT'S TRUE). The ideas, of course, evaporate as quickly as they materialize. My once-robust vocabulary has dwindled, and with it, my self-confidence. I can't fucking spell anymore. I'm not as quick-witted as I seem to remember having been once upon a time. I'm paranoid, and nervous as fuck. My attention span is nonexistent. My coordination is shit. It terrifies me to speak to shopkeepers. (What if they know I'm high?)
My weed-related anxiety has started running my life. When and where will I re-up? Will I have time? Do I smell like weed? I must smell like weed. Shit, I'm going out of town to visit family—how will I get weed? Do I bring it with me? What if they have dogs at the airport? Better text my brother to make sure I can get some.
I've started smoking even when I don't want to. It's become a mindless habit, like brushing my teeth. I smoke, my heart rate spikes, and I immediately start stressing about everything I should be doing instead. Just as I promised myself I wouldn't smoke each morning, I've begun to make a similar promise just before I re-up. One last joint, I'll say, and I'm done. That's it. Not calling my guy for more. Cold turkey it is! I start smoking smaller and smaller bits at a time, hoarding the crumbs so I don't run out. Then, on the day I've hit bottom, I'll invariably scrape some resin out of the blue pipe, mix it with the final crumbs, and smoke it while texting my dealer. Later that day, I'll go and re-up. I have spent my last $20 on weed more than once in the past year. Instead of buying groceries. I have sold clothes to consignment stores, turned around, and spent the money on weed.
My friendships have started to suffer, a surefire hallmark of addiction. I've routinely canceled plans because I was too high to leave the house. People I used to see a couple of times per week stopped texting because, presumably, they got tired of my serial lateness (and the fact that I could never remember the stories they told me the last time we hung out). I've always cared about fitness and healthy eating, but I've started getting fat because I'll spend as much of my free time as possible watching Netflix and eating chips with Philadelphia dip. Oh, and the takeout.
Ugh, I've secretly thought, I'm a walking cliche. Also, how old am I? Twenty-seven seems like as good an age as any to get one's shit together.
Over the course of the last three years or so, I've started to hear the lies so narrowly masked by my excuses. I've been blazing in spite of myself. All day. If the amount I smoke is OK with me, why am I always rattling off my accomplishments to myself on loop? Why am I excusing myself for not writing? That would be the sound of a desperate bid to my inner being to forgive my outer being's sins.
The beginning of the end of my willful addiction came six months ago, when I was visiting my grandmother. I smoked in her house while she was sleeping.
"I know what weed smells like," she said in the morning, her gray eyes hooded and sad. "Look at you. You can't even keep a normal schedule. It's time to get your life in order." Naturally, at first I thought she was a bitch and shouldn't be trying to fuck with my medicine. It's the same way I've always reacted when someone suggests I quit, or that people in general might be healthier in virtually any way for quitting. Childlike vitriol. Rage. In short: denial.
But three weeks ago, a day before the spring equinox, I decided I was finally ready to know what would happen if I quit. My last quarter ran out, and I didn't text anyone to fix it. There are so many reasons people quit. I was sick of the paranoia and anxiety, the lack of productivity. The laziness. I was afraid to quit for so long because I worried I wouldn't know what to do with myself when I did, but the time had come.
How do I feel thus far? Surprisingly good, in contrast to how I thought I'd be feeling. I expected to be even more anxious, and to feel irritable and nauseous for a few weeks. Happily, I'm no bitchier than usual, and my nerves are actually in a better state than they were when I was baked all the time. My appetite has decreased substantially, but I'm regarding that as a positive since I want to lose the stoner weight.
I'm not trying to too-loudly trumpet my newfound squeaky-clean ways, lest I come off as a hypocritical and self-righteous asshole. But I'm surprised at how many of my problems have been solved by quitting. I've made a point of seeing my old friends more often. I've made new friends in the past couple of weeks because I'm not utterly petrified to talk to people anymore. I've sent pitches to new publications. I've always been the sort to overextend myself and beg the universe for more hours in a day. Now, I feel like I have more time to write, cook actual meals, and read actual books.
Don't get me wrong. A weedless way is not the only way. I'm not preaching a sober life for everyone, by any stretch. I still love weed. And I miss it. I will do nothing but smoke the fattest of spliffs on 4/20, which is still my favorite holiday. The only difference is that I will now be the one in control. I'll be able to enjoy the feeling of being truly high again, and that is a thing I am looking forward to with glee.
Photo via Flickr user Rachel Baranow