Trying to Give up Smoking Weed? Start Here
Many assume cannabis is pretty much harmless. Maybe you occasionally get some weird side effects, like paranoia or cotton mouth, but for the most part it calms you down and improves your mood.
Nothing wrong with that, right?
While past research does suggest that cannabis may be both less addictive and less harmful than other substances, addiction and dependency can still happen.
Some people also experience unwanted effects, from physical symptoms to hallucinations to strained relationships.
If you’re looking to cut out cannabis — for whatever reason — we’ve got you covered.
Deciding you want to change your patterns of cannabis use is a good first step. Increasing self-awareness around the reasons why you want to stop smoking can help increase your chances of success.
“Our ‘why’ is an important piece because it provides information that anchors us,” says Kim Egel, a therapist in Cardiff, California. “Clarity on why we want to change can validate our decision to break habits and motivate us to seek out new coping methods.”
In short, your reasons for quitting can help strengthen your resolve to stop smoking and outline goals for success.
Maybe you started using it to relax or manage anxiety. Perhaps it helps you deal with chronic pain or sleeplessness. But over time, the downsides may have started to outnumber the benefits.
People often consider cutting back when they notice cannabis affects their quality of life, often by:
- becoming a go-to method for managing emotional distress
- causing relationship problems
- affecting mood, memory, or concentration
- reducing interest in hobbies
- becoming something to do instead of a solution to a specific symptom
- decreasing energy for self-care
There’s no perfect way to quit smoking cannabis. What works for someone else may not help you much, so it’s often necessary to go through some trial and error before you land on the best approach.
Considering pros and cons of different methods can help.
Maybe you want to do it quick, like ripping off a bandage. In that case, you might decide to try packing up your cannabis and going “cold turkey.”
If you’re concerned about withdrawal symptoms or think you’ll need some support to quit, you might decide to talk to a substance use counselor or call an addiction helpline for a few pointers.
If cannabis helps you manage physical or mental health symptoms, you’ll want to try smoking less without quitting entirely or cut back gradually. Professional support can help here, too.
Feel like you’re ready to stop using cannabis immediately? Here are some general steps to consider:
Get rid of your gear
Holding onto a stash of weed and smoking paraphernalia can make it tougher to succeed with quitting. By throwing it out or passing it on, you prevent ready access, which can help you avoid slip ups during the withdrawal period.
Make a plan to deal with triggers
Triggers can have a powerful impact. Even after you decide to stop smoking, specific cues you associate with using it may lead to cravings.
These triggers could include:
- trouble sleeping
- work stress
- seeing friends you used to smoke with
- watching the TV shows you used to watch while high
Try coming up with a list of go-to activities you can turn to when these triggers come up, such as:
- taking melatonin or a warm bath to help you sleep
- restarting your favorite comedy TV series to decrease stress
- calling a trusted friend who supports your decision
Vary your routine
If your cannabis use often happened at routine times, changing your behaviors slightly can help you avoid using it.
If you have a habit of smoking first thing in the morning, try:
If you tend to smoke before bed, try:
- enjoying a relaxing beverage, like tea or hot chocolate
Keep in mind that changing up routines can be hard, and it usually doesn’t happen over night.
Try experimenting with a few options, and don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble sticking to your new routine right away.
Pick up a new hobby
If smoking is something you tend to do when you’re bored, some new hobbies may help.
Consider revisiting old favorites, like building models or crafting. If old hobbies don’t interest you any longer, try something new, like rock climbing, paddleboarding, or learning a new language.
What matters most is finding something you truly enjoy, since that makes it more likely you’ll want to keep doing it.
Enlist support from loved ones
Friends and family who know you don’t want to keep smoking can offer support by:
- helping you think of hobbies and distractions
- practicing coping methods, like physical activity or meditation, with you
- encouraging you when withdrawals and cravings get tough
Even knowing that other people support your decision can help you feel more motivated and capable of success.
Get help for withdrawal symptoms if needed
Not everyone experiences cannabis withdrawal symptoms, but for those who do, they can be pretty uncomfortable.
