Why everyone’s personal experience is different

Some people believe there aren't any problems with using cannabis because they personally haven't experienced any. But this isn't the same for everyone and many people do suffer significant problems from cannabis use.

Why everyone’s personal experience is different

For every person who struggles with addiction and the impact it has on their personal and professional life, it seems there is always another anecdotal example of someone else who functions ‘just fine’ while continuing to use one substance or another. And while there may be people who believe they are still a great driver, a devoted parent or excellent at their job despite their drug or habit, it’s worth remembering everyone is different, and one person’s experience should not be considered the general rule – or even an unbiased account.

It’s important to consider their perception of ‘fine’ may not be everyone else’s perception of fine. While they think their drug use is undetectable and secret because of how well they function, this is just their own account. And the challenge with these accounts is that other people may develop an ill-informed perception of the possible harms of the drug or habit, believing it harmless due to a couple of circulating personal stories.

When it comes to these accounts however, of the most concern is that these examples aren’t very helpful for the section of society that actually is struggling with a particular substance and isn’t ‘fine’, especially as these stories are often used as a means of rebutting issues like dependence or withdrawal. Focusing only on these accounts can diminish the experiences of those who are looking for support and validation that their struggles are indeed real, stigmatising their battle and making seeking help even more challenging.

So maybe it is possible to be a high-functioning alcoholic and remain professionally astute. It may even be possible to smoke a gram a day and still be a good student (whether it’s likely or not is another argument entirely). But just as negative stereotypes and generalisations about ‘stoners’ can be damaging, so too can the generalisations that go too far in the other direction.

When an example like “I know someone who does x” is used to prove a point, it oversimplifies a unique situation and ignores many other important details that might paint more of a complete picture. It’s never a good idea to base your own life choices on one or even a few people’s personal experiences with substance use. It’s certainly not a good basis upon which to form advice for another person.

If someone says they are struggling with their cannabis use

Then they probably are! We understand people are passionate about their drug of choice, we also understand there are people who support cannabis use. We know the experience of cannabis use can be different for everyone. But we are also acutely aware that hundreds-of-thousands of people really do struggle with use every day – they call us, email us, Facebook and write us letters looking for help.

If you are not able to respect some people really need a hand when it comes to their cannabis use, think about a time you struggled and apply the same level of empathy and support to those struggling with cannabis, as you would have liked for your own personal battle. Try not to belittle them or barrage them with ‘cannabis isn’t the problem, you are!’.

What is the best way to respond to someone’s cannabis-use related issues?

So we already know blaming the person or telling them how great cannabis makes you feel, or that dependence doesn’t exist does not help people who are struggling with cannabis use – in fact, it does the opposite and makes them feel worse.

Every day, we see people on our various NCPIC social media channels doing exactly this, and after working with cannabis-using-help-seekers for many years, this is both frustrating and seems hypocritical coming from people who themselves ask not to be judged.

Our organisation was not set up to stop you having a good time or to get in the way of you doing what you love. If you’re happy to use cannabis and to take the associated risks (whether they be legal or health-related), then that’s your choice. What we are here to do is to help the people who need it most – the people who ask for it. So before you comment, think about the following points:

1. Don’t judge someone who says they have experienced cannabis dependence

Acknowledge their experience is their own and offer them support if you feel you can give it. Encourage them to reach their goals if you feel you can’t.

2. Beware the keyboard warrior

Many people feel particularly passionate about an issue when they are able to hide behind a computer screen, and this can mean discussions get very heated very quickly. Remember, there is a human being at the other end of every computer – and in this case, possibly a human being who is really struggling.

3. Keep it simple

If you come across someone who is struggling with their cannabis use, this is not an opportunity to start a complicated debate about legalisation and broader social issues. They are sharing their own story, and are not to blame for the world’s entire political and economic history.

4. Is this the right forum for you?

Perhaps our Facebook or Twitter page isn’t for you, and that’s ok – we’re not for everyone. The people operating the pages aren’t here to argue – we’re here to help. There are thousands-upon-thousands of other pages, groups and forums for you out there, so consider those as a better option for debates.

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