The Effects of Chronic on My Physical and Mental Health

The following writeup exists between the intersection of personal storytelling and light research; it combines a subjective retelling of the experiences I’ve had smoking cannabis, with more rigorous knowledge from the medical and scientific communities. I wanted to touch on the topics of addiction, substance use and how cannabis impacts the brain and body, at a very pivotal time in my own life.

A Five Year Saga

It may not surprise you that a writer on the website friendlyaussiebuds.com has something of a love affair with cannabis. With that said, I’ll openly admit it – I am not just an occasional cannabis smoker, but a habitual user of the plant matter. And my relationship with the plant, if not problematic, is at the very least complicated.

It has become something of a daily ritual. It can be weird to imagine my life completely without it. Yet, this habit didn’t just emerge out of nowhere. It all began long ago, now. It was in the winter of 2014 – my senior year of high school – that I had my first run-in with ganja. My friend Sam (who ALSO works for this website – go figure!) was the one who introduced it to me.

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I can clearly remember the first time. I was sitting in his garage, smoking a joint, listening to music. I wasn’t feeling all that much, beyond a sense of relaxed calmness. It took me a couple of attempts to get the THC/CBD working in my body as intended, but for some reason (likely the associations I had in those days), I kept trying.

Before this experience, cannabis and other drugs never really appealed to me; I was a ‘good boy’, predominantly – and a high achiever, academically. Sam was also pretty good at getting those A-Grades – however, relatively speaking, he was much ‘naughtier’ than me. We ended up gravitating towards one another at school, which is what really led to my first exposures to bud.

The day I smoked my first bong with him changed everything. I didn’t think I was going to feel anything, until I ended up walking out of Sam’s room and into the kitchen. I stepped into his pantry, examined the contents, and began to laugh hysterically and uncontrollably. Sam found me 10 minutes later, on the ground, in foetal position, crying of laughter. I seriously couldn’t stop until he came out and broke the spell.

A Matter Of Priorities

I can remember the quality of our bud being quite variable in the early years. Sometimes we would unknowingly strike upon some particularly ‘dank nugs’, but we never really had great contacts in that day. In hindsight, Sam and I were thoroughly impressed by some pretty low-quality hydro. PGR wasn’t something we were even aware of, at this stage; we just thought that’s how it was.

Nevertheless, we had so much fun in our time, exploring what our world had to offer. Cannabis hit me and my friend group like an oncoming train. We could feel it altering our neural patterning, and it was awesome. I was always so fucking goofy, hardly ever keeping it together. Every experience felt hilarious, psychedelic, mind-expanding – finally, an activity in life that I could direct! Exciting!

Even at that age, I was vaguely aware of the dangers of cannabis addiction… but I wasn’t really thinking about how it would happen to me. I was smoking once every couple of weeks, at that stage. I didn’t really have access to bud, nor did I have much money to sustain a habit. I was 17, after all. It was a good thing.

Slowly, however, things began to change. Becoming a daily cannabis user was a gradual process, for me. It took maybe six months to a year… but by the time I had left high school and started University, my habit had expanded from “A tiny bit of weed in my cute lil pipe, once every few nights” to “A joint during the day, a cone during the night… hey, who cares: I’m a philosophy student in University, right? Time to live it up! What’s the worst that could happen?”

Well, I’ll tell you. The worst that could happen with establishing an imbalanced relationship to cannabis (a part of me knew I was doing this, even back then) is that you begin to prioritise it over very important things in life. You let it take over the trajectory and course of your existence. You make it difficult for yourself to aspire and break out of moulds, and you reinforce your habits by doubling down.

It’s been five years since I first adopted the ritual of being a near-daily smoker. This is the story of how I live, how drug dependence has impacted me, why I turn to cannabis for relief, and what I am committing to doing so I can manage my condition in the future.

Let’s start with an average day.

A Day In The Life

I wake up at around 9:30am. Hazy. Roll around in bed for a bit.

Uuuuuurrrrgghhh.

Resist. Urge. To. Grab. Bong.

I jump out of bed and hop into the shower. Wash my body down, and dry off.

