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David Baxter

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How Marijuana Was Great for My Anxiety and Why I Stopped Using It
by Sandy Woznicki, TinyBuddha.com
Oct 19, 2020

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“When solving problems, dig at the root instead of just hacking at the leaves.” ~ Anthony J. D’Angelo

This is an account of my experience using marijuana as a device to help my anxiety, why I’m glad I had it, and why I no longer need it.

This story isn’t an advocation for or against smoking pot. It’s a story to shed some insight into how and why it helped certain ailments and my journey to lasting change without it.

How Smoking Pot Helped My Anxiety
For most of my life I was a closet anxiety sufferer.

That’s mostly because I didn’t have a label for how I felt until I was thirty.

My anxiety brought insomnia, tension headaches, stomach problems, and social anxiety in addition to the swirl of bees that lived in my chest.

One symptom that drove me nuts was incessant queasiness. In my twenties I dated a guy who smoked pot, so I gave it a try to see if it would help my stomach. And it helped. A lot.

Then I noticed it helped me fall asleep.

It helped with my ADD by letting me focus on my work when I was coding (nerd alert!) or doing something creative.

It helped my social anxiety by loosening my worry and fear over other people’s judgments.

When I felt anxious, upset, sad, or angry, it dulled the negative emotions down and helped take the edge off, which sometimes was enough to give me the space to get some perspective.

It eased my tension headaches.

It gave me something to do on boring days.

It made doing chores less laborious.

I came to rely on it. If we were running low, I would start to get anxious. If I ran out, I would have anxiety attacks. I felt like I needed it to get through the day.

I went from occasionally smoking to smoking morning, noon, and night (and in the middle of the night when I couldn’t get back to sleep).

I told myself that this was perfectly acceptable. It was my medicine. I needed it. It was a way of life. That it wasn’t like I was smoking cigarettes, so it was totally fine.

Pot helped.

But only in the moment.

Why Smoking Pot Didn’t Really Help My Anxiety
What pot didn’t do for me was fix my anxiety. It didn’t make it go away; it just eased it a bit temporarily. It wasn’t helping me get to the root of my problem, and that’s why I needed to keep going back to it.

It was helping the symptoms of anxiety, not the cause.

Anxiety caused stomach problems and tension headaches. Pot helped with that.

Anxiety made my mind jump all over the place when I tried to sleep or focus. Pot helped slow the erratic surge of thoughts.

Anxiety made me nervous around other people. Pot took the edge off.

I didn’t like how any negative emotions felt in my body, so I jumped to numb the feeling in the quickest and easiest way I knew how. Smoking pot.

It became such a habit that the idea of not having this crutch at my immediate disposal caused me stress.

Day after day, year after year, the anxiety was still there. So I kept needing my crutch.

That is, until I decided I wanted to walk on my own. I reached the realization that I wanted to solve this problem, not manage it.

That meant I needed to get to the bottom of it.

Why Did I Have Anxiety in the First Place?
I didn’t know I had anxiety for most of my life. It was just how I felt. I figured some people were either lucky that they were happy and carefree, or they were faking it.

It just didn’t seem like it was in the cards for me. I felt like this was just how I was born.

I grew up in a “suck it up” kind of family, so we didn’t talk about our emotions. I never really saw my parents showing me a healthy way to share feelings, so I didn’t have something to model after.

What I did see were people being made fun of for being emotionally vulnerable. I thought it was weak to show people that you are hurting.

But through a lot of inner work, I was able to start breaking down what was causing my anxiety.

My social anxiety and fear of being found out as a fraud at work (aka imposter syndrome) stemmed from a long-held belief of not being good enough.

Doing some reflection on my past, the “suck it up” environment I grew up in led to being made fun of a lot as the youngest kid. I internalized this and turned it into a belief that I held onto for decades.

This limiting belief came out as fear. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making a wrong decision.

This accounted for a lot of my anxieties.

The stress response—aka the fight or flight response—has two sides. Flight = fear. Fight = anger. So I held a lot of anger too. I was so quick to anger and judgment. And I held onto it for a long time whether it was being cut off in traffic, or when my mother left when I was fourteen.

Anger is a defense mechanism. It’s triggered when you feel threatened in some way. And I always felt threatened.

Years of anxiety will plague the body. Constantly triggering one’s stress response wreaks havoc on the immune system, digestive system, your heart, mind and whole body.

So that explained all my symptoms.

Smoking pot helped the symptoms. It didn’t help me overcome my long-held belief that I wasn’t good enough.

How I Overcame Anxiety Once and for All
What I really needed was to change my relationship with my thoughts. To do that, I first had to learn the important lesson that you are not your thoughts.

