Step into any room full of green-blooded cannabis aficionados and the conversation is almost assuredly to land on all the amazing benefits their precious plant has provided. There’ll be that dude with a faded tattoo of an eagle on his forearm who swears up and down that weed has helped him get off addictive painkillers; the lady who would never leave the house if not for the herb’s ability to tame her anxiety; and somebody else who finds that it has an uncanny ability to prevent mosquito bites.
No, unfortunately, weed doesn’t ward off pesky summer insects. At least not that we know of. It’s just that this individual doesn’t care whether cannabis has any medicinal benefits. They just enjoy it because it makes life fun, more tolerable and who among us can’t appreciate that?
On the other hand, somewhere out there is an unfortunate soul who was once part of this group of bud buffs but can no longer smoke, eat or vape pot because, well, it just doesn’t like them anymore. Although the idea of a plant betraying a human being might sound like the plot to a ridiculously bad science fiction film—The Attack of the Killer Cannabis—countless people report they’ve been victims to this ill-fated occurrence. They started out friends with the flower, establishing a relationship that was more than appreciated on many different levels, but eventually, somewhere along the line, something happened, and now the two don’t see eye-to-eye. “I used to love weed,” Rick, a 62-year-old from Phoenix, says. “I did it for years without any problems. One day a few years ago it started hitting different in a bad way.”
Arizona is a legal state, allowing Rick to procure the herb from retail sources rather than lean on the black market. At first, he attributed his bad reaction to how the legal products were processed. Yet, as he would soon learn, the weed purchased from a neighborhood dealer came with the same negativity. “It didn’t make a difference,” he says. To hear him tell it, the ill effects were horrifying. Getting high, which once brought him a great deal of pleasure, suddenly filled his mind with overwhelming feelings of dread, like life as he knew it was over, a farce that made him question all the choices he’s ever made. The result was a real cerebral torture chamber, an effect that most people consume cannabis to escape, not explore. “I’d always end up having this feeling of impending doom when I got high,” he says. “It was a real depressing mindset. I had to stop.”
Unfortunately, Rick’s not alone.
A 33-year-old entrepreneur from Illinois named Holly also had this unfortunate experience. Although weed was once part of her everyday life—mostly in the evenings before bed—she can’t touch it now, not unless she wants to be haunted all night by the smoke-filled equivalent of an unsupportive parent. “I ended up lying in bed all night thinking about how much of a failure I was,” she said. “It makes me second guess all of my career moves, and my brain won’t stop spinning.”
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
This sudden change in the way cannabis affects a person can happen to the best of us. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, best known for her role as Elaine on the hit NBC sitcom Seinfeld, admitted that she experienced a shift in weed that has sworn her off forever. When asked whether she smokes marijuana, she said that while she wishes she could, she had to quit. “I did when I was in college a lot, and then something happened, and I started to get paranoid whenever I smoked pot,” she says. “I tried multiple times to go back to it, but I cannot. It makes me nuts. And I get very unhappy with it. So, it’s not for me.”
Several Cannabis Now readers we talked to complained that weed has, in fact, taken a dark turn. Not everyone experienced feelings of end-of-times dread, like poor Rick. They were, however, presented with some unprecedented limitations that hindered their consumption habits. “I can’t smoke high THC strains anymore,” a reader named Mari says. “I’m better with lower percentages, like 20%.” Several others claimed that sativas no longer worked for them, forcing them to switch exclusively to indica. “Sativas are my nemesis,” explains Dan, a 55-year-old from Colorado.
Dr. Jordon Tishler, instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, may have some answers. He’s certainly the most qualified to speak on this matter. As if teaching medicine at one of the most elite medical schools in the nation wasn’t enough, he’s also president of the medical marijuana clinic InhaledMD and president of the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists. Dr. Tishler works with a variety of patients, advising them on how to better their lives with medical marijuana. He says the cause of these vexing cannabis experiences isn’t cut and dried.
“We’re in a totally data-free zone with this subject,” he says.
However, based on the doctor’s years of clinical experience and his understanding of neurobiology, he believes there are perhaps several potential reasons that a person’s cannabis experience could become less enjoyable than it was in the beginning. “It could be psychological—that some unpleasant event or thought has gotten associated with the sensation of cannabis use, and this turns the experience into a turn-off,” he says. “It could be something traumatic, even a small thing, or it could be as simple as finding it boring after long use.”