If I’m really onto it (let’s just assume I am), I’ll have breakfast. Maybe even do some stretching.

10:30am: I’m off to work – or really, I’m ready to open up my laptop and figure out what content needs to be produced for Friendly Aussie Buds, today. It’s a kind of self-driven, self-motivated form of creative work that requires me to be attentive and present. If I’m not, I am effectively not doing my job very well.

I tell myself that it’s important for me to focus on getting this work done before I touch any cannabis, today. There are persuasive voices inside of me that are trying to tell me otherwise. They’re loud and annoying.

I reach 12:30pm without a hitch. I’ve started the production process of a podcast, and am building a real creative momentum and flow. I’m feeling really good about myself, so I’ll stop and get myself something to eat for lunch.

Yet the voices are still speaking, even louder now. They’re telling me that I’ve done so well, that I deserve a treat, that I can still get work done after a cone or two.

Without even noticing that it’s happening, I’ll find a way to buckle to this pressure by around 2pm. This is, of course, assuming that I’ve made it this far – and that I’m home, alone, instead of doing things ‘out’ in the world, with people. There are moments where I’ve been able to delay these commands even further by going out for a walk, or jumping in the pool. When I’ve been able to see it coming, and act to protect myself. Mostly, however, I end up accepting that these voices are my voices, that what they say is true – even if I am suspicious about their real intentions. I’ll end up making a decision, however impulsive, unconscious and ill-informed, to smoke.

Illustration: George Wylesol

The voices get excited in anticipation. They ensure me that this is the right thing to do, even when I know it isn’t. I’ll pack my cone, light it, inhale the smoke mixture, hold, and exhale.

What I often find is that very little of what those voices said turns out to be true. More often than not, I am just chasing a quick hit of dopamine and serotonin. I can be left with a psychedelic buzz, but after years of assimilating this headspace, I actually don’t need a substance to induce it. Repeated and habitual cannabis use leaves me feeling clouded and drained. Sometimes I just end up with a headache.

After that, the rest of the day is basically on track to end in tears. I might get some work done in the afternoon, but I have essentially decided that I am gonna be less productive, less present and less compassionate to myself and others. Not only that, I’ll want to smoke more, compounding the dynamics at play. There’s a feeling that when I’m stoned, I don’t want to be – out of a guilt and shame, out of a frustration with being dependent and not operating in ways I would like to on a daily basis.

It can feel like I am trapped in a cycle I can’t escape – even when I’m trying my hardest to do so. It is precisely that feeling – that I am stuck in some kind of endless torment – that really gets me. I can sense that what I’m really addicted to is the negative emotional content… which is really a product of my own trauma, at the end of the day. The responses I have developed in an attempt to manage this trauma are repulsing me, and I am forced to continually revisit those responses. It’s a twisted relationship.

I justify my use of cannabis to myself as a form of control – I can ‘escape’ from dealing with whatever is on my mind or in my field, if I’m high enough. Yet, my nasty bong habit is always the thing that manages to tie me down. Frankly, I am way too attached to the authority it has over my life. It traps me under the pretences of me being free and choosing to stay voluntarily. A part of me does want it to stay. It’s a kind of bio-spiritual ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ – psychic warfare, a form of brutal violence unfolding in my body and brain.

By the evening, I will be left trying to block out this inner turmoil by self-medicating even further. This, of course, leads to an exacerbation of the same problem/s. I might pass out by around 10:30pm, feeling all different kinds of anger and sadness and regret and guilt and shame. Just beating myself up.

I’ll wake up the next day, asking myself why I tolerate this kind of self-abuse. But then, I’m likely to go ahead and do it again. Why? Because… the pull of this habit is so freakin’ strong. I play mind games with myself on a daily basis. I’ve been trying to escape this whole time; but there is none. I just have to be here, now, for whatever sensation emerges. I have to make decisions. I am the subject.

