Weeding out the root cause of cannabis use

Sometimes heavy cannabis use can be a symptom of a deeper problem that needs to be dealt with, such as anxiety, difficulty in social situations, stress or some deeper issues.

Deeper issues causing cannabis use

For those of us who don’t use cannabis, but know and try to support someone who does, we sometimes see cannabis as this evil entity that has entered our friend or loved one’s life and taken over, causing all of their problems. And while cannabis has been linked to some problems – increased risk of mental and respiratory illnesses, lack of motivation and focus, finance and relationship problems – sometimes cannabis is less the root problem, and more a symptom of something else. Not surprisingly, some people use cannabis not just because it delivers a high or is an entrenched habit, but because they feel it helps them deal with some other problem. Whether it’s trouble sleeping, dealing with anxiety, difficulty in social situations, stress or some deeper issue that plays on their mind they need to escape from, sometimes it’s important we see heavy cannabis use for what it is – a sign that there may be something else needs to be dealt with. It’s important you support your friend and try to help them quit, if that’s what they decide to do, but equally, it’s crucial you encourage them to think about why they smoke, and if there is anything else about their life that may be a motivator to use, help them face that additional problem head-on, or cannabis quit attempts may never be truly effective.

Below are some of the common reasons people use weed, and some good alternative actions for addressing these problems.

Trouble sleeping

Insomnia or trouble sleeping can be a really big problem in some people’s lives. Many people are desperate for a good night’s sleep and will try anything to get it – and sometimes that’s where weed comes in. Perhaps a friend suggested your loved one try it, they read about it or maybe they just tried marijuana once in an attempt to get to sleep and found it relaxed them and helped them get off to sleep. Once it seems to work the first time, it may become a bit of a crutch they rely on to get a good night’s rest. The thing about using marijuana to get to sleep is that, like alcohol, even if you get to sleep, you’re not necessarily going to have quality sleep – the type of sleep where you feel refreshed when you wake up in the morning.

We receive many calls every year at the National Cannabis Helpline (1800 30 40 50) from people who want to quit weed but feel like they can’t because they need it to get to sleep. They need to have a good night’s sleep as they’ve got work or school the next day, and so they feel they’ll never be able to quit weed, even if it’s affecting other parts of their life and they really want to. The answer in this case is that although they’ll probably have a very wobbly period over the first couple of weeks when they quit weed, in the long run their sleep will be much better without it. For some tips and tricks on how to get to sleep check out our Five ways to get to sleep without weed post.

Dealing with anxiety

Weed might seem like a good idea to your friend when they are just trying to calm down, but the truth is, dealing with anxiety by using weed is a double-edged sword. It’s not uncommon for people with anxiety and depression to self-medicate by using cannabis, believing the drug temporarily relieves or helps their symptoms, but in the long-run, like with sleep, cannabis use can actually make anxiety and depression symptoms worse. And although the science is still unclear as to whether cannabis can cause anxiety disorders or depression, it is known that people who regularly use cannabis are more likely to develop these problems. If you’re looking for help to treat anxiety or other mental health problems you’re much better visiting your GP who can do a proper assessment and if necessary prescribe medication and help you find a suitable psychologist.

Addiction to cannabis

Your friend may have initially started smoking weed for the high or social reasons, but occasional use may have slowly trickled into daily use and using larger amounts. Perhaps they now don’t really experience any enjoyment from smoking cannabis, but instead feel like they have to use it just to feel normal and get through the day. Chances are in this case, that they’ve tried to stop but the withdrawals are just too much to handle. They’re probably spending too much time and money on weed, and other parts of their life like relationships, work or study are starting to suffer. These are all classic signs of addiction, and cannabis is an addictive drug. The good news is that there is plenty of help out there to steer your loved one in the right direction when it comes to their quitting journey – NCPIC has an online program, Reduce Your Use, and a quit with a friend option, Joint Effort, just to name a few of the options out there. If the only reason they are using weed is because they can’t stop, but really want to, with the help of some of these tools and a network of support, there’s every chance they will be successful.

Dealing with deeper issues

Sometimes people use cannabis because they have some deeper emotions or issues they don’t want to deal with and getting high is a good way to avoid rather than manage them. Whether it’s an issue from their younger years, a family relationship or conflict issue, memories they just can’t let go of, or just a feeling of lack of achievement or direction, this drug might be relied upon to quell anger, despair, pain or other unwanted emotions in order to make life a bit easier day to day. If this is the case, cannabis again may become a crutch they rely on to get through each day – and it’s important your friend or loved one realises it is a Band-Aid solution that won’t fix the real problem. If this is the case, sometimes you may not feel qualified to deal with this, especially if you’ve tried to talk to them and not got much of a response. There are a number of great and confidential options for your friend or loved one to seek some help and support – phone lines like our cannabis helpline (1800 30 40 50) and Lifeline 13 11 14, through to counsellors and support groups. Maybe a gentle suggestion will help nudge your loved one in the right direction.

It is also important to realise that sometimes people use weed just because they like it and the way it makes them feel. If you think their use is affecting their life, think about leaving the judgement at the door and having a chat with them to let them know how you feel. You can get some good guidance and advice for these kinds of chats throughout our website or by calling our helpline.

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