This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
For many people, weed is a godsend. It can help them numb pain, manage mental health issues, inspire creativity, or just aid them in their pursuit of post-work relaxation. However, the same obviously can't be said for everyone, and while weed might not be physically addictive in the same way as alcohol or benzos, it is highly habit-forming. And that habit, for some, isn't healthy for their body or mind.
This year's Global Drug Survey found that 30 percent of all participants who had used cannabis reported wishing to use less in the coming year, while a third of users said they'd tried to stop at least once in their lifetime. It's clearly a preoccupation for many, so I tracked down four ex-stoners to find out how giving up weed changed their lives.
I've always believed in myself and been confident, outgoing, and active. But I went to college, started smoking weed every day, and I completely changed. I went from being the guy who was out every night to barely leaving the house. I looked like shit and I lost weight.
Toward the end of school, I met a girl who despised drugs of any kind. I had to hide my smoking from her. We had a long-distance relationship for three years after college, so it wasn’t too hard. In that time, I treaded water—doing OK, nothing great, smoking every night. We then moved in together and concealing it from her got fucking ridiculous. I'd smoke a quick joint when she went to the store and then shower, change my shirt and brush my teeth before she got back. I'd never been so clean. She found out what I was doing and said she would leave me if I didn't stop. Honestly, I was relieved because I'd wanted to stop for a while and didn’t even enjoy it anymore. I just couldn’t break the habit. We’re now happily married, with two kids, in our own house, and I think most people would consider me a success. I know there are lots of reasons people smoke, but personally, I think weed is a killer of motivation.
I'd been enthusiastically smoking—among taking other drugs—for most of my teens. When I was almost 19, I had a huge psychotic break. It was the scariest thing that had happened to me. There were messages on the television telling me the police were after me for a murder. There were monsters in my reflection. My food all tasted bitter, so I stopped eating. This all culminated in a suicide attempt.
At the time, I was diagnosed schizophrenic, and later they said bipolar. Finally, they've settled somewhere in the middle and said that I have schizoaffective disorder. Nobody at the time said pot might have played with this, so I carried on smoking for a couple of years. It was a psychiatrist who blithely asked me at 20 if I smoked cannabis. When I told him I did, he urged me to stop right away. He said that, while there were likely lots of factors to the development of my illness, pot would have been doing a lot more harm than good.
When you have a psychosis, you get asked questions about how you'd felt the six months previously so you can start pinning down subtle signs that it might have been coming. For me, the two major predictors seemed to be sudden panic and anxiety, and the fact I'd become increasingly paranoid and isolated. I was smoking to calm myself down, but it’s likely it was making things more profound and dangerous. My schizoaffective disorder is now under control and my anxiety disorder has, finally, fucked off. I have my life together and I'm seven months pregnant. I don't think weed would have been any positive part of this equation if I'd carried on.
I smoked for seven years, with three of those being basically every day. When I was younger, it was all spluttery blowbacks and blurry-eyed giggles with your friends. By the time I was 23, I’d smoke half a joint the second I got home from work, spend half an hour thinking I was going to die, then settle into the "nice bit." I didn’t go out much and couldn’t get to sleep without it. I was so scared of the horrible dreams I had when I didn’t smoke that I’d wait up until whatever time for my dealer just to avoid them.
A promotion forced me to be snappier at work, so I quit and it changed my life. It didn’t take me until lunchtime to get alert. I swam after work rather than smoked. I slept deeply—not having that half-hour of paranoia every day was a newfound bliss. I started remembering people's birthdays! I think weed should totally be legalized and if the world smoked rather than drank it would be a nicer place. Sadly, it’s just not for me.
I'm very shy and I always used weed as an icebreaker: "Do you want to go smoke a joint?" was a lot more comfortable for me than, "Shall we go grab a coffee?"
I was insecure at the end of the third year of college because I never seemed to be able to meet anyone. I was so keen for a girlfriend but seemed to always mess things up and not take my chances. I'd get frustrated with myself for not having the confidence, and this made my mental health worse. I moved back in with my parents for two years and didn't do anything. I had shitty jobs. I started smoking by myself, which was something I’d never done.
One day, I looked back and thought, I finished school two years ago—what have I done in that time? So I quit. It was easy. Within two weeks, I'd got an interview. I got a place, sourced an apartment, and moved halfway across the country. I was passionate about what I did. I was confident in myself for the first time ever. I noticed when girls were interested, something I’d never notice when I was high. This had been a source of so much pain.
Now, I smoke weed very occasionally at house parties, and I love it, but it drains my ambition and confidence, which then makes me unhappy. So I'm best without.
If you want help quitting weed, check out the Safer Use Limits from the Global Drug Survey.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow David Hillier on Twitter.