I Tried to Figure Out Why Weed Isn’t Fun for Me
This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
My friend Sara loves weed. She’s a great person without it, but when she lights up, Sara becomes the funniest, most relaxed, creative, and energetic human I have ever met. Her mind suddenly makes astounding connections and she reaches an almost post-human level of chill. Another friend of mine describes being high as feeling like you’ve morphed “into one of those plastic bobble head dogs with huge grins.” They’re not the only ones—a lot of my friends are weed enthusiasts, and it’s the one thing I can’t share with them: No matter how hard I try, weed just makes me feel like shit.
When I smoke a joint, I become extremely self-conscious and stressed. I’ll make a mundane comment about something and instantly start worrying about how lame it was. I’ll leave a room and worry that the vibe won’t be the same when I come back. I get into this state of paranoia, and although I’m still able to rationalize the situation in my head—Hey, you’re only thinking these things because you’re stoned, you weirdo!—the paranoid thoughts don’t go away. And if I happen to also be drunk I just end up with my head resting on a toilet seat, fearing that I’ll be trapped in that position for the rest of my life.
It bugs me to no end that weed isn’t fun for me. Not just my friends, but many of my personal heroes—Rihanna, the Broad City girls, Sarah Silverman—happen to be proud stoners. I’m not sad because I think getting high is cool, but I just really feel like I’m missing out on some euphoric experience. What is it, exactly, that’s keeping me from being a happy stoner? Am I doing it wrong and could I just learn to appreciate it? I need answers, so decide to contact a few experts to shed some light on my shortcomings.
All photos by David Meulenbeld
First, I speak to Natasha Mason, a neuropsychologist at the University of Maastricht and an expert on how THC—the psychoactive element in cannabis, which makes you feel high—affects the chemicals in your brain. She tells me she won’t be able to give me a clear-cut answer since using drugs is a subjective experience and effects differ from person to person.
But she tells me about a study conducted by the University of Chicago that shows that a low dose of THC in weed can help reduce stress; while a high dose can lead to feelings of fear, paranoia, and discomfort. Alongside THC, weed contains many different substances, including CBD—which counters the drug’s psychoactive effects and is known to have a range of medicinal qualities. The Dutch weed I usually smoke tends to be comparatively high in THC and low on CBD, which could possibly stimulate my sense of paranoia.
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The environment in which I smoke plays an important part, too, Mason tells me. Research carried out on rats has shown that a fear that’s stimulated by THC increases when the rats are in a new or potentially stressful environment. In addition, Mason tells me that people who smoke regularly usually experience less worrying side effects—but, she adds, it could be that people who never had negative experiences with weed are just more likely to smoke regularly.
That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t explain why I transform into this socially awkward, paranoid mess while my friends comfortably enjoy their high. We always smoke the same strains, with the same THC percentage, in the same familiar environment. Mason thinks my personality is to blame.
“The general opinion is that THC intensifies feelings of anxiety—and those feelings are already present in you,” she explains. “If you are naturally very analytical or a bit agitated and anxious, certain chemicals in your brain, like serotonin [which controls your mood], noradrenaline [the hormone that prepares your body for sudden physical action], GABA [a downer], and glutamate [a substance that helps the brain function normally] might operate differently in your brain than in the brains of more relaxed people—and that could result in a more extreme response to the THC.”
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Floor van Bakkum, a prevention worker at the Dutch drug education service Jellinek, agrees with Mason. She thinks it’s almost certainly down to the fact that I’m naturally anxious and tend to overthink stuff. “If you like to overanalyze things and try to have everything under control in your day-to-day life, it’s probably harder for you to let go of that control after you’ve smoked a joint,” she says. “Basically, you’re blocking the fun stuff.”
When I ask her what I should do to enjoy weed, she tells me to smoke joints that are higher in CBD. However, she also advises me to maybe just accept that you can’t always have what you want—weed might just never be for me.
But that can’t be it. Can’t I just learn to smoke weed like I learned to drink alcohol? With that in mind, I call Daan Keiman of the Trimbos National Institute for Mental Health and Addiction. He assures me that the effects I describe are pretty common with cannabis use, and that it’s quite possible I could “learn to appreciate it.”
I ask him if my symptoms could mean I’d be more likely to experience psychosis after smoking. “Being at risk of psychosis and having anxious feelings are completely different things,” he tells me. “But you should be especially careful if someone in your family has ever suffered from psychotic episodes.”
After running out of experts to talk to, I finally turn to my friend Anne, who puts my mind at ease. “You know, to you, it might seem like stoned people are having a great time, but that’s not always true,” she assures me. “The fact that you don’t enjoy it and don’t do it might just be a blessing.”
If she’s right and I’m really not missing out on anything, that would make the whole situation a lot easier to accept. Why do I need to be part of stoner culture if it’s not as fun as people make it out to be? With that thought, for a moment, I finally do feel as content as a plastic bobble head dog with a huge grin on his face.
