The day Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be going into lockdown, my friends and I got our priorities right and called our green grocers. For weeks, anxious shoppers had been stocking up on essentials – toilet paper, groceries and hand-sanitiser – leaving supermarket shelves empty, and for many, marijuana, too, is a necessary self-isolation item.
For many weed smokers, myself included, cannabis has long been a way to de-stress and gain perspective. These past few weeks have added new incentives to get high – the need to fight the monotony of quarantine, escape a little and try to support your mental health. What's more, research into cannabis use has shown that it can provide relief from insomnia, anxiety and pain, ailments that are currently all the more heightened.
Amid the global shutdown, in Canada, the Netherlands and in US states where cannabis has been legalised, dispensaries and coffeeshops have been deemed essential businesses, along with pharmacies, supermarkets and banks, and have seen a massive surge in demand, with people buying weed at higher rates and in bigger amounts than before.
"I wouldn't usually consider myself a big smoker, but I stocked up when lockdown first started and ended up smoking every day for three weeks until I ran out," said 28-year-old Nadia. "I'd get up, do yoga and meditation, then get on with some work before smoking in the evenings… I felt great. Smoking weed relieved my anxiety, which I usually suffer from immensely. I also felt able to stay present and was sleeping better than I'd ever done in my life."
Many said they've been smoking more often while in self-isolation, not least because there's just much less to do. "It definitely helps my anxiety, which is partly why I started smoking to begin with, as well as with boredom," said 30-year-old Yara. "It makes mundane tasks more interesting, changes my perspective and fuels my creativity."
With many in close-quarters with nowhere to go, some said it was helping them get along better with those around them. "It helps my husband and I be more chill so we don't argue or get on top of each other," said 33-year-old Rachel, while Noha – who lives in Dublin with two of her girlfriends – said that smoking together in the evenings has brought up many interesting conversations.
But while weed can help ease anxiety, it can also make you paranoid, and in a time in which anxiety is already running high, many have discovered the importance of balance.
"At such an unusual time, my relationship with weed is definitely changing," said Mazen, a 35-year-old OG smoker. "I'm at home the whole time, so definitely smoking more, but I can see when it works and when it doesn't. For example, a wake-and-bake at a time like this… that can go wrong and you just become a baked caged tiger. If you overdo it repeatedly, you can just tie yourself in knots and overthink – that's when boredom and anxiety collide."
The importance of keeping good habits and a semblance of routine at a time like this has been advocated by many mental health experts, and the line between a healthy and an unhealthy habit is a thin one. But with sales of all sorts of things that tend to be classed as a "vice" – from sex toys to alcohol – having increased exponentially, it's clear that, as human beings, we're all looking for some semblance of comfort right now, even if it's just a nightly pint of Haagen-Dazs.
When it comes to smoking, however, headlines abound warning cigarette and weed smokers that, as coronavirus attacks the respiratory system, their habit can increase the risk of suffering more severe complications. So to get high in ways that don't involve inhalation, some people I spoke to said they have taken to making and cooking with their own cannabutter, as well taking edibles (but as edibles tend to be a lot stronger than a joint, it's often a whole different experience).
For many, the risk of smoking isn't really impacting their weed consumption, although the concern is there. As an article on the BBC – which touches on France's decision to exempt tobacconists from the shutdown – put it, at a time of extreme anxiety and unrest, "taking away an important stress reliever… would be cruel, even during a pandemic that primarily attacks the lungs".
We are going through unprecedented times, and there is no right way to think, feel or behave. Whatever you need to stay in, stay safe and stay sane is ultimately OK right now, as long as it's not hurting anybody else. For many, weed seems to be doing the trick.