Yes, ‘Cannabis Addiction’ Is A Thing

There are those who question the concept of cannabis dependence or addiction in itself. It may be tempting to assume that any kind of addiction or dependence to cannabis is just one big sob story. Yet, it’s pretty clear from the diagnostic, epidemiological, laboratory, and clinical studies pertaining to the subject that the condition exists, is serious, and causes harm to the people afflicted. [1]

Cannabis dependence as experienced in clinical populations appears somewhat similar to other substance dependence disorders, although it is likely to be less severe. [1] Cannabis dependence is distinct from other substance abuse disorders, thanks to the drug’s relatively mild withdrawal effects, and the desire of many cannabis users to pursue a goal of reducing use, rather than abstaining altogether.

Cannabis produces dependence less readily than most other illicit drugs; most people can just pick it up and put it down without a problem. [1] Some 9 percent of those who try marijuana develop dependence, compared to 15 percent of people who try cocaine and 24 percent of those who try heroin. Many people who develop cannabis dependence usually have some kind of genetic predisposition towards the substance.

Due to its popularity as a substance, cannabis dependence is twice as prevalent as any other illicit psychoactive drug dependence. [1] Adults seeking treatment for cannabis abuse or dependence average more than 10 years of near-daily use and more than six serious attempts at quitting. [1]

Commonly cited consequences of cannabis dependence are relationship and family problems (yup), guilt associated with use of the drug (uhuh), financial difficulties (mmhm), low energy and self-esteem (yes indeed sir), dissatisfaction with productivity levels (uh, yeah), sleep and memory problems (oh hello), and low life satisfaction (dingdingdingdingding!). [1]

It is common for those experiencing cannabis dependence to partake despite social, psychological, and physical impairments. [1] They perceive themselves as unable to stop, and most experience a withdrawal syndrome upon cessation. [1] This is definitely true, in my case – and it doesn’t help that I mix my cannabis with tobacco, a highly addictive substance, at a common enough frequency to make an impact.

Personally, I was something of an anxious teenager. I thought and analysed constantly, and struggled with navigating the social landscape. I was thus the perfect candidate for a substance use disorder. At that young age, I was still developing a sense of meaning in my own world. It was at that formative moment that the goddess opened up my mind and filled it up with all kinds of good shit. Yet, I was still left chasing that psychedelic headspace, that mystical high. Soon enough, I was struggling to find comfort in the present moment again. Everything was sapped of colour, regardless of whether I was sober or stoned. I couldn’t enjoy it. My relationship with cannabis lacked any sense of integrity, much like my life.

It’s been like this for a while, now. For as long as I’ve smoked cannabis, really – it’s functioned this way for me. I have just never really known what to do about it. This stuff has me by my tail. I keep turning to it, despite the fact that I have plenty of other stuff to turn to. So, what’s the deal?

What Is It About Cannabis That Appeals To Me?

Cannabis appeals to me as a recreational experience, precisely because it is a complex medicinal herb. I have used it therapeutically, to self-medicate the various acute symptoms of trauma that I’ve experienced over the years. I could use cannabis to cover the symptoms without really healing the foundations of myself, my relationships and my life. Parts of me that just shattered, and are now lay fragmented on the ground; bruised, bloodied, battered and wounded. For years, these parts have been calling out for relief. They call out to be loved and appreciated, and brought to light. They want to be held – they want to move through the space – and sometimes, I don’t feel like doing that. There are times when it feels near excruciating to hold that space for them.

In the apparent absence of that self-love, compassion, appreciation and care, when it feels like I am shrouded in complete darkness… a temporary fix is the next best thing. The problem is, it’s just not an authentic solution. It doesn’t help much of anything. It doesn’t provide lasting satisfaction. It just pushes it down the line. It stalls my own development. It keeps me hanging, every time.

The physical action of smoking a bong is deeply palliative, to me. There’s so much about the process that just fits intuitively with the kind of person I am. It meshes really well with the specific ‘pain body’ I inhabit, as it feeds into the patterns of my own past experiences.

Cannabis is connected to parts of me that, when embodied, proactively fuel my own self-destruction. Cannabis is playing within the light and dark of my own shadow. It works on aspects of me that are throwing tantrums, for one reason or another. I have managed to internalise a set of deeply ingrained patterns wherein I attempt to avoid self-development and growth by smoking gratuitous amounts of cannabis, thus detracting from other aspects of life – and as a result of me not taking responsibility for my own actions, I then end up re-injuring myself and those around me.

