From Chapter One of the book
How to Quit Drugs for Good

How to Quit Drugs for Good

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Marijuana comes from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. This plant contains hundreds of chemicals, including more than 60 cannabinoids. The most potent of the cannabinoids is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Except for the cannabinoids, marijuana smoke and tobacco smoke are remarkably similar. Both contain the toxic compounds tar, carbon monoxide, and cyanide in comparable levels. Both also contain benzopyrine, a known cancer-causing chemical. This chemical appears in greater concentrations in marijuana smoke than in tobacco smoke, although marijuana smoke contains none of the nitrosamines found in tobacco.


Marijuana. This product is made of the dried clippings from the hemp plant that may include any combination of leaves, stems, seeds, and buds. It can vary greatly in potency, depending on the type of plant, the climate in which it was grown, and the specific mix of clippings in a given batch. The typical THC concentrations in marijuana are 2% to 5%. This runs somewhat higher than the THC content in the marijuana of the 1960s, which averaged between 0.5% and 3%. More potent forms, such as sinsemilla, can contain 7% THC. Marijuana is also known as (AKA): Cannibis, Pot, Grass, Reefer, Ace, Sinse, Ganja, Weed, Giggle Weed, Tea, Bhang, Doobie, M.J., Mary Jane, Columbian, Acapulco Gold, Mexican, Maui Wowie, Panama Red, Thai Sticks, Indian.

Hashish. People make hashish by separating the resin of a cannabis plant from the plant material. This product averages 5% to 12% THC concentration, and some varieties run as high as 20%. AKA: Hash, Tar.

Hash oil. This oil is produced by extracting the cannabinoids from the pot plant through the use of a solvent such as alcohol. The thick, waxy liquid—which varies in color depending on the solvent used—contains anywhere from 15% to 70% THC. AKA: Honey Oil, Weed Oil.

Synthetic THC. Scientists have developed dronabinol, a product containing synthetic THC, for use with cancer patients in controlling nausea or vomiting caused by chemotherapy agents and to stimulate the appetites of AIDS patients. Trade name: Marinol.

Combinations. Some users will smoke marijuana in combinations with hash or hash oil, with tobacco, or with numerous other drugs. Other drugs (along with street names for the combination) include: phencyclidine (Angel Dust, Angel Poke, Supergrass, Killer Weed), opium (O.J.), heroin (Atom Bomb, A-Bomb), and cocaine or crack (Juice Joint, Lace, Fry Daddy, Cocoa Puff).

How It’s Used

Most people get their THC buzz by smoking, that is, by setting flame to their marijuana, hash, or hash oil and inhaling. However, some people will take time to cook one of these three substances into brownies, cakes, or pudding and then eat the results. The user who smokes will experience a high within two to 10 minutes, while the high from eating may take as long as 90 minutes. Synthetic THC (dronabinol) comes in tablets.


Somewhere between 30% and 34% of Americans have tried marijuana. About 8.6% have used it within the past year, and 4.7% have used it within the past month. That’s the equivalent of about 10.1 million people using pot within the past month. Of these current users, 1.6 million were aged 12 to 17, and 3.7 million were aged 18 to 25.

The Joy of It

There are probably as many different experiences on pot as there are people who have used it, but the high has two distinguishing features: intellectual and emotional. Most people experience one or the other type of high, and some people experience a little of both.

The intellectual type of high can be described as a heightening of awareness. The perceptions from all five senses become more vivid. Everything we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch takes on a greater intensity or somehow seems more meaningful. We become certain that our thoughts are more profound. Our mind appears to make more connections than usual, some of which seem downright funny. We often feel as though we’re gaining a greater insight into reality.

The emotional high affects our feelings. Everything we feel becomes exaggerated or all-encompassing. The world becomes a ball of fluff. Pleasures become ecstasies, joys become wonders, smiles become laughs. We like being in the company of others. Talking with others becomes interesting, even mesmerizing. Our moods deserve exploring. People who experience the emotional high enjoy doing things, much more so than those who experience the intellectual high. Perhaps that’s because physical activity generates more emotion.

