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Marijuana’s Effects on Mental Health and How to Quit

Young woman vaping marijuana.

Doctors regularly prescribe marijuana. It is legal in many states, widely available at neighborhood dispensaries and has become part of mainstream culture. But does that mean it’s safe and beneficial? The answer depends on who you ask. Certainly, there is plenty of evidence about the reported harmful effects of cannabis, including lowering a user’s IQ . Yet, some people claim it helps them with a range of medical conditions from cancer to multiple sclerosis.

Many people who suffer from psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, turn to marijuana for relief. There is little research on the safety and effectiveness of cannabis for this purpose. While some people report marijuana provides temporary relief from their symptoms, there are many reports of it actually causing or increasing anxiety, as well as prompting panic and paranoia. Long-term use can also aggravate depressive symptoms. Marijuana interferes with psychiatric medications and some patients opt to stop taking their meds in order to get high. This can cause symptoms to return, sometimes with greater intensity. Likewise, those who get high while on meds risk dangerous drug interactions. It has even been reported to trigger psychosis  or schizophrenia for those at risk for those conditions. People using cannabis to alleviate psychiatric symptoms are rolling the dice with their mental and physical health.

Those who feel that marijuana relieves their symptoms may want to ask their physician if CBD or cannabidoil is a safe, effective alternative for them. CBD oil is not psychoactive so it provides users with the active ingredient in cannabis without the THC to get them high.

Many users discover that marijuana is making them feel worse and would like to quit but find the prospect overwhelming. Once you make the decision to quit, it is important to have a plan and be well prepared. The first step is to set a quit date within a month of today’s date. A date longer than a month away is harder to stick to. Choose a specific date, rather than quitting when you run out of your supply. For best results, don’t choose a particularly stressful time, such as during finals or when you have a major project at work. Make it official by writing the date in your planner or telling someone to help keep you accountable. A few days before your quit date, post colorful sticky notes around your place to remind yourself of your quit date.

Next, it’s essential to get rid of any marijuana you have left. Pour water on it so you can’t later change your mind. Avoid going on a binge the day before to use up you supply as this could make your withdrawal symptoms worse and cause other difficulties. Now is also the time to remove any marijuana equipment and supplies from your home or car, including pipes and rolling paper. These can be triggers and make it easier to start up again. Ideally, you want to destroy them and not just toss them in the trash so you will not be tempted to fish them back out. Wash any clothes or bedding which has absorbed the smell of the drug.   Get rid of snacks you associate with your use. Anything related to marijuana needs to go.

To help ensure that you don’t buy more cannabis, delete any contacts in your phone for dealers or friends who provide your supply. If they keep reaching out to you, block their numbers and commit to not buying any more. If certain people make the drug available to you, avoid them and the places you frequent with them. Being smart is more effective than trying to be strong. Rather than toughing it out while others around you are getting high, avoid temptation by staying away or leaving the scene. People, places and things associated with your use should be off limits.

Because quitting marijuana can be challenging and unpleasant, it’s best to prepare yourself for some possible mental and physical discomfort. This way you won’t be taken by surprise and have your efforts derailed. In fact, one of the biggest reasons people fail in their attempt to quit, is that they weren’t prepared for the withdrawal symptoms. Expect to feel very jittery, restless and anxious. It is also quite common to experience depression and insomnia, lose your appetite, and have headaches. To deal with withdrawal symptoms, drink lots of water, coffee, and tea (especially tea high in anti-oxidants like green tea). It also helps to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fiber and leafy greens.

Be prepared for the inevitable cravings. These are caused by THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, which gets stored in fat cells and released into the body for weeks after you quit.  This small amount leaves you craving more. Some people manage cravings with exercise, calling a supportive sober friend and by keeping busy with enjoyable activities. By knowing what to expect and remembering that the unpleasantness is only temporary, you increase the odds of success.

It’s helpful to write out a plan of action which sets out your quit date, reason for quitting, your quit plan, alternative activities you will engage in, people, places and things you plan to avoid, and strategies for avoiding cravings. Identify high-risk situations and how to navigate them. Review this plan often.

It is not unusual to start out highly motivated to quit but then lose enthusiasm as time passes. There are many ways to keep up your motivation. Try tracking your progress with an app designed for this purpose, such as the AA Grape Vine Sobriety Calculator.

Some people find it helpful to keep a journal and record their progress and feelings.   Keeping track of how much money you are saving by not buying marijuana is another powerful strategy. Rewarding yourself with a small gift, a massage, or a movie can also help keep you going.

Develop a support network of friends who don’t get high if you don’t have such a group already. If your social life revolved around hanging out with friends who get high, then it’s time to find a new tribe and new activities. Marijuana Anonymous (MA) offers 12-step meetings for marijuana users. For those who cannot get to meetings, or to supplement meetings, there are also online meetings, phone meetings, and an  MA phone recovery app. Also, check out www.meetup.com for various sober social groups and activities.

If you are struggling to quit on your own, consider getting professional help. You can find treatment programs by calling SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Alternatively, call the number on the back of your insurance card to find providers in-network for your plan. If you were using marijuana to self-medicate your anxiety or depression, consult a psychiatrist to see if you would benefit from medication or try psychotherapy. Again, check with your insurer to see who is in network. If you’re uninsured, you can locate a Federally Qualified Health Center using the Health Resources & Services Administration Find a Health Center tool.

Quitting is hard, but doable and definitely worth the effort.   With planning and effort you can quit successfully. And doing so can have a positive impact on your mood and mental health.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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Author Bio: Debbie Shepard JD, LCSW, RDDP is the Program Director for Catholic Charities’ substance abuse treatment program in Chicago. Her previous experience includes managing the outpatient clinic at the Salvation Army’s Chicago substance abuse treatment program and working in psychiatric hospitals and an emergency department. Prior to getting her MSW degree from Loyola School of Social Work, she worked as an attorney in legal aid and at the juvenile court.

Photo by Grav Labs on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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