Common symptoms include:
- trouble sleeping
- irritability and other mood changes
- fever, chills, and sweats
- low appetite
Withdrawal symptoms generally begin a day or so after you quit and clear up within about 2 weeks.
A healthcare provider can help you manage severe symptoms, but most people can handle symptoms on their own by:
- drinking less caffeine to improve sleep
- using deep breathing and other relaxation methods to address anxiety
- drinking plenty of water
If you use a lot of cannabis and smoke regularly, quitting abruptly might be difficult. Slowly reducing use over time may help you have more success and can also help decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Here are some pointers to get you started:
Choose a quit date
Giving yourself a deadline of a few weeks or a month can help you design a realistic plan for quitting.
Just keep in mind that picking a date too far in the future can make it seem far enough away that you lose motivation early on.
Plan how you’ll taper off
Do you want to decrease weed use by a specific amount each week? Use less each day? Use as little as possible until you go through your current supply?
Some dispensaries now offer lower-potency strains or products that contain lower THC content. Switching to a weaker product that produces fewer psychoactive effects may also be helpful to cutting back.
Keep yourself busy
By getting involved with new activities as you cut back, you’ll have an easier time continuing with these established patterns once you’re no longer using cannabis at all.
Staying busy can also help distract you from withdrawal symptoms.
“Therapy can be a great option when you want to develop new habits and ways of coping,” Egel says.
She explains it’s common to turn to substance use to cope with or avoid difficult feelings.
A therapist can help you explore any underlying issues contributing to your cannabis use and offer support as you take the first steps toward confronting dark emotions. They can also help you address any issues in your life or relationships that might be a result of your cannabis use.
Any kind of therapy can have benefit, but the following three approaches might be particularly helpful.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Most therapists have training in CBT. This treatment approach helps you learn to identify unwanted or distressing thoughts and emotions and develop productive skills to address and manage them.
For example, if you use cannabis when stressed, you’ve probably learned (both consciously and subconsciously) that it helps reduce stress and calm you down.
CBT can teach you to recognize signs of stress, challenge your desire to smoke cannabis, and replace the habit with a more helpful one — like seeking support from a friend or working through the problem that’s upsetting you.
This approach reinforces quitting behaviors. In other words, it rewards you for not smoking.
Someone participating in a contingency management treatment plan might, for example, receive vouchers for restaurant gift cards, movie tickets, or an entry for a prize drawing with each negative test result.
Motivational enhancement therapy (MET)
MET involves examining your reasons for giving up cannabis. Instead of trying to address any underlying issues that factor into your use of weed, your therapist will help you explore and prioritize goals associated with your use, usually by asking open-ended questions.
This treatment can serve as a first step to any therapy approach for substance use. It can be especially helpful if you know you want to quit smoking but aren’t quite sure why.
If you're ready to stop smoking weed, we've got tips and tricks to help you navigate the process, regardless of your reasons.
I want to smoke weed again
I can’t believe it — I passed the 90-day mark. 90 days without smoking weed, after 20-plus years of smoking every day. I’m finally free. I say free because now I’m out of the golden cage.
I definitely loved the whole experience of getting high — breaking up the buds, the lift-off as it goes into your lungs, the cotton mouth and the light-headed feeling as you float on a cloud unbothered by anything in the world. Once you’re in the cloud you don’t have problems, you just lay back and relax. Some of us need that, especially as Black people living in a world of stress and anxiety that daily debases and devalues us. I fully respect the desire to smoke in order to keep on keepin’ on. But some of us — me, definitely — take it too far, allowing it to become too big a part of our lives, the discovering that we can’t stop. There were times I knew I should quit, or at least cut back and smoke less often. Instead of helping me recover from the world, smoking weed became one of my biggest problems. Yet I felt powerless, as it shaped too many of my choices.
I declined parties because I’d rather stay home alone, smoke and zone out. I saw any hole in my day as a chance to smoke. I saw any emotion as a reason to smoke. If I was happy, I smoked to make me happier. If I was upset, I smoked to alleviate the pain. I say “I,” but what I really mean is “The Voice.” The Voice was the sound of the addiction, editing every plan I made by saying, “First, let’s smoke.” To The Voice, everything was a reason to smoke: if I had to write, it said let’s smoke to be more creative. If I had to do the dishes, it said let’s smoke to make the task less boring. The Voice knew how to justify anything. It was insidious, smart, chameleonic and in control, because the reward it was offering, the joy of being high, was so delicious.