However, the more potent the weed, the more likely that the user will experience some mind-warping effects, such as delusions, hallucinations, or cartoon-like visions. These imaginary sequences come more easily with the eyes closed but, at higher concentrations of THC, can occur with the eyes open. Sometimes, when the images soar, the body feels as if it weighs a ton. At these times, the body can demonstrate a perfect reluctance to make any movement whatsoever. Perhaps this is the original meaning of the term “stoned.”

The Problems It Causes

Panic. Many users experience panic attacks. These usually occur in public places where we can be seen by others. Often the panic has a hint of paranoia. For example, users might fear that other people are out to get them, that somehow their behavior will betray to others that they’re high, or that the police are coming to bust them for possession. After a moderate period of heavy use (about a year or so) or a longer period of moderate use, the panic response can generalize. In other words, it begins to happen even when the user is not high, and this can continue for years after the user has gotten completely straight.

Anxiety. Many users also experience anxiety. This is similar to the panic attacks, except that it has no object. We can feel jittery, nervous, and tense, and we’re not sure why. It appears as a gnawing feeling in the pit of the stomach or a shaky uncertainty within the brain. This anxiety generalizes as well and can continue for years after a user gets straight.

Interestingly, people who get the intellectual kick usually feel more anxious when they use, whereas those who experience the emotional high usually feel less anxious when using.

Learning and memory impairment. Animal studies show that THC causes significant deficits in the brain’s ability to store new memories so that learning becomes impaired. This probably happens in humans as well, especially heavy users. Because you wouldn’t be able to remember details very well, trying to study while high on pot wouldn’t be recommended.

Disruption of logical thought. Trying to do math while high on pot also wouldn’t be recommended. Many studies show that pot disrupts our ability to think logically, in other words, to perceive what follows what in sequential events or number patterns. Events run together, and causes and effects become blurred. This problem also generalizes. In the long term, moderate to heavy users lose some of their capability for logic, even when not toking up. This problem can last for years after getting straight, although it typically shows considerable improvement after the first few months.

Psychosis. A small but significant percentage of chronic heavy users will become psychotic. For them, logical thought almost completely disappears. Delusions and hallucinations replace reality. The most typical psychosis for this group is paranoid schizophrenia. In other words, they have persistent notions that people are out to do them some kind of harm but they commonly get all mixed up as to who exactly is out to get them, for what reason, and what it is these people will do.

At the local mental health clinic, I counsel many clients who have been “dual-diagnosed” (i.e., with both a psychosis and an addiction). About 15% of the chronic clients—those who remain mentally ill even after breaking their drug and alcohol addictions—remember their pot use as playing a key role in the onset of the mental illness. They believe that pot use triggered their original break from reality. A few of the acute clients—those in short-term care—have been dual-diagnosed with a psychosis and just one addiction: cannabis dependence. Once these clients quit using pot, their delusions and mental confusions begin to disappear. Often within a month their logical thought improves noticeably, and within a year their overall functioning approaches “normal.”

Reduced motivation. Some studies link pot smoking to reduced motivation, or amotivational syndrome. Users experiencing amotivation will procrastinate, forget, or simply choose not to do certain things. They begin to shirk some of life’s key responsibilities. They might do poorly in school or find it difficult to hold a job.

Lung problems. Pot smoking definitely damages the lungs. The lungs of long-term heavy users show decreased airflow compared to the lungs of nonusers. In addition, long-term heavy pot smoking leads to chronic bronchitis and most likely causes lung cancer.

Harm from accidents. Marijuana impairs the user’s driving ability and affects actual performance behind the wheel. Each year, thousands of accidents are reported in which the driver at fault was high on marijuana. In some of these accidents, people were killed.


When coming off pot, you can expect to become irritable, restless, or tense, and when feeling this way you’ll crave marijuana. This anxiety response will be mild, moderate, or heavy, depending on whether your habit was mild, moderate, or heavy. It will continue at least for weeks, usually for a few months, or perhaps even longer than a year. As part of the anxiety response, you might also experience insomnia, vivid dreams, or both.

In early recovery, you might experience sweating, mild nausea, or lack of appetite. This can last a few days or as long as a week.

THC remains in the fatty deposits in the body. Because of this, THC and its metabolites can be detected in the body as long as 3 weeks after smoking just one joint and can remain in the body for months after a period of heavy use.