The best thing about setting myself the goal of not using cannabis for 30 days was the intensity of achieving it. The worst thing was not having any cannabis for 30 days. Was it worth it? Did it make me a better person? A more productive person? Did it make my life better or worse? Like most things, the answer isn’t so simple.
Here’s the strange thing, I’m not sure when I became a daily user of cannabis, and it’s only recently become my norm. In the early days of my use, three decades ago, access was a big issue, making daily use impossible. When I moved to Spain 20 years ago, access became less of a problem. I live next door to Morocco.
But I drew a line, reserving my cannabis use for weekends or special occasions. Even back then, I was under no illusions, cannabis was a drug and I ran in drug circles to “feed my habit.” A big shift came in 2014 when I quit alcohol, and used cannabis to soften the punch of sober life. But that wasn’t my real motivation for using it.
I’ve never been much of a social smoker, and don’t like getting stoned with friends. I smoke when I write and don’t want to be disturbed. With alcohol out of my life, my old circle of friends trickled away till there was no on left but my laptop and a spliff. Between them, cannabis and writing kept loneliness at bay.
The next shift came when I started writing for the cannabis industry in 2017. Daily use seemed a prerequisite of the job when really it was just an excuse to indulge. But I was following the lead of American tokers who had a different attitude to cannabis than me, seeing its use as medical.
I started learning about the many benefits of the marijuana plant and was shocked by how little I knew of the substance that had shaped so much of my life. I stopped seeing cannabis as a drug, stopped seeing my use as a “habit,” and started looking for ways to buy “legal.” Cannabis was more than a job it became my identity.
The first week was the easiest of the four. Rather than pick a fixed date to start my experiment, I let myself run out of cannabis, forcing myself to smoke my hidden reserves, removing all temptations. I ran out on a Thursday, meaning Friday was my first day without cannabis, my first weekend without cannabis in I can’t remember how long.
When I say “easy,” I mean physically, not psychologically. Friday is my go-to smoke day. My favourite way to spend a Friday evening is at my laptop, smoking a jay, writing. But daily use made every evening Friday night to me, a private party for one, a party that was losing its sheen.
However, to make it easier to abstain, I removed certain triggers, cancelling my Netflix subscription and allowing myself not to write. This was the scariest part for me – what would I do with myself instead? My lack of work/life balance has been a bugbear for years, as usually I write in the evenings.
Those first nights I kept busy with house chores, cleaning, baking, and I smoked some hemp flower given to me by a friend weeks previous, thinking it might help calm me. It did not calm me. It made my body tingle with nerves. I slept badly for the first three nights, tossing, turning, flinging blankets and sweating into the sheets.
Sweating is normal for me. As a woman in my forties, my hormones are a circus, hot flashes the main act. I was curious to see how a lack of cannabis would impact my hormones, as well as my kettlebell training, eating habits and digestion, in particular my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). None of the outcomes were what I expected.
UPHILL AND DOWN
By the end of the second weekend without cannabis, I was feeling mighty proud of myself and psychologically strong. I can do this, I thought. To celebrate I made a video of me working out at home and posted it. Me? Who hides behind her screen? Something was happening. But I wasn’t as strong as I thought.
In Week 2, an extreme tiredness hit me. I didn’t have to worry about how to spend evenings, as all I had the energy to do was watch YouTube videos. Tired as I was, I found it hard to go to bed before midnight because my mind was taut, waiting for something familiar to happen, refusing to switch off till it did. My eyes burned with fatigue.
But my sleep improved, and when I went to bed, I fell asleep quickly, and had vivid dreams, full of weird sea creatures, floating cars and epic drama. By week 3, my health nosedived. My appetite was gone. My IBS symptoms were back. I couldn’t eat anything after six or seven in the evening without getting stomachache.
Each morning, I’d look in the mirror for signs of improvements, clearer skin or eyes. I looked tired, like a woman fighting a battle. And I was. But now the fight was of my own making. I felt my activity served no other purpose than to distract me from doing the thing I wanted to do: get stoned. Despite the fatigue, I was getting work done, and work was oddly on the up.
An old client asked for extra work. A new client had a brand with vision. I was picking up on the time-wasters quicker during the day. At night while I slept, my dreams spoke to me. After a nasty phone call with a potential new client, I dreamt a new factory opened near my house, seeping toxic waste into the surrounding land. I said goodbye to the client, didn’t want his business.
The last week demanded Herculean stamina. A million reasons to smoke a jay bubbled at the back of my mind, egged on by comments on social media, “don’t forget your quality of life,” and “cannabis is medicine.” I missed my medicine but I also couldn’t deny that some aspects of my life had improved without cannabis.
For starters, money was flowing into my bank account and I was planning a holiday for my birthday. The lure of that holiday was the thing that got me through this last week, enabling me to ignore the constant headache, depressed appetite and fatigue. Every time I felt low, I could count the days till I was in my van and driving towards the beach to have a toke at sunset.
In the meantime, I was using breathing techniques to stave off my anxiety, which was on the rise. Part of the source of this anxiety was mostly my inability to write. The other was my heightened sense of vulnerability in the world. And even though my hot flashes had pretty much disappeared, I was going to the gym less because I wasn’t able to eat the food I needed to fuel my workouts.
In short, a major shift occurred in my day-to-day activity. Whereas my week usually included many hours given to working out and creative writing, without cannabis, most of my time was spent on paid work and running errands, and my downtime was mostly spent dealing with the symptoms of IBS, meaning I was too tired to do anything but chill and/or watch TV.
Here’s a summary of physical and psychological differences cannabis brings to my life:
|WITHOUT CANNABIS||WITH CANNABIS|
Eye on the future
Apprehensive about the future
Hungry for connection and knowledge
Focused on solutions
Better work/life balance
More patience, more anxiety
Nicer to people, smile more
Less motivation to go to the gym
Unafraid of the unknown
Lost in the present
Connected to self
Space for creativity
Absorbed by creative projects
Have a way to switch off
Feel at one with self
No hot flashes
Clearer eyes (finally, in week 4)
Less strength in the gym
A riot in my stomach
Can eat a lot more
More motivated to go to the gym
Sleep more, feel rested
Dreams are rare
Daily hot flashes
To say that cannabis makes my life better is not entirely true. It makes it different. Mostly, it means that I spend more time on creative projects, getting lost in them and forgetting about paid work, which brings money worries. But the quest to get paid is the bane of every creative life so this situation makes me far from an outlier – actually, it makes me the norm.
I’ll be looking into the connection between cannabis and my hot flashes, suspect a thyroid problem that I put down to symptoms of menopause, which happens to a lot of women my age. However, there’s no question cannabis alleviates the symptoms of my IBS, making it possible for me to live without constant stomachache.
What’s clear is that cannabis facilitates two things that are important to me: writing and exercise. It’s also clear that time without cannabis means I give space to priorities that benefit my future and the importance of that cannot be overlooked.
Yes, I had that toke at sunset and it was heavenly. It felt like coming home. I went on that holiday but it wasn’t as bliss-filled as I imagined. I gave myself a few days to over-indulge and then I was eager to get back to work, noticing I missed the charge of life without cannabis. Like anything, it’s about finding a balance that works.