How to Stop Smoking Weed and Live the Full, Vibrant Life You Deserve
by Michael Walsh
Now that cannabis is legal across Canada and large swaths of the U.S. the landscape has certainly changed. [Updated October 2023]. How to stop smoking weed.
Long gone are the days of meeting your pot dealer in darkly lit parking lots with your head on swivel trying to dodge the cops. Instead, pot enthusiasts can walk into any one of a dozen trendy dispensaries within a five-block radius to make their selection.
For those of us who are old enough to remember those nerve-wracking parking lot rendezvous, it was very clear that what we were doing was illegal. There were serious implications if you got caught buying, selling, or simply possessing weed.
In that climate, there was a seedy undertone to frequent marijuana use that has now largely evaporated. Easy access and decriminalization suggest that marijuana use is simply no big deal anymore.
Cannabis is a multi-billion dollar industry. Massive marketing budgets are devoted to messaging centred around numerous health benefits.
So many people think, “not only is weed not a big deal, but it’s good for me! Nothing to worry about.”
Yes, there are valid medicinal uses for some people. But for others, over-consumption of weed can interfere with all aspects of life in the same ways that alcohol and illicit drugs can.
Identifying How Marijuana Use is Affecting Your Life
The story is similar with all substances that cause dependency. You start drinking or using a drug that seems to improve your quality of life but eventually, it progresses into something that negatively impacts it.
In other words, it was a lot of fun until it wasn’t.
In the last few years, more and more people are reaching out to me wanting to explore their relationship with marijuana and either cut back or eliminate it altogether.
At one point I worked with a 29-year-old client who was smoking a lot of weed and holed up in his room gaming for hours on end. The transformation he experienced when he finally addressed his marijuana addiction was incredible. You can read his story here.
More recently I started working with a professional in his early thirties (we’ll call him Steven) who initially wanted to cut back on his drinking. He actually ended up deciding to stop drinking altogether which has gone extremely well.
After we worked together for a bit Steven confided that he smoked a lot of weed.
He proceeded to share that he smoked every day, and preferred “the bong” because it provides the best hit — joints and pipes just didn’t do the trick.
During his last attempt to quit, Steven got rid of his bong as a statement to himself that he was done. He enjoyed some success but before long, he bought a new one and started smoking again.
Steven reported that he can’t wait to get home from work to light the bong. Before most activities, he smoked to make it more bearable, more fun, or to just numb out. At the time he felt hard-wired to smoke every day and that didn’t sit well.
It affected the way that he showed up in every aspect of his life. His work and his relationships all suffered, and Steven was clear that he wanted more out of his life than what he was settling for.
We got very specific about how his marijuana use was negatively affecting the things that mattered most. And we also talked about what he wanted his life to look like.
From this conversation, it was crystal clear to Steven that the life he was living and the life he wanted to be living were worlds apart and he was ready to get serious about making changes.
Steven decided to set very realistic goals around his consumption. He decided to wait to smoke for 2 to 3 hours after getting home from work rather than right away. On weekends he committed to waiting until the evening to smoke as opposed to first thing in the morning.
Steven tried not using the bong every night and started smoking joints. Eventually, he decided to go an entire weekend without the bong.
Then he surprised me by saying he wanted to be done with the “dirty bong” and that he was planning a “bong smashing ritual” with his dad on Father’s Day weekend. I knew he was serious about our work when he said this. Shortly thereafter he told me he’d written a letter, lit it on fire, and then smashed the bong to pieces!
Now he’s only smoking joints or using a pipe and has cut his consumption in half. He sets the goals he feels he can reasonably reach, and then we meet weekly to learn what worked and what didn’t. We readjust if needed and then create goals for the following week. Steven is quite disciplined with this work and his commitment is paying off.
It hasn’t been all rose-coloured glasses for Steven. He’s experienced some withdrawal symptoms and is grieving the loss of “the bong” that has provided him a certain solution for years. But Steven is making excellent progress and his life is becoming what he hoped it could be.
Is Marijuana Addiction Really a Thing?
The legalization of weed has lessened concerns around the impact of chronic marijuana use.
But let’s keep in mind that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s not addictive. Look at alcohol. Alcohol is one of the most highly abused substances on the planet and it’s legal nearly everywhere.
The way I see it, alcohol and marijuana are similar in a couple of important ways.
First, they are both socially acceptable in many circles. And second, some people can drink or smoke weed and develop no habit whatsoever while others, like Steven, become highly dependent.
It’s estimated that 30% of frequent marijuana users may develop a dependency. This number increases if you start using in adolescence.
So the definitive answer is yes: marijuana addiction is definitely a thing.
And for some, it can be a very serious thing. Since legalization, the potency has significantly increased. Some studies have linked frequent use of high-potency marijuana with an increased risk of psychosis.
While this obviously isn’t the case for all marijuana users, it highlights that weed can pose some serious dangers.