This is a core concept in meditation, which is one of the biggest tools that helped me relate differently to my thoughts.

When I first came across this concept, I didn’t get it. “If I’m not my thoughts, then what am I?” I came to learn that thoughts are just ideas, just sentences floating through the brain like clouds in the sky. They come. They go. They change shape.

I, me, myself—that is who gets to choose which thoughts to hold onto, which ones to believe. There is a me beyond the thoughts.

Once this idea started to ring true, that’s when change began. When I was fearful of what other people thought of me, I needed to dive into why.

Instead of allowing these fearful thoughts to run through my head on autopilot, believing the things they said to be true, I was able to stop, step back, and challenge them.

So instead of catastrophizing every situation, I could take the time to ask and honestly answer questions like “What’s the worst that could happen?” And to that, I could follow up with “How will I cope with that worst-case scenario if it actually happened?”

I learned I was much more capable of dealing with adversity than I had ever given myself credit for.

Stopping Wasn’t Easy
Marijuana may not be chemically addicting like many drugs. But it can be very psychologically and habitually addicting.

Years of anxiety meant that I’d developed a lot of unconscious triggers to feeling anxious. That meant sometimes the symptoms of anxiety would come up without me knowing exactly why.

Anytime I felt a little queasy, or even too full. Seeing smoke or even hearing the word. Getting home from work. Feeling any amount of stress or afflictive emotions. Boredom. Going to any social gathering. Celebrations.

Whenever I was triggered physically—like feeling my heart racing or tightness in my chest—I would freak out and jump to ease the discomfort as quickly as possible.

Part of my work to overcome anxiety was paradoxically to allow myself to feel it without fighting it.

Just like the Buddhist story of the two arrows. Getting hit with an arrow hurts, of course. But in life, things happen and sometimes hurt.

Lamenting it, saying how this should never have happened, wallowing in how much I hate that this happened and how much I want it to end—that’s like getting hit with a second arrow.

Fighting against reality causes unnecessary suffering. Like trying to pull your fingers out of a Chinese finger trap—you get stuck even more. I found that peacefully recognizing the discomfort, saying hello, allowing it to pass through was all much more effective than taking a hit off my bowl.

And over time, these feelings of anxiety from unknown sources became less and less, and getting through them became easier and easier.

I’m glad I had pot as a device to help with my anxiety for the time that I had it. It gave me relief. It let me experience moments of peace. For me it was a stepping-stone on a journey I didn’t realize I was on.

But once I recognized that my anxiety wasn’t improving, that I needed to put in some work to take my life to the next level, that’s when I knew it was time to take the leap into the unknown without my crutch.

I stumbled for a hot minute, then got up on my own two feet. I now look back at my life in phases—the “old” me and the “new” me.

The “old” me would have been a nervous wreck to admit any of this story to the world. She would have written it while high. She would have freaked out when she ran out of her stash.

The “new” me writes this with the confidence that I know my message will land with some people, while others may not like it or even care to read this far, but I don’t worry about what people think anymore. I’ve tackled my “not good enough” inner bully. She still makes a peep here or there, but I now know how to listen without judgement and then go about my day.

For full transparency and honesty, I still dabble occasionally from time to time. But not because I need it and not because I’m anxious and running away from my feelings, rather, it’s like enjoying a nice glass of wine.

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About Sandy Woznicki
Sandy is a stress and anxiety coach and mindfulness meditation teacher helping women who deep down don't feel good enough and are overrun by stress or fear. Her coaching and free resources like the Stress Detox Course help women to live more fully and freely. She’s happily married to her goofy husband and loves connecting with nature in beautiful Maine.
 

Daniel

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My state is no longer prosecuting marijuana cases of less than one ounce (since recreational use was approved by the voters), so I tried two marijuana gummies to see what all the hype was about.

There was no pleasurable "high" for me, though I was plenty stoned. I was so confused, it seemed my life had just been a dream that I may or may not return to (which was the most interesting thing about the experience). But ordinary life, even while anxious, seemed more pleasurable to me than being semi-conscious while stoned (since conscious processing seemed like unpleasant work). So never again for me :)

My guess is the people who may benefit from ongoing marijuana use have already sought it out and tried it.
 
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David Baxter

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One of my sisters never had much of a reaction to pot or hash. I don't think she had any especially negative reactions but if I remember correctly she would just say that nothing happened and she wasn't feeling any different.

One of the reasons for caution about the use of cannabis is exactly this, the individual variations in response to the drug. And if you add in various mental health issues like anxiety or depression or OCD, those variations seem to increase and I don't think there's any doubt that cannabis can exacerbate some mental health issues. For example, I think many people feel that cannabis helps reduce their anxiety but objectively many of those same people seem to get worse over time with regular prolonged use, especially heavy use or daily use.