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No matter how hard I try, it makes me feel like shit.
Is weed good or bad for your mental health?
In honour of 420, we asked what you think…
There’s always been conflicting stories about the effects of weed – one minute it’s fucking up your sperm and making you paranoid, and the next it’s actually good for you. There’s a plethora of information out there, and if you look hard enough you could find every worry you’ve ever had confirmed – or find those same worries refuted.
Arguments about legalisation and the health effects of weed go round and round in circles, with laws varying hugely across the world. Everyone’s heard of how ‘one time my friend’s friend had a bad reaction’, but everyone’s also heard: ‘I smoke all the time and it’s never affected me.’
So, as stoners across the world take to the streets to celebrate 420 today, we wanted to find out what you, our readers, really thought about weed’s effect on your mental health – so we asked you in our Dazed Group Chat.
IT’S BETTER IN MODERATION
“I don’t smoke as much as I used to, only because it increased my anxiety tenfold, and would then be worse for weeks. Now that I’ve cut back I’ve been able to enjoy it so much more in comparison to when I was younger. For me personally, I can enjoy recreational drugs when I do them in moderation.”
Maudie Osborne via Dazed Group Chat on Facebook
IT’S ADDICTIVE AND CAUSES DEPRESSION
“For me it got really bad; I smoked for eight months every day and night before bed, and had used it for years a little less heavily before that. I was in denial about the harm it was doing to me, I depended on it and couldn’t get to sleep without it. I couldn’t focus on anything and started to feel depressed. Finally I had to bite the bullet and stop smoking a couple of months ago, now I wish I’d seen sense earlier – some people can manage to use it and get on with their lives, but personally I couldn’t.”
Jack Carleton via Dazed Group Chat on Facebook
“If you already have mental health issues I definitely think weed can exacerbate them” – Rik Clarke
IT DEPENDS ON THE TYPE OF WEED
“It depends on your mental health, what you’re smoking and at what age. Sativa makes my anxiety worse, indica grounds me, and smoking CBD-rich weed helps kill pain but still keeps me functional.”
Britleaf Carpenter via Dazed Group Chat on Facebook
UK LAWS HAVE DRIVEN PEOPLE TO STRONGER SKUNK
“We’re not all the same and will have different reactions to the same substances. Prohibition in the UK led to the rarity of the mild hashish and grass variants available, which was replaced by the stronger skunk type varieties which is where most of the problems lie.”
WEED IS NO WORSE FOR MENTAL HEALTH THAN ANYTHING ELSE
“I smoked a lot of hydro from the time I was 18 until I was 30. I had a bong next to my bed, I smoked weed during work – I was literally stoned for 12 years. One day I woke up and thought ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’, and haven’t had weed since. Saying that I never once had any mental health issues, I never stopped myself from living an active and full life. Some people have no problems, some people fall down a wormhole, but I don’t think weed is any worse or better for mental health than anything we face in daily life.”
Lance Nichols via Dazed Group Chat on Facebook
IT CAN BE RELAXING
“I’m a bit on the fence as it’s made me less tense and anxious and actually relaxes me, but once it wears off I can get a little paranoid. I haven’t really smoked consistently for a specific amount of time to really know how it’s affecting me though.”
Clamae Vizcawa via Dazed Group Chat on Facebook
SMOKING IS CONNECTED TO ANXIETY AND PARANOIA
“In my personal experience I needed to quit smoking; every time I smoked, I started to feel anxious, paranoid and a bit introverted. Depression, insecurities, and self-doubt also tended to come out too.”
Felipe Cassaniga via Dazed Group Chat on Facebook
WEED HELPS CREATIVITY
“It has changed my creativity in a positive way – it boots my inner expression and will to act. When I don’t smoke, I’m lazier and lack enthusiasm. If it was possible, I’d prefer to be high all the time but without needing to smoke, as too many doubts and mental health issues block my mind (when sober).”
Jāzeps Podnieks via Dazed Group Chat on Facebook
“I don’t think weed is any worse or better for mental health than anything we face in daily life” – Lance Nichols
IT DEPENDS WHAT MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES YOU HAVE
“It really depends from strain to strain, and your own mental health circumstances when smoking. If you already have mental health issues I definitely think weed can exacerbate them, but it will depend specifically on what you have. It’s certainly helped me when I’ve been depressed, but I can’t imagine it would be good if I suffered from anxiety. In my experience just stay away from skunk strains as they do nobody any good.”
Rik Clarke via Dazed Group Chat on Facebook
IT’S ALL DOWN TO THE INDIVIDUAL
“Weed can be bad for an individual’s mental health, but it depends on the individual. A far more valid question would be: ‘Is weed bad for society’s health?’ In which case I think the answer is no, not especially.”
Comments have been edited and condensed.
In honour of 420, we asked what you think…