I Tried to Figure Out Why Weed Isn't Fun for Me
No matter how hard I try, it makes me feel like shit.
All photos by David Meulenbeld
This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
My friend Sara loves weed. She’s a great person without it, but when she lights up, Sara becomes the funniest, most relaxed, creative and energetic human I have ever met. Her mind suddenly makes astounding connections and she reaches an almost post-human level of chill. Another friend of mine describes being high as feeling like you've morphed "into one of those plastic bobble head dogs with huge grins". They're not the only ones – a lot of my friends are weed enthusiasts, and it's the one thing I can't share with them: no matter how hard I try, weed just makes me feel like shit.
When I smoke a joint I become extremely self-conscious and stressed. I'll make a mundane comment about something and instantly start worrying about how lame it was. I'll leave a room and worry that the vibe won't be the same when I come back. I get into this state of paranoia, and although I'm still able to rationalise the situation – 'Hey, you’re only thinking these things because you're stoned, you weirdo!' – the paranoid thoughts don't go away. And if I happen to also be drunk I just end up with my head resting on a toilet seat, fearing that I'll be trapped in that position for the rest of my life.
It bugs me no end that weed isn't fun for me. Not just my friends, but many of my personal heroes – Rihanna, the Broad City girls, Sarah Silverman – happen to be proud stoners. I'm not sad because I think getting high is cool, but I just really feel like I'm missing out on some euphoric experience. What is it, exactly, that's keeping me from being a happy stoner? Am I doing it wrong and could I just learn to appreciate it? I need answers, so decide to contact a few experts to shed some light on my shortcomings.
First, I speak to Natasha Mason, a neuropsychologist at the University of Maastricht and an expert on how THC – the psychoactive element in cannabis, which makes you feel high – affects the chemicals in your brain. She tells me she won't be able to give me a clear-cut answer, since using drugs is a subjective experience and effects differ from person to person.
But she tells me a study by the University of Chicago shows that a low dose of THC in weed can help reduce stress, while a high dose can lead to feelings of fear, paranoia and discomfort. Alongside THC, weed contains many different substances, including CBD – which counters the drug's psychoactive effects and is known to have a range of medicinal qualities. The Dutch weed I usually smoke tends to be comparatively high on THC and low on CBD – which could possibly stimulate my sense of paranoia.
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The environment in which I smoke plays an important part, too, Mason tells me. Research carried out on rats has shown that a fear that's stimulated by THC increases when the rats are in a new or potentially stressful environment. In addition, Mason tells me that people who smoke regularly usually experience less worrying side effects – but, she adds, it could be that people who never had negative experiences with weed are just more likely to smoke regularly.
That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t explain why I transform into this socially awkward, paranoid mess while my friends comfortably enjoy their high. We always smoke the same strains, with the same THC percentage, in the same familiar environment. Mason thinks my personality is to blame.
"The general opinion is that THC intensifies feelings of anxiety – and those feelings are already present in you," she explains. "If you are naturally very analytical or a bit agitated and anxious, certain chemicals in your brain, like serotonin [which controls your mood], noradrenaline [the hormone that prepares your body for sudden physical action], GABA [a downer] and glutamate [a substance that helps the brain function normally] might operate differently in your brain than in the brains of more relaxed people – and that could result in a more extreme response to the THC."
Floor van Bakkum, a prevention worker at the Dutch drug education service Jellinek, agrees with Mason. She thinks it's almost certainly down to the fact that I'm naturally anxious and tend to overthink stuff. "If you like to overanalyse things and try to have everything under control in your day-to-day life, it's probably harder for you to let go of that control after you've smoked a joint," she says. "Basically, you’re blocking the fun stuff."
When I ask her what I should do to enjoy weed, she tells me to smoke joints that are higher on CBD. However, she also advises me to maybe just accept that you can't always have what you want – weed might just never be for me.
But that can't be it. Can't I just learn to smoke weed like I learned to drink alcohol? With that in mind, I call Daan Keiman of the Trimbos National Institute for Mental Health and Addiction. He assures me that the effects I describe are pretty common with cannabis use, and that it’s quite possible I could "learn to appreciate it".
I ask him if my symptoms could mean I'd be more likely to experience psychosis after smoking. "Being at risk of psychosis and having anxious feelings are completely different things," he tells me. "But you should be especially careful if someone in your family has ever suffered from psychotic episodes."
After running out of experts to talk to, I finally turn to my friend Anne, who puts my mind at ease. "You know, to you it might seem like stoned people are having a great time, but that’s not always true," she assures me. "The fact that you don't enjoy it and don't do it might just be a blessing."
If she's right and I'm really not missing out on anything, that would make the whole situation a lot easier to accept. Why do I need to be part of stoner culture if it's not as fun as people make it out to be? With that thought, for a moment, I finally do feel as content as a plastic bobble head dog with a huge grin on his face.