“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.
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.