This post was originally published on August 26, 2015.
If you ask me what’s the best way to tell if you have a drinking problem, I’ll suggest you ask yourself, “Is my drinking a problem?” The same goes with pot. It’s a problem if you tell yourself you’re not going to smoke it, and then you do. Or it gets in the way of doing stuff you want to do. Like, you don’t go out with your friends because you’d rather stay at home getting high. Or you plan on getting some writing done but instead “spend the day floating through the world in a weed haze.”
That last example comes from a writer named Kitty Gray. In a personal essay, Gray describes herself as a daily pot smoker for over a decade until she finally got honest about what she called her “psychological weed addiction.” It’s one of a series of refreshingly honest pieces for Vice on the subject of marijuana that reminds us that, in spite of the wave of decriminalization sweeping the country, some people ought to just say no to pot.
If you’re among the one in three Americans who have smoked pot in their lifetime, you already know marijuana’s effects. Pot increases your heart rate while slowing your reactions. It distorts your sense of time and can cause “random thinking.” Marijuana’s negative effects include memory impairment and mood disturbances including paranoia, anxiety and depression. One study found that when students who were regular marijuana smokers quit, their test scores went up, suggesting there may be some validity to at least some of the stereotypes we have about stoners.
These studies are pretty consistent with my own informal research. I never really liked the way weed made me feel, which is not to say I didn’t smoke it. If someone passed a joint, being the “more” girl that I am, I was not one to say no. Even though pot made me paranoid, sometimes acutely, I’d take a hit or two—or 12. When I smoked with friends, I always had this creeping fear that everyone I was with was secretly laughing at me. Like they could tell I was so high! and they were all judging me or maybe even angry, which always made me feel like I was on the verge of freaking out.
Smoking pot while drinking, in particular, can be a recipe for disaster. On one memorable occasion, a friend and I were both stoned and drunk on our way home from a house party when he threw up out the taxi window. His explanation—“I shouldn’t have smoked that pot”—made perfect sense. Drinking and smoking made me dizzy and nauseous.
For the couple of months in college that I lived in London, I smoked pot the way people smoke cigarettes. Even though it made me feel lazy and depressed, it was something to do with time and my hands. Being high around others always made me uncomfortable and so, during the time I was a habitual pot smoker, I preferred smoking by myself. I became something of a shut-in, which, at the time, I blamed on the bleak London weather. Clearly, I now realize, my isolation had at least something to do with the pot. I smoked weed because I was anxious, but in retrospect it’s obvious that the marijuana made my depression and anxiety worse.
I have a close friend—we’ll call him Ned—who smokes about as much as I used to. He smokes morning, noon and night. Dude even takes pin-sized splifs with him to the office. I asked him how much he smokes and he says it depends on how much weed he has, which is usually a lot. He says his pot consumption costs him about $300 a month.
Does Ned have a problem? Does he need to get help? I can’t say. I know him professionally and I don’t think his work suffers, but then again, who knows? Who knows how he’d feel or who he’d be if he didn’t smoke marijuana. He started using when he was 15 and he’s spent his entire adult life more or less high.
Bottom line: Not everyone has the same experiences with weed. It’s like booze—some people can get away with drinking, and some of us can’t. And to be fair, I’d say pot’s a lot tamer than alcohol. It’s booze that is the leading cause of preventable deaths.
But even though pot might not kill you, it still has an effect. And for some of us, that effect is negative. If pot makes you act stupid and lazy, feel anxious, gain unwanted weight and get sick, why not quit?