As just about everyone very well knows cannabis use has changed significantly since its legalization in various states over the past three decades. Not only are people consuming it in different ways, but it is almost starting to feel like it’s just about everywhere you go these days (or perhaps that’s more reflective of my living in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area for the past six years where it practically permeates many pockets of the culture). There are of course some obvious socioeconomic and political benefits to the legalization of marijuana. However, one down side is that it’s becoming so normalized to the point where it’s becoming a part of many people’s every day routines. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that it can have some negative psychological side effects.

I know, I know. There’s a lot to say about this subject and no matter how one words it they will inevitably sound lame whenever mentioning any risks to smoking weed. My college aged self would have almost certainly stopped reading by now. But my argument is not to disparage or judge anyone who consumes cannabis whatsoever. I actually happen to believe that, like most things in life, moderate consumption of cannabis (whatever “moderate” consumption means to you) can be a really healthy thing. It would be foolish to shirk the studies that indicate its benefits. But let’s not get carried away, and let’s not kid ourselves. More and more people are regularly consuming marijuana without even thinking about it because it has become so convenient. It is having longer term consequences on various aspects of people’s lives such as motivation levels, personal growth, organizational skills, and ability to cope with life’s many challenges on one’s own.

Part of some people’s increased use is inevitably due to the nature of the intoxication cannabis can give. While many are still leery of cannabis due to warnings they’ve received from various sources of information, those who choose to consume tend to see the high and side effects as relatively mild, innocuous, and more pleasant than those of other substances. Of course there’s nothing harmful about feeling giggly, relaxed, happy, sleepy, creative, loving, or hungry. Who wouldn’t want to feel that way? But that’s the addictive part. That’s the hook.¬†While there are no known studies (to the best of my knowledge) that indicate a possibility of getting physically/chemically addicted to cannabis, the addiction that I’m referring to here is much more psychological, emotional, and existential. It is more commonly becoming people’s predominant means for avoiding or escaping from the stresses and conflicts in one’s reality to the point where it evolves into becoming little more than just another part of people’s everyday routines. While there is certainly no inherent “problem” with consuming marijuana everyday, it definitely does have a mentally sedating effect that keeps many from dealing with various issues in their life. Like all drugs it feels good in the moment. But as people use it more regularly they begin to turn to it to almost numb themselves from significant parts of their lives. The down sides to excessive cannabis consumption are seen more so in the nuanced, bigger picture of people’s lives as a way to avoid certain inner conflicts that are holding them back from dealing with themselves.

But where should you draw the line between healthy and unhealthy use? This is, unfortunately, a pretty impossible question to answer because it is a case by case situation. I think it is pretty safe to assume that if you (need) to consume marijuana all day every day chances are pretty good that you have some sort of psychological addiction. But what about those who smoke when they get home from work or right before bed? I tend to shy away from the idea that there is a specific amount and/or frequency one has to consume to be deemed psychologically addicted or a substance abuser. My general rule of thumb is that when smoking weed becomes more of a habit or routine in your everyday life versus an actual intention of choosing to get high in a responsible way (meaning not before or at work, not while driving, etc.) in a particular moment, chances are decent that you’re in the midst of some sort of psychological addiction to avoiding some aspect of your life and cannabis just so happens to be your preferred means of self-medicating. But I would also use that rule of thumb with just about any means of escape whether it be in consuming other substances, sex, work, money, shopping, gambling, etc.

If you’re reading this and starting to wonder if you’re using cannabis as some sort of crutch, try taking a break for a while and see what happens – see if you come to some sort of conclusion about the role of marijuana in your life. Likewise if you’re concerned you’re using something else as some sort of crutch. Bottom line is we are all prone to wanting to avoid and defend ourselves against life’s many trials and tribulations because let’s face it: life is hard. But it is how we deal with life in these moments that really defines us and allows us to heal, grow, and evolve.

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