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cutting back on weed

Global Drug Survey

Cannabis: how to cut down or stop using

By Professor Adam R Winstock
Founder and CEO, Global Drug Survey

Adapted from the Global Drug Survey | Safer Drug Use Limit Guidelines:
The world’s first safer drug use limit guide

GDS stresses that because of the huge amount of evidence that the onset of drug and alcohol use before the age of 18 years of age can cause long lasting impairments in your cognitive and emotional ability and potential, our guidelines are strictly for people over 18 years of age.

For me the development of the Safer Using Limit guidelines is a natural follow up to the GDS Highway Code (HWC). Safer Using Limit guidelines was developed from data collected from 40,000 people who used cannabis and who took part in GDS2015. They were designed to raise people’s awareness of the level of risk that different patterns of drug use places them at over the next couple of years. We did this by asking respondents to rate (on a scale of 1 to 10) how the risk of harm from various drugs (including alcohol) is heightened with increasing levels of use.

Risk here refers to the probability, range and severity of harm. The higher the score, the more likely it is for a person to experience any harm and the higher the score, the more problems that person is likely to face and the more severe those problems are likely to be.

We asked our respondents to think about the likelihood of a person experiencing harm over the next 1-2 years. By harm we mean anything that causes a person a problem, be it to do with their mental or physical health, their relationships and behaviours, their finances or their ability to work, study or just do the things in life they want to do.

Part of the Safer Use Limits app is a doctor’s guide to cutting down.
Here are some of the key points.

Cutting down

Why cut down?

Data from over 250,000 cannabis users suggests that about 1 in 3 cannabis smokers would like to use less in the coming year. Most are motivated to do so because of health concerns (mood, memory, motivation, respiratory health), while others report issues such as work, the ability to study, impact upon relationships or money worries. Cutting down is also advisable if you are planning on stopping altogether, since any withdrawal will less severe if you reduce your intake gradually.

The benefits of cutting down?

The potential benefits of cutting down vary between person to person but for most people the problems that motivated them to want to use less in the first place, start to get much better. They lose tolerance, get more stoned on less cannabis and get more things done. Most feel sharper, brighter, look better and notice improvements in their memory and chest. Most people say their mental health gets better but this is not always the case and for people who may be suffering and self-medicating either physical or mental health issues, rather than get better, these sometimes might get worse. So, I guess everyone has to make their own mind up about the benefits or not of cutting down.

How to cut down

Less cannabis per joint/pipe/bowl – make your weed go further

Delay the time of your first smoke of the day

Increase time between joints (or equivalent). Avoiding smoking spiffs back to back and leaving gaps between smokes, mean you lower your tolerance and also nudge down your consumption.

Cut down on tobacco (if you mix with it) and consider switching to vaporising as an alternative method of consumption. Both are better than mixing your cannabis with tobacco

Reduce your caffeine intake. Coffee and other caffeine-containing products can counter the sedating effects of cannabis. As you cut back, you might need less and reducing this will also reduce the potential effect on sleep your cannabis reduction may induce.

Increase ‘not stoned’ activities, especially exercise. As you spend more time being less stoned, you may find you have time to kill or a tendency to get bored. Spending your time doing physical activity is a great way to help you feel good, with the endorphins produced during exercise providing a natural high (no drugs required).

Ration your daily use. Having a big bag of weed in front of you can make it hard to know how much you are using and difficult to work out how effectively you’re cutting back.

Watch out for an increase in alcohol use. If you miss that stoned feeling be wary of topping up with booze. It can be a slippery slope for some.

Rate of cutting down: Slower is better and associated with less severe withdrawal, that is disturbance of mood, sleep and appetite. Most people should be reduce their daily cannabis intake down by about 25% each week without noticing much withdrawal.

Managing withdrawal once you stop

After cutting down preferably to less than 0.5g a day, then you are probably ready to try to quit (if you want to!)

Withdrawal symptoms occur in about 75% of daily cannabis users and are worse in women, tobacco users, those who stop because they had to and those with mental illness. The more you are smoking when you stop the more intense your withdrawal. This starts on day 1, peaks on days 2-4 and is over for most people after 5-10 days, though sleep problems and moodiness can continue for several weeks.

The most commonly reported symptoms are difficulty sleeping, weird dreams, irritability (and sometimes increased aggression), restlessness, craving for cannabis and low mood. These last 4-10 days for most people.

It can be easier to stop any drug if you are away from home. A change of environment can make it harder to score, easier to avoid bumping into people and places you associate with cannabis and the distraction and novelty of being away can help a lot.

Continue to reduce caffeine intake, cut out tobacco, increase exercise and avoid increasing your alcohol intake, see above.

Other problems. Some people get headaches, lose their appetite, feel sick, get very sweaty, get the chills or become very angry.