Overconsumption (typical in cases of recreational use) is another potential provocateur. Although many cannabis users consume morning to night, seven days a week, this practice is consistent with problematic behavior. At that point, it’s not medicating; it’s abuse. “In the cannabis world tolerance is often talked about as a good thing, but it definitely isn’t,” Dr. Tishler asserts. “Tolerance is caused by the down-regulation (removal) of cannabinoid receptors in response to being exposed to too much cannabis. This is kind of like turning down the volume in response to very “loud” stimulation, but like turning down the volume on your music, the quieter stuff—your internal endocannabinoid system—becomes difficult to hear. When your internal signaling is no longer sufficiently loud, you become dependent on cannabis.”
Therefore, it’s conceivable that an individual’s relationship with cannabis can start to deteriorate over time.
“Getting high over years is certainly not the same experience it was when you first started,” Dr. Tishler says. “Many people use ever-increasing amounts, which leads to that tolerance and dependence. It stands to reason that at higher doses over long periods of time, the experience may become unpleasant as well.”
I, too, have experienced a shift in how cannabis affects me. It’s not the super fun act that it was two decades ago. Depending on the situation, the dread Rick speaks of has infiltrated my psyche. Not always, but sometimes. I’ve noticed this change with alcohol too. I chalked it up to aging, just a byproduct of getting older, something that Dr. Tishler agrees is undoubtedly the case with alcohol, but not cannabis. At least none that science is aware of just yet. “We know that a person’s level of alcohol dehydrogenase (the enzyme that removes alcohol) drops with age,” he said. “We don’t know that our ECS changes with age. More to come on that, to be sure.”
Let’s Stay Together
For those looking to rekindle their relationship with pot, hoping to get back to the good old days, the fix may be complex, but not impossible. “Assuming a recreational user, I’d suggest a good long tolerance break, like a month,” Dr. Tishler says. “I don’t generally recommend tolerance breaks for patients as it leaves their illness untreated (I suggest a slow wean, which is often harder than a T-break).” If that doesn’t work, counseling might be worth a try. “I’d suggest some psychotherapy to look into what psychological factors might be at work.”
This is just another reason that cannabis science needs to be allowed to catch up with the times. As Dr. Tishler points out, we don’t have enough research to understand why some regular cannabis users eventually experience negative effects from their consumption and some don’t. The solution, as the good doctor suggests, may be as simple as avoiding overconsumption for extended periods of time.
Micro-dosing (ingesting small amounts to achieve a minute head change) may be one way to avoid such behavior. A standard dose is typically between 5 and 10 milligrams THC. Micro-dosing consists of consuming around 2-3mg as needed throughout the day.
It could also prove beneficial for the consumer to explore various terpene profiles and lower THC strains. Higher THC percentages aren’t indicative of quality. Terpenes contribute to the overall composition of cannabis, providing variety in effect. And as we heard from some people, it’s often the higher THC strains that caused them trouble. Once they made some adjustments in the way they medicate, perhaps finding a terpene profile that was more palatable to their respective metabolism, the unsavory reaction began to subside. Considering that there are countless cannabinoid and terpene profile combinations, the solution to finding a friendly relationship with cannabis again may be as simple as discovering a product that compliments an individual’s body chemistry.
Humans are all built different, and what’s good for one might not be for another. Finding the right combination, however, could take some experimentation. But it might be worth the effort. “Take notes on what you enjoy/when and in what situations…activities…rest,” advises 38-year-old Katie. She admits to experiencing frequent bad reactions on cannabis a few years ago until she did some homework. Eventually, she found a solution and is back to regular use. “It takes a bit of time but with some dedication, it can be fantastic again.”
It’s important to remember that millions of people all over the country have found some level of relief from the legalization of cannabis. Some have leaned on it to tame a variety of health conditions (from mild to severe), while some have used it as a gateway out of alcohol abuse and other unsavory habits. So, if you, as many others have experienced sudden negative effects, there’s hope
It might be time to switch the product, strain, consumption frequency or take a tolerance break. It may also be advisable to discuss these issues with your physician, caregiver or budtender to see how they might help carve out a reasonable resolution. We assure you, as dismal as the situation may seem, there’s a solution that will help you hang out with your old bud once again.
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