Another indicator of the potential dangers of a substance is the onset of withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. I’ve seen many clients go through the physical and mental impact of detoxing from chronic marijuana use.
Although withdrawals from this particular substance aren’t life-threatening, they can certainly be challenging. Cravings are a common symptom when removing any addictive substance from your life.
A few of the others that may accompany marijuana withdrawal are:
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood swings
- Flu-like symptoms
- Brain fog
These symptoms pass but I make sure my clients are mentally prepared for the possibility that they might feel less than awesome for a bit. The human body has incredible mechanisms for detox and repair, but the process takes time.
How to Quit Smoking Weed: Preparation
There isn’t one right way to quit smoking weed.
The strategy you choose will take a few factors into account. How much you smoke on a daily basis and the urgency with which you want to see a change in your life.
Whenever I start coaching a new client we sit down and talk about all the negative things that are happening as a direct result of excessive marijuana use. We write a list and revisit it frequently.
In my practice, I always try to keep my clients focused on the things they have to gain. The life they want to lead is within reach if we keep moving forward in their recovery, and I never want them to forget that.
So we also make a list of the things that the client stands to gain if they quit smoking weed. We keep this list with the one that outlines all the negative outcomes associated with marijuana addiction. I recommend that my clients read both of the lists as many times as it takes to stay motivated to make changes.
Then it’s up to the client if they want to quit cold turkey, or if they want to choose a quit date in the future and design a schedule to taper down up to that date.
Tapering Down From Frequent Marijuana Use
Tapering down rather than quitting cold turkey can be very effective, as it has been for Steven.
But developing a clear plan is critical to staying on track toward the client’s goal. First, take the Cannabis Use Disorder Identification Test.
Recovery plans include several components that typically look something like this, although I always leave room for flexibility depending on what best suits a client's individual needs.
1. Set a Schedule and Quit Date
By schedule, I mean incremental decreases in how much you smoke each day. Let’s say you smoke 2 grams a day. We might plan to decrease daily use by 0.5 grams every week. After four weeks you’d be down to zero and that day is your official quit date.
Once my client has decided on a schedule they feel they can stick to, I do everything I can to help them stay committed to not changing or pushing back the timeline.
2. Practicing New Coping Skills
Although excessive marijuana use becomes problematic in many aspects, it was serving some purpose. That has to be accounted for in a recovery plan. Whether it was to manage stress, dampen feelings of sadness, or subdue social anxiety, it’s important to implement other strategies to regulate your emotional state in the absence of weed.
The period of time that a client is tapering down is great for practicing new coping skills. Exercise, journaling, meditation, and talking to someone who understands what you’re going through are all examples of healthier ways to modulate your internal environment.
3. Identifying Triggers
There are often specific people and places that are likely to trigger a desire to use. Identifying your triggers and developing a plan to steer clear of them (at least in the early days) will result in fewer opportunities for a setback.
Keep in mind this isn’t forever. As your life becomes more vibrant and fulfilling, things like seeing other people smoke, or driving by your favourite dispensary will likely illicit zero desire.
But in early recovery, it’s a good idea to sidestep those triggers. This trigger worksheet I use with clients helps clarify what people, places, or things may present challenges in early recovery.
Accountability is a critical part of recovery. This is where recovery coaching is so helpful. Along with regular communication with me, I have my clients come up with at least one other person that they can lean on for support.
Maybe your sister or partner didn’t like the effect your habit had on you. Someone like that can help keep you accountable if you hit a rough spot. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call to someone who knows what your goals are to stay the course.
Addressing a marijuana addiction is like addressing any other dependency. It’s incredibly difficult to do alone, and fortunately, you don’t have to! With a recovery plan and a healthy support system, you can absolutely regain control of your life.
Get Help Creating Your Personal Roadmap
It can be really scary to arrive at the realization that you have a pot smoking problem, no matter how big or small. But it’s a lot less scary when you have an experienced guide to help you sort things out.
I’m an accredited Addiction Recovery Coach offering worldwide virtual support, and in-person support across Canada. If you’re interested in exploring 1:1 recovery coaching to help you cut back your smoking or stop smoking entirely, I’m happy to answer your questions.
I offer a no-charge consult call to anyone who has questions about their own substance use, or the substance use of a family member. These calls are completely confidential with no pressure to make a decision before you feel entirely ready.
If you’re ready to explore the potential of working together, I’d love to chat. Michael is based in Victoria British Columbia Canada. The other Recovery Coaches on the team are based in Nanaimo, Vancouver British Columbia Calgary, Edmonton Alberta, Toronto Ontario, Montreal Quebec, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Because we all work virtually — we can work with anyone no matter what city, province or country around the world. We have clients all across Canada and the USA, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, New York City, Denver, Nashville, Berlin, Tel Aviv, London, Singapore and Australia.
I’d also like to invite you to read more about my personal story here.