It would be an understatement to say that America has an ambivalent relationship with marijuana. The United States is in the world's top five per-capita consumer of the drug, yet it treats possession more harshly than most of its international peers. The federal government maintains that marijuana has no accepted medical use, but many of the states that comprise the union have entire regulatory apparatuses built around licensed doctors prescribing weed. And despite all the law-enforcement attention, widespread marijuana use has never registered as a public health crisis. There isn't any evidence that smoking world-class amounts of weed is hurting Americans. But what about not smoking?
Marijuana withdrawal is a joke, and not a bad one at that. Even though it's a Schedule I illegal narcotic, scientists can't agree if marijuana is physically habit-forming. Compared with opiate or cocaine addiction, halting chronic weed use is a piece of cake (if one you might not finish because your appetite is tanking a bit). Marijuana's hold on you is not harrowing or tragic. As the actor Bob Saget put it in the classic stoner film Half Baked (1998):'I used to suck dick for coke... Now that's an addiction, man. You ever suck some dick for marijuana?' Addiction science is huge, and it would take a big hole to bury all the lab mice that have overdosed on heroin and prescription drugs. But there isn't much research on the harms of marijuana withdrawal.
I've been what any medical study would classify as a heavy marijuana user for around five years, since I discovered that I was much more invested in my Victorian literature reading when I was high. I went from dragging myself through George Eliot's Daniel Deronda while repeating: 'I do not care who gets married', to turning pages like I was binge-watching on Netflix and thinking: 'I wonder if they're going to get married!' When I wrote an A+ paper stoned, spinning a five-sentence David Foster Wallace story into four pages of analysis between bong hits, I felt like I had passed a test. It didn't help my work per se, but it didn't seem to hurt either, and it definitely made the whole thing more pleasurable. Profound insight didn't descend on me in a puff of smoke, but I did find a new store of patience, a virtue I had always struggled with. I stopped writing sober. ...[Continue reading on Aeon Magazine]