Will Smoking Weed Affect My Anxiety?
This article originally appeared on VICE U.K.
Weed and anxiety have always been entwined for me. My experience of getting high amounts to an unpleasantly increased heart rate, imagining that all my friends secretly think I’m a cunt and berating myself via a cacophony of second-person internal monologues. It took me a bizarrely long time to realize this was not something I enjoyed, but when I eventually did, learning to say no when passed a spliff became the greatest gift I ever gave myself.
Since I never enjoyed weed in the first place, giving it up wasn’t difficult. But many weed users experience a more conflicted relationship with the drug and their anxiety. Weed use can become a symptom, cure, and underlying condition all rolled into one. Using it might worsen your anxiety—in a larger sense—but allow you to feel better in the short-term. This creates a vicious circle in which you’re using a substance to alleviate the symptoms it causes.
WHAT DO USERS THINK?
Amy, 27, a former weed smoker who lives with anxiety, says, “Smoking weed felt like it was positively contributing to my life at the time—it made me less anxious and more at ease about doing things. But actually it was completely destructive because, without it, I would be a complete panicked mess. If I hadn’t used weed, I would have recovered from my severe anxiety period much quicker. Instead, it took me two-and-a-half years.”
It can be difficult to tell whether weed use causes anxiety, or simply exacerbates what was there already. Chris, 22, who developed a panic disorder in his teens after smoking weed habitually, says, “In hindsight, I had always been an overthinking teenager—it’s just how my mind works, and I was able to cope with that in the long-term. Smoking weed definitely made that overthinking worse, though, and more difficult to control. It made me more irrational and irritable.”
The stronger the cannabis you're smoking, the more likely you are to experience adverse side effects.
The Overthinker’s Guide To Smoking Weed
So: As an overthinker, you loathe to smoke weed — especially with people — for the following reasons:
1. When you smoke weed, you uncontrollably reexamine your identity and life choices. For overthinkers, smoking pot can result in unwelcome self-accusation and negatively-slanted analysis of one’s major life decisions.
There are two areas overthinkers will focus their self-loathing–
- Identity. The way you fake people into liking you, the tricks you play to get what you want. You’re a fraud, oh, you’re a big fat fraud! You think you’re ACTUALLY talented? Ha ha! You’ve just managed to TRICK everyone into thinking you’re NOT a piece of shit! Good job, piece of shit! Remember that party last night? You weren’t having conversation — you were manipulating people into asking you questions that would warrant responses that contained information that made you look good! Remember that great story you wrote last weekend? You didn’t realize it then, but you actually just copied something you had read three weeks previous by someone far, far more talented than you! You phony! You’re nothing. You’re NO ONE! HA HA HA HA HA. DIE IN A FIRE, ASSHOLE!
- Life decisions. Keep avoiding your parents’ phone calls? Won’t let X back into your life when s/he really does deserve a second chance? Have seven voicemails that have been left unanswered for over a month? Break up with the girl who was perfect for you? Major in French Literature? Spent $120 yesterday and can’t remember what on? You have subscriptions to the New York Times, The New Yorker, and New York Magazine. WHY? You are wasting your money and are going down a path of irredeemable despair that will end with a bar of soap on the floor of a prison shower. Death. Suffering. Loss. Oh god, the people in Africa. You’re parents — they’re going to die. You’re going to die. And then what? And then what?
It is clear that smoking weed often causes overthinkers to uncontrollably reexamine their livelihoods, identities, and major life decisions. High overthinkers’ self-destructive shame spirals go into berserk mode, obliterating all semblance of comforting self-delusion. It is thought that smoking pot places one in a different mental context, causing the overthinker to in a sense move outside of himself. It enables him to observe behaviors that from his previous vantage point were impossible to detect.
Perspectives outside of one’s normal boundaries are important for personal growth. The problem with using weed to gain perspective is that while an inexperienced overthinker is likely to temporarily move past the boundaries of her ego — establishing distance between her stoned self and her everyday self — the detachment is often accompanied by intense self-shaming and berating. So the state of being high basically turns into a cyclical exercise of pointing out all your flaws, hating yourself for them, shaming yourself, and uncontrollably searching for more flaws.
2. You become cripplingly self- and socially-aware. For overthinkers, smoking pot can cause extreme situational awareness. Example: I’m saying “like” too much, I never realized it until now but I say “like” in like every single sentence. Jesus I just did it in my internal monologue. The guy talking to me has dry mouth. I can fucking hear his dry mouth… I hear the saliva in his mouth. This is gross, I’m getting grossed out. Am I sitting the right way? Am I positioned awkwardly? The position I’m sitting in feels insane. No, you’re normal. You’re sitting in a normal position. I just scratched my head and moved my hand to my mouth. Why did I do that? I have this tendency to cover my mouth when I’m uncomfortable talking to someone. Can he tell I’m uncomfortable? How is he still talking? I have no idea what he’s talking about. He seems insane, to be talking so much and not detect that I have no idea what he’s saying. What is he saying? I can’t focus on anything other than the fact that he has dry mouth. Jesus, get a fucking drink of water idiot. I just scratched my head again. Am I doing that too much? I’m thirsty. I’m afraid to talk because he’ll hear I have dry mouth. This sucks. I want to go home.
Things overthinkers say when being peer pressured to smoke weed
- “I can’t be around people when I smoke weed. Believe me, you don’t want to smoke weed with me. I’ll just feel alienated and leave immediately.”
- “I get super paranoid when I smoke weed. Not paranoid of the cops. But paranoid about my life. I start freaking out about my life when I smoke weed.”
- “I can’t talk to people when I smoke weed. I feel really stupid.”
- “When I smoke weed I get so self-aware. I can’t stop thinking about what I’m doing. I become so focused on if I’m acting normal that I can’t engage with anyone.”
The best ways to get out of smoking weed while being peer pressured
- Say: “You don’t want to smoke weed with me. I’ll just leave. You really don’t want to know me when I’m high, I turn into an asshole.”
- Say you’re in a 12-step program.
Life tips to keep in mind when you are high
- The idea that success is a constant upward trajectory is a false premise.
- Think of the things you shame yourself for as ‘problems’ that need ‘fixing.’ Remove the shame element — it’s totally unnecessary. Accept the fact that the problems exist, and accept the fact that you need to fix them. Do not accept the shame anymore.
- People are not thinking about you as much as you think they are thinking about you.
- Your problems are human. Your problems are not unique. People can relate to your problems.
- Try putting headphones on.
- It’s perfectly acceptable to bail.
- Fresh air might make you feel better.
- It’s okay.
This week, I’ll cover smoking weed, an activity that can shift overthinkers into psychological overdrive, taking them down the highway…