My trauma response in these situations is to feel sorry for myself and helpless to this situation; to stagnate and fall into a dark pit of hopelessness. Cannabis works synergistically with my ‘funks’ – my self-worth can plummet if I let myself go down that rabbit hole. It’s important to remain aware of that at all times.

Long Term Effects Of Cannabis On My Body

In the middle of the decade, I was a very fit young lad. Some may say I over-exercised out of a concern to remain fit, skinny and muscular. I would play Australian Rules Football on the weekends, run miles basically every afternoon, and train regularly for 100 kilometre hikes. I was flexible, and my body was in a healthy alignment. I really didn’t know how good I had it, wellbeing-wise.

I was at my peak – the top of my game – in 2014. Once I left high school, the routines disappeared (as did the pressure from peers), and my physical activity started to slow down. I studied far more than I exercised. I started smoking weed to take the edge off all the academic jargon.

I’m by no means unfit, today. I can still run several kilometres without stopping, although it would involve a lot more puffing. My lungs are made of steel; however, bong smoke hasn’t done them any favours. Sometimes I wonder about the health of my internal organs… I wonder how all of that smoke and tar is really impacting them.

I still metabolise everything very quickly. I’m even around the same weight as I once was. I exercise regularly enough, though I do lack any kind of routine around it. I don’t always necessarily contain the motivation to go out and do something active, thanks to my ganja habit – whereas once upon a time, I would practically force myself to go out and do it.

Finally, after spending long hours on my bed studying and researching for University between 2015 and 2017, my neck, back, hips, legs, knees, pelvis and coccyx all seem to be out of alignment, if only slightly. I’ve been self-medicating with cannabis as a means to treat any pain and inflammation, but it’s about time I saw a physiotherapist. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone planning on attending tertiary education – DO NOT complete your assignments on your bed! Find a desk! Your posture will be eternally grateful!

Fucking With My Chi

I’ve learned that cannabis effects my ‘Qi’ – or ‘vital energy’ – in very interesting ways. The best way I can describe this concept of ‘Qi/Chi energy’ is by relating it to the subjective experience of sensing subtle forms of circulation/flow/resistance throughout the body.

Cannabis connects to subtle energetic centres of the throat (Vishuddha) and the Third Eye (Ajna). What you experience will be impacted by where your energy naturally resides, in relation to this effect.

There are moments where I will smoke cannabis and feel connected to everything. I am so attracted to these blissful sensations that emerge as my own consciousness ascends. Cannabis can set this process of alignment into play, if I have reached certain critical thresholds in my own bodily awareness. There are other times where ingesting it makes me feel stagnant, foggy and slow. Cannabis can dull my sensation of the body, or it can enhance it. It can speed up my heart rate, or shut my mind down. It can get me a good night’s sleep, or it can knock me out for the rest of the day. It’s hard to know exactly what you are chasing, sometimes.

Heavy and repeated smoking of cannabis can cause an imbalance in the cannabinoids that reside in your brain. It’s common to become ‘duller’ and lose sensitivity as you smoke more. This could explain why some people struggle to get anything done once they smoke weed on a daily basis.

I cannot deny that cannabis has encouraged the expansion of my creative and intellectual potentials… yet, I also know that I habitually turn to the drug as an artificial means of facilitating the circulation of energy throughout my body. I often avoid the hard work of moving around, articulating myself and creating meaningful stuff in my life by turning to my good friend cannabis; and the more I do this, the more I am encouraged to use the plant as a crutch, and stay sedentary.

Cannabis up/down regulates my anxious, self-doubting, anti-social tendencies based upon contextual factors, just as much as it does my creative, confident, compassionate aspects. If we consider how cannabis works upon the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in mammals, we can understand the ways in which it modulates the functioning of other bodily systems in a holistic and intricate fashion.

Long Term Effects Of Cannabis On My Mind

In the five years that I have been smoking cannabis nearly everyday, I have noticed a much more marked influence upon my mental state than my physical wellbeing – both positively and negatively speaking. My critical and analytical skills haven’t waned, much. My creativity has increased, if anything. I have become much better at holding divergent thought patterns and developing connections between associations. I’ve been able to figure out new styles of thinking and articulating for myself, through experimentation. I’ve been able to scatter my neural paths in new directions. Psychologically, under the right conditions, it can be a therapeutic experience.

