A reader writes:
In the interest of dispelling some of the misconceptions about marijuana, let me first preface with my firm belief that it is by far the least harmful drug out there, much less so than alcohol, and that I believe it should be legalized. That said, there is research to show that if chemical dependency on a drug is defined by withdrawal effects, then marijuana can indeed be chemically addictive.
Do you get the shakes like alcohol? No. Do you get severe nausea like heroin? No. Do you get violent outbursts like crystal meth or cocaine? No.
When I decided to quit smoking pot and checked myself into an out-patient rehab program, it wasn't as someone whose life had completely spun out of control. There was no intervention by friends and family or some court-ordered mandate. As my therapist told me, I could have continued using pot the way I had been for the rest of my life. That wasn't the issue. The issue was that you only get to live once and that pot, when used every day, can inhibit one's ability to live life to its fullest. The problem was that I had grown so accustomed to being constantly stoned since my teenage years, that I'd failed to learn how to relate to my emotions and to develop many of the skills suited to successful adulthood.
I had tried quitting pot many times on my own, but as someone who smoked it nearly every day for 13 years, what I got initially when I stopped was a racing mind and a severe case of anxiety and irritability which lasted for about a month and which invariably led me to pick it up again. With rehab I was able to get over the initial hump of withdrawal symptoms, but what came next was extreme agony, more attributable to the insidious psychological effects of long-term use: namely every emotion, both good and bad, felt magnified ten-fold.
I cried nearly every day for four months. When I wasn't crying, I could easily be on the other end of the spectrum practically skipping down the street. I used the 12-step program to help right my course, and it worked. At first it was difficult to relate to others in the rooms with stories I felt to be much more depraved than my own. Some hustled to get crack. Some killed people while driving drunk. My stories of sitting on the couch eating Ben and Jerry's and ignoring the bills that were piling up seemed silly in comparison. But again, numbing your senses and blunting your awareness of the world around you for your entire life can still, unsurprisingly, cause serious complications in the long run.
This month, if everything goes as hoped, I will celebrate a year of continuous sobriety. I've learned to pay bills, file paper work, feel my emotions and act responsibly. In short I live a life I never could have imagined while I was constantly stoned. I've tried every drug in the book, many times, but marijuana remains the only drug I miss. I think my story exemplifies, not so much how dangerous pot is, but that it is addictive and habit-forming and can be harmful when it is used irresponsibly as a means of escaping life. I know many, many pot smokers and none of them formed the same sort of dependency on the drug that I did. I don't believe marijuana ruins the life of everyone with whom it comes into contact--far from it. But, like any other drug or behavior, it can.