If the individual is taking medication(s) to deal with mental health conditions, the situation becomes even more complicated because sometimes cannabis seems to reduce the effectiveness of those medications.

All that said, I am personally happy to see the increasing movement toward decriminalization and/or legalization of cannabis. Not the least of my reasons for supporting the trend is that all of the comments I made about cannabis above are also applicable to alcohol, and from my observations alcohol is often worse.

I'm perhaps even more aware of these issues and of the accuracy of my observations and comments in the past 6 years since due to health issues I no longer drink or use any type of recreational drugs. They just don't agree with me any more so when I have tried alcohol or cannabis since my illness in 2014 I just feel nauseated or dizzy so I'm not at all enjoying the experience.
 

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Only thing I'm really happy about de criminalization is the reduced social cost of enforcement. Not like a pot head is a threat to society. Sure maybe someone might steal a bag of chips when he get the munchies.

And sometimes you have to stop being "politically correct" You can call then what you want but wen weed was legalized in Canada Steinbach the core of our Canadian Bible belt banned letting pot shops. Like how retarded is that? You think people will stop smoking weed? I'd bet my life the only thing they succeeded in doing is making the local pushers extremely happy when we know how territorial wars for the sale of any drug is a bigger threat to society

It's been know ti help with the nasty side effects if chemotherapy and some other things.

Me I don't like losing the notion of time or space and when I was young it was the 70's so... yeah I did it too except back then weed was weak and they would use the good stuff to make hash. Even back then when it was a fraction and potent as what they grow for more than 20 years I'd be stoned for hours on a joint. And if in a house I became an integral part of the furniture so mental functions were limited to laughing. And out in the world it distorted reality to the point of paranoia.

I laughed when it was still illegal for recreational use but medical was legal with an Rx. My doc one day brought up the suggestion that maybe it could help. I told him how I knew for a fact that would definitely not help in any way.

I will admit I have taken very high doses of Clonazepan as no other option has been found and provided to prevent me from breaking my pact with FMN when things go to hell in a handbasket. So as I've told my doc. what's worse me taking more than I should and staying home and alive or someone being traumatized for life finding me hanging lifeless in a final act of desperation?

Some people needs crutches to walk for a while, some needs walkers for a long time and some are in wheelchairs for life.

it's just my personal opinion.
And I don't recommend anyone even think of following my example. It's happens only in extreme situations where the contrary could have serious consequences for me or someone else. Common sense is not a part of it. We all react differently to drugs legal or not abusing benzos can be dangerous as it's just like if it was powdered alcohol.
 

David Baxter

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There's also the dreaded munchies, which is one of the ways that cannabis helps some cancer patients - helps to combat nausea and improve appetite.

We had a small house party back in the early 70s - 6-8 people - and one of the guests arrived stoned and then continued to smoke up. That was Saturday. The next morning, we discovered that she had eaten an entire ham that was supposed to have been destined for Sunday dinner. She was a strange young woman. I met her parents once. They were even stranger and explained a lot about her.
 

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One clarification: back in the 60s and 70s we distinguished between dealers (weed) and pushers (hard drugs).

Steppenwolf. A great Canadian band which holds up well even all these years later.


 

Daniel

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I will admit I have taken very high doses of Clonazepan as no other option has been found and provided to prevent me from breaking my pact with FMN when things go to hell in a handbasket.

There's always Remeron (mirtazapine-induced comas) :D

More seriously, I have used low-dose Abilify to augment SSRIs for OCD, depression, and suicidal thoughts. But it made me tired, so I just used it as a "rescue medicine."
 

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One clarification: back in the 60s and 70s we distinguished between dealers (weed) and pushers (hard drugs).

Steppenwolf. A great Canadian band which holds up well even all these years later.


Now THAT was a blow your speakers song, especially driving, to the point where I now say "Huh? sorry I didn't hear a word you said" :confused:
 

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Getting slightly off topic here but

Dealer = wholesale
Pusher = retail

Where I came from anyway
But I born was a tad after you
 

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I think his personal/religious beliefs are so conservative they borderline on anti-humanitarian. I think that is the same problem I had with the two therapists this year. Some people use their spiritual/political/religious beliefs to be more accepting of others (similar to a Canadian homeless shelter that provides wine), while the more conservative political/religious groups have an all-or-nothing view of many things (like the Salvation Army that was historically anti-gay but has at least superficially reformed).
 

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I agree. But I also think he would be a lousy therapist. His thing is confronting people and publicly mocking or shaming them for his audience. He's basically just another Jerry Springer who goes for sensationalism instead of honesty or anything even resembling truth or compassion or understanding.
 

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