However, with all of this, I have noticed a significant deterioration in my short-term memory and my attention span. My focus has diminished. And sometimes, I’m not healing anything; I’m just piling more toxicity on top of what is already there.

Just for the sake of transparency: I haven’t been diagnosed with any mental conditions, unless you want to count a benign case of Asperger’s Syndrome, which I was labeled with as a child. As I’ve grown, a lot of the AS symptoms have either disappeared or have grown to integrate with myself and the world around me pretty seamlessly.

Even if I am technically ‘neurodivergent’, I’ve generally been capable of passing as a ‘normie’ in most situations. Sometimes, though, I still wonder if my experience of cannabis differs to how others feel. It could be a possibility, due to the way my brain is wired. It’s one of those things you can ponder forever without knowing the answer…

I am wary of the impact that cannabis has upon my psychological health, and aware of the fact that my exposure to psychedelics places me at an even greater risk for drug-induced psychosis. My mind is very important to me; it contains a lot of potential. It’s for this reason that I need to protect it and keep it safe.

I’m going to a psychologist in a week’s time, so we’ll see what feedback I get, what recommendations they provide me with, and whether or not the shrink believes me to be mentally fit. Stay tuned for the answer!

Managing The Impacts Of Addiction

This purpose of this article was not just to share my experiences or thoughts with an audience, but to use the words I’ve written on the topic as a means of personally clarifying how I relate to cannabis, addiction, substance abuse, and ‘drugs’ more generally. I wanted to write this article so I could reflect upon what’s happened in my life, what management strategies I have already successfully attempted, and what may or may not work with me. It’s going to help me decide what I’ll do about it in future.

I will be leaving you with a set of commitments.

  • I will stick to a self-imposed ration of cannabis. For instance, If I buy a Q, I will space it out in a meds container. I might start by filling the slots with 1 gram each. That way, my bud will last seven days, if I can stick to the plan – perhaps more, if I choose to delay.
  • I will limit my cannabis consumption to 1 ounce per month, maximum.
  • I will track my expenses and include cannabis use in my monthly budget.
  • I will not smoke of a day until 4:20pm.
  • Every month, I will spend at least three days dry.

I’ll return to this topic in six months, where in a new article, I will assess my own performance in that time, based upon the commitments that I have offered here.

Sources

[1] Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment

[2] https://www.healthline.com/health-news/marijuana-addiction-rare-but-real-072014#2

Mitch
Mitch Keys is a young writer from Brisbane, Australia unfolding in a dynamic process of becoming (like everyone else, so don’t go thinking he’s special or anything). He likes being alive.

5 COMMENTS

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Green Planet
9 months ago

Fantastic article – really appreciate the bravery and honesty. ?

Mojang
Mojang
9 months ago

Thanks for sharing your experience with Marijuana use and addiction. I am in my mid 30’s and am considering using it for pain relief for an autoimmune disease. I have NEVER used any illegal drugs, and am quite worried about addiction and the impacts on my mental health. However at the moment the pain outweighs all of my concern. I was thinking of making edibles rather than smoking it though. Anyway just wanted to say thanks for sharing, I may also set some boundaries for myself similar to the ones you layed out in your article.

Thanks again.

Puffin lightly
Puffin lightly
9 months ago

Thanks for your article you have great courage for sharing this Mitch.
I can relate.
I’ve found some success in replacing the compulsion (the action of smoking) with other healthier activities as you spoke about in your article.
The obsession/thought I had created from habitual consumption became less loud the more I continue to stick to the planned replacement activity. The strength in not kidding yourself is truly respected.

Go at it !

Will
Will
8 months ago

What about using a vape rather than mixing with tobacco and smoking it?? That might help with the addiction issue as you won’t be consuming the addictive tobacco

Joe Lagrasso
8 months ago
Reply to  Will

100% spot on, the best way to stop using tobacco when smoking cannabis!

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