Cutting Back or Quitting Using Cannabis (Marijuana)

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People who use cannabis develop patterns of use that fit their needs. Sometimes these patterns change over time.

For example, many people who use cannabis in their youth stop using it when they get older. Some people use cannabis throughout their lives, with periods of non-use or less use. Some people use cannabis for medical conditions and symptoms which may fluctuate over time or be temporary, and adjust their use accordingly. For more information about the use of cannabis for medical purposes, see the Here to Help background information sheet, “Medical Use of Cannabis (Marijuana)”.

There are many reasons why people decide to cut back on or stop using cannabis. Sometimes people stop temporarily in order to reduce their tolerance level. Some people decrease their use so they can minimize the harms while maintaining the benefits. Others stop using cannabis altogether if they feel they no longer have a need for it, or that it is no longer meeting their needs.

Most people who want to cut down on or stop using cannabis are able to do so without effort. But some people who use cannabis heavily may have difficulty. Some people experience mild withdrawal symptoms if they stop using cannabis. Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, loss of appetite, and sleeping difficulties. These symptoms are relatively mild and generally last for a week or so.

Regular users may also develop a psychological or emotional dependence. Some people have trouble functioning with less or no cannabis because they’re simply not used to it and don’t know how to adjust their lifestyle.

If you’ve decided to cut down on or quit using cannabis but aren’t sure how to get started, or if you are having difficulty, consider these six steps to changing your current cannabis-use patterns.

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1. Consider your current patterns of use

Think about how much and how often you use cannabis in a day, week or month. This will help you clearly understand your cannabis-use patterns and assist you in monitoring your progress as you cut down or quit. If you’re not sure about your current use patterns, try keeping track in a daily diary for a week or so. Or create a chart. If you’re worried about someone discovering your cannabis use, fill in your diary or chart with code words that nobody but you can understand.

weekly chart

current use

monday

tuesday

wednesday

thursday

friday

saturday

sunday

when? what? situation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

how often?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

how much does it cost?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

other factors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

okay or too much?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2. Think about why you use cannabis

Sometimes people use cannabis out of habit, or just because it is around. However, if you’re using cannabis regularly, chances are there are also other reasons for your use. Is it because it relaxes you? Does it help you sleep? Does it relieve physical pain or help you forget your emotional troubles? Make a list of the things you like about cannabis, or the things that you look forward to when you think about using it.

Your list might look something like this:

I like using cannabis because it

  • Helps me unwind after work,

  • Relieves the pain in my lower back,

  • Makes me feel less depressed about the parts of my life I don’t like, and

  • Makes me feel creative and full of ideas.

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3. Make a list of reasons why you want to cut down on or quit using cannabis

Now that you’ve established what you like about using cannabis, consider your reasons for wanting to cut down or be completely cannabis-free. Is it negatively affecting your health? Are you worried about the costs? Are you tired of having to hide your habit from your family?

Create a list of the reasons why you want to change your current pattern of use. Here’s an example:

I want to cut down on (or quit) using cannabis because

  • I’m starting to have paranoid thoughts,

  • I’m coughing a lot,

  • It’s costing me too much money,

  • It’s affecting my job (or school) performance, and

  • My family is worried about it being illegal.

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4. Be aware and prepare

Although most people who use cannabis have few difficulties cutting back or quitting, it’s important to know that for some people this change may be difficult to create and sustain. You can prepare with some planning. Jot down the things you think may be difficult. Also, think about different ways to support the changes you want to make. You can start by creating a chart that lists Potential Difficulties on one side, and Resources for Support on the other.

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5. Make a step-by-step plan to make change happen

Whether you just want to cut down, or you have decided to quit completely, it is time to turn that decision into a series of practical steps. First, decide which day you’re going to begin making the change. Then, write down in detail what the change will actually look like, and think about the things you can do on those first few days of change. Next, outline how you’ll deal with any withdrawal symptoms or cravings you may get. Finally, think about alternative ways to achieve the benefits you got from your previous pattern of cannabis use and how to make a healthy transition. Plan to achieve goals in each of the major areas of your life: family/home, physical, emotional/learning, social/community, activity/occupational, spiritual/ethical. Reaching these goals is a matter of making it happen, rather than just wishing it would. See the Problem Substance Use Workbook on the Here to Help website if you want more help or information.

On page 4 is a sample plan for someone who has been smoking cannabis daily and wants to cut down.

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6. Stay positive and stay active

It took time for you to develop your current cannabis-use pattern, and it may take some time to develop and adjust to new habits. Stay committed to your decision to cut down on or quit using cannabis. If you go off your plan one day, don’t be too hard on yourself. Think about why it happened, and plan for how you’ll handle the same situation if it happens again. Give yourself credit for any positive changes you make, even tiny ones. Fill your time with meaningful activities. Try a new hobby that you have always wanted to try. Keep your eyes on your future as you put your plan into practice. What to do if you or someone you know is experiencing a problem with cannabis

Quick tips for cutting down on cannabis

  • Take a break. You may find yourself needing to use more cannabis to get the desired effects. This is called tolerance. If you want to reduce tolerance or increase the intensity of the effects, stop using cannabis for a week or two, or take longer breaks than usual between getting high.

  • Use a variety of strains. Each strain of cannabis has a different mix of cannabinoids (active ingredients). You may build up tolerance to one strain but not to another. Instead of using the same strain continually and then needing to use more and more of it, use another strain.

  • Practice self-management. Instead of smoking a whole joint or taking a puff every time it comes around, take a puff or two and then wait a few minutes. You may find that a smaller amount is enough.

  • Use higher potency cannabis. Instead of smoking a lot of a weak strain of cannabis, smoke less of a more potent one.

  • Use a vapourizer. If you want to stop smoking cannabis, try using a vapourizer. A cannabis vapourizer will heat the substance and release its active ingredients without burning it. Inhaling vapour is less harmful than smoke. Good quality vapourizers are very efficient delivery methods. This means less cannabis is needed.

  • Find alternate ways of using cannabis. If smoking is a concern, you can try eating food products made with cannabis-infused butters or oils. But be warned: when you eat cannabis you stay high for a lot longer. The high can be much more intense. Start with a very small amount and wait up to an hour to feel the effects to avoid getting too high. Cannabinoids can be also administered with cannabis sprays or tinctures.

  • Avoid adding tobacco to your joint. Tobacco contains nicotine, a stimulant drug that can quickly create dependency. Rolling tobacco and cannabis together in a joint may make it harder for you to cut down on or quit using cannabis. Smoking cannabis with tobacco has been found to increase risk of cancer and respiratory disease.

  • Buy less so you smoke less. Buying cannabis in bulk is cheaper, but you may end up smoking more than you want to just because it is available.

What to do if you or someone you know is experiencing a problem with cannabis

For more information about cannabis and other substances, visit www.heretohelp.bc.ca or www.carbc.ca. You can also download the You and Substance Use workbook.

 

To get help anywhere in British Columbia, call Alcohol and Drug Information Referral Service 1-800-663-1441 (throughout BC) or 604-660-9382 (in Greater Vancouver)