Anger. Some people (especially men with a history of being angry and or violent) can become very aroused, snappy and even aggressive when they stop using cannabis. Make sure those around you know you’re trying to stop and that you may have a tendency to be a bit snappy or irritable in the short term. If this places other people at risk (especially children) then make sure you gets some professional help (and maybe some medication to calm you down) or ensure that that those people are not around.

What can my doctor do to help? Cannabis can be a cause of health problems. (Yes, we know it can help with some conditions too.) If you are having difficulties cutting down or stopping or are worried about how cannabis is impacting on your health or how it might be interacting with other medications, go chat to your doctor. Your doctor will probably know local specialists who may be able to help with problems that she / he is unfamiliar with.

When should I seek help? If you can’t stop or cut down on your own, or if your cannabis use is effecting your relationships, your ability to work or study or your health in other ways such your lung health (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath) or your mood then go have a chat and a check up.

Global Drug Survey runs the biggest drug survey in the world

Alcohol & Other Drugs

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Tips for Cutting Back

Rielle Capler, MHA

Reprinted from “Cannabis” issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5 (4), p. 25
Six steps to changing your current cannabis-use patterns

Think about your current patterns of use: Think about how much, how often and when you use cannabis in a day, week or month. This will help you understand your cannabis use and will help you monitor your progress as you cut down.

Think about why you use cannabis: If you’re using cannabis regularly, chances are there are reasons why. Does it relax you? Does it help you sleep? Does it relieve physical pain or help you cope with difficult emotions?

Make a list of reasons why you want to cut down: Think about why you want to change your current pattern of use. Is it negatively affecting your health? Are you worried about the costs? Are you worried about legal consequences?

Be aware and prepare: It’s important to know that, for some people, this change may be difficult to create and sustain. You can prepare by jotting down the things you think may be difficult and noting resources for support, such as counselling or relaxation techniques.

Make a step-by-step plan to make change happen: First, decide which day you’re going to begin making the change. Then, write down what the change will look like and the things you can do on the first few days. Next, outline how you’ll deal with any withdrawal symptoms and cravings you may get. Finally, think about what you can do to make a healthy transition.*

Stay positive and stay active: Give yourself credit for the positive changes you make and fill your time with meaningful activities and healthy relationships in which your desired level of cannabis use is respected.

People develop patterns of cannabis use that fit their needs. As their needs change, people tend to change their patterns of use. For some this means stopping the use of cannabis completely. For others it means stopping temporarily or cutting back.

Often, patterns of use change quite naturally. For example, many people who use cannabis in their youth stop using it when they get older. Some use cannabis for medical purposes that may be temporary or change over time. Others use cannabis throughout their lives, with periods of non-use or less use.

There are different reasons why people decide to change their pattern of use. Some people may stop using cannabis temporarily to reduce their tolerance level. This means that they can use less cannabis to get the effect they want. By cutting down on the amount used, they can maintain the benefits, but minimize possible harms (e.g., respiratory problems such as bronchitis which can accompany heavy, long-term use). For other people, it may be a matter of cutting back on costs. Still others may be concerned about the potential legal consequences. And for some, their cannabis use may be a problem—due to misuse, stigma or legal status—for the people they care about.

Most people who want to cut down on or quit cannabis are able to do so easily; The way cannabis molecules work in the body typically leads to controlled use of low doses, rather than the compulsive use sometimes seen with drugs that are considered addictive.

Cannabis has a low risk for physical dependence. However, when someone uses cannabis a lot over a long period of time, they may develop a psychological or emotional dependence. This means they may have come to rely on the effects of cannabis and may have trouble functioning with less cannabis. People who do develop mild physical or psychological dependence may experience minor withdrawal symptoms. These can include irritability, anxiety, loss of appetite and disturbed sleep. These symptoms are usually slight and last for about a week.

If you’ve decided to cut down on or quit using cannabis, consider the following guidelines and tips.

Related resources

For more information about cannabis and other substances, visit www.heretohelp.bc.ca or www.carbc.ca.

Tips to help you cut down on the amount of cannabis you use:

Take a break: You may have found that you need to use an increasing amount of cannabis to get the desired effects. This is called tolerance. If you want to reduce tolerance, stop using cannabis for a week or two, or take longer breaks than usual between use.

Use a variety of strains: You may build up tolerance to one strain of cannabis, but not to another. Instead of using the same strain continually, alternate between different strains.

Practise self-management: Instead of smoking a whole joint or taking a puff every time a joint 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 vaporizer: Because of the way they are designed, a good quality vaporizer will allow you to use less cannabis to get the effects you want.

Avoid adding tobacco to your joint: Tobacco contains nicotine, which can quickly create nicotine dependency. Rolling tobacco and cannabis together in a joint may make it harder for you to cut down on using cannabis.

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’s available.

People develop patterns of cannabis use that fit their needs. As their needs change, people tend to change their patterns of use. For some this means stopping the use of cannabis completely. For others it means stopping temporarily or cutting back.