Wants to stop smoking pot

Originally Published: October 22, 1999 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 3, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I have been doing weed for about six months now and on occasion a few other drugs. I usually do it only on average three times a week and a lot more on the weekends. I feel that it is ruining my life because my concentration is terrible and my marks have dropped significantly (20 points). I feel like I'm in a dream all the time and it just isn't fun anymore. I have heard that pot is not addictive but I have tried to stop but I feel sick and irritable if I don't smoke up. I have realized I need to quit but I can't. Why can't I stop if this "soft drug" is not addictive? Am I crazy? Please help. I want my life back. Thank you so much.

—Permafried

Dear Permafried,

Current research tells a conflicting story about marijuana and addiction. On the one hand, pot does not appear to cause physical dependence or any of the severe physical withdrawal symptoms associated with other drugs, like cocaine or heroin. However, it may cause a psychological dependence, characterized by a sense of needing the drug, and the sensations it produces, in order to function "normally." In this case, the feelings you describe could be the result of a psychological withdrawal.

You said that you felt sick and irritable if you don't smoke up. These symptoms have definitely been seen before in people using pot heavily, which you are. They can result from the pot alone or from pot that's cut with other substances unknown to you. When trying to cut down or stop smoking, some people feel tired all the time, have headaches and rapid mood changes, and feel depressed or anxious. When some heavy pot users try to stop, they may experience nervousness, insomnia, a loss of appetite and weight loss, chills, tremors, depression, and/or mental confusion.

Over time, heavy users may also note difficulty with short-term memory, impaired abstract thinking, a lack of interest in their usual social activities, and less motivation, some of which it sounds like what you're experiencing. You might want to think about how the other drugs you're taking have affected you physically and mentally as well.

When addicted to a drug, a person usually thinks a lot about getting and using the drug, and will have trouble staying off when attempting to quit, which you mention. One thing to consider is whether you find yourself continuing to use pot despite negative physical, emotional, or social consequences. You might also ponder whether wanting or using pot controls your behavior.

You've mentioned that you find yourself continuing to use marijuana despite the fact that it no longer brings you pleasure. Recognizing this and looking for help quitting are two very important steps — which you've already taken. Talking with a counselor or health care provider might be a next step. There are many professionals who specialize in this area. At Columbia, you can contact Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) and ask to speak with one of their alcohol and drug counselors or the Mental Health Service (CUMC). At Barnard, you can contact the Furman Counseling Center or the Alcohol and Substance Awareness Program (ASAP). There are also many chapters of Marijuana Anonymous, a self-help group modeled after the design of other twelve-step programs.

You might also want to talk with a trusted friend or family member about how you've been feeling and your need for his or her support. Talking with your dean or an academic advisor about the situation, even without specifics, can help you re-focus on your educational goals and get your studies back on track.

For more information about the nuances of addiction and dependence, check out Feeling "Dope Sick" from Cocaine Use in the Go Ask Alice! Alcohol and Other Drugs archive.

Alice