By comparison, The Other Voice — call it the voice of maturity, or the voice of resistance — was quiet, feebly mustering up logic by saying, “You smoke too much, you’d write faster if your mind was clearer.” But that voice was drowned out by the bacchanalian, bully dictator whose prompt to every moment was “First, let’s smoke.” The Voice knew just what buttons to push, and it was selling a killer experience. My addiction had a lobbyist inside my mind, who was constantly pushing me to smoke more, buy more, and ignore the voice that was saying I was hooked.
Make no mistake: I was addicted. I couldn’t stop. I tried several times. I went to Marijuana Anonymous meetings, I tried to institute rules for myself. But after the kids left for school, or went to bed, The Voice said, “Let’s go,” and off I went to the window with my tin to get high. Several people might now be saying, “But you can’t get addicted to weed” and produce some scientific “fact” that “proves” this. Well, I’m here to tell you that I was compelled to smoke even when I recognized it wasn’t that much fun anymore, and knew I would be better off without it. It was so deeply ingrained in me that I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t say no. I have no problem not drinking alcohol or stopping myself from having more than two drinks, that’s my limit, but weed was beyond my ability to grapple with. I was in it’s grip.
Then one day, three months ago, I said, “I feel like I’m kind of a spectator in my life. I’m spending too much time floating above myself in the weed cloud, while avoiding emotions, decisions, and reality. It’s time to do better. and participate more fully in my life.” In my umpteenth effort to quit, I wasn’t simply removing something — I was embracing sobriety, I wanted to move to a new tribe. I felt like I’d stayed too long at the party, and that now, in this chapter of my life, being sober would be more interesting.
The clarity of mind that came from not smoking was more calming than being in the cloud. Getting off the roller coaster — going up and down, into the high and then washing out — seemed more relaxing. I would deal with my stress and anxiety without running away. Suddenly I had a strong feeling that I was improving myself. I could be a better writer, dad, husband, and athlete (serious tennis player) if I just didn’t smoke. When I was armed with a desire to be clear, The Voice grew weaker, and the Other Voice stronger. When I was stoned or craving the high, I was weakened and The Voice could defeat my maturity and resistance quite easily. But once I had a week away from weed and my mind was calm, the Other Voice stepped up with a logic that silenced the desires to overindulge. The Voice was now unmasked as a frat boy leading me astray, while the voice of resistance and maturity was the adult leading me to the more refined pleasure of inner peace.
I am not saying everyone should quit. Most people can integrate weed into their life and aren’t controlled by it. Good for them. I also am definitely in favor of legalization, because people shouldn’t be criminalized for what they put in their bodies. Weed is not inherently bad. But for those who suspect or know that they’re relying on it too much, know that you’re not alone. I don’t know who exactly needs to hear this but you know if it’s you. You don’t need to smoke to deal with life. Things could be better without it. You could be happier without it. You have the power to quit. I know because I did it. There are Marijuana Anonymous meetings that might help you. They didn’t help me, but you can’t quit until you are ready. And if you can find a strong reason outside of yourself, that makes it easier. If you can avoid not only weed, but also the friends who you get high with — that too can help. Or tell those friends hours before you get together, before The Voice kicks in, that you’re trying to quit. Real friends will respect the request, and not make your effort harder. Recognize that The Voice goading you on, and that this voice isn’t you — it’s the addiction trying to stay alive. You can take control of you and be happier. Weed is not the source of your happiness. You are.
I am still tempted. I can still hear The Voice saying, “Hey, let’s smoke!” But now I have the strength to swat it away. Over the first 30 days I had to be more conscious about shutting down The Voice, but now it’s becoming easier. I expect to have this internal battle going on inside me forever, but where it was once a massive conflict I was losing, now it’s more of a skirmish with a weakened enemy that I am winning. I’m still taking it day by day though.
After a lifetime of listening to the "Let's Get High!" voice, Toure writes that it is possible to move on.