The Marijuana Question


The Super Bowl

Have you heard the jokes about the upcoming Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos? The “Stoner Bowl” the “Weed Bowl” the “Super BOWL.”  With teams from the two states who recently legalized marijuana facing off, the puns abound.

Marijuana is in the news these days, and on people’s minds.  Is it a good idea for it to be legal? Is it dangerous? Is it addictive? How addictive?

Now, too much of anything kills white rats, and there is evidence showing both the dangers and the benefits of marijuana.  Wherever you stand on the legalization issue, when it comes down to it, we are asking ourselves the wrong question.

Sneaky Addictions

Whether marijuana, sugar, or another substance or activity, the deeper question becomes how to be free of addiction.  We are living in an addicted society.  Sometimes this is obvious— when you or someone you love is an alcoholic or a drug addict.  But there are many more subtle and socially accepted types of addictions.

Two of the most common that I see in my practice are sugar addiction and internet addiction, but there are others.

You get addicted to things like sugar and the internet because they stimulate reward or pleasure centers in your brain.  For example— sugary food causes your brain to release dopamine.  Dopamine is also released in response to sex, enjoyable music, marijuana heroin, alcohol and cocaine.

For an short explanation of sugar’s effect on the brain see this TED-Ed video.

Checking Out

Part of why you become addicted to behaviors, foods and chemicals that stimulate the reward centers in your brain is that they allow you to “check out” when things get overwhelming.

When life feels like it’s just too much, I may run to the chocolate and consume enough to make myself sick just so I don’t have to feel what is going on.  Perhaps you check you facebook feed obsessively (I’ve done that too).  Anything to take a break from the present situation and all of the thoughts and feelings associated with it.

Give Yourself A Break

If you find yourself repeatedly “checking out” into behaviors or foods that you know are bad for you, and ultimately make you feel worse, it can be a subtle sign of addiction.  It is very common.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t do this sometimes.  It is a basic human need to check out when things get too intense.  Sometimes you just need a break!

What you can do is find healthier ways to check out.  Practices that can give you a break from the intensity and overwhelm of life without the negative backlash.  The first step is to notice that you are checking out.  Even if you can’t stop yourself at this time, are you aware of what is going on?

I don’t like that I smoke so much.  I am eating sweets to the point of being physically ill.  I am checking things on the internet when I know I need to go to bed.    

The second step is to stop, and do something else to give yourself a break.  Something that is easy to do, makes you feel good, and can let your mind rest for a bit.  For example, taking a walk, playing with your pet, dancing around the living room, taking a bath, playing a musical instrument, etc…

It can be helpful to come up with a list ahead of time, and put it in a place where you can easily find it. When you are feeling overwhelmed glance at the list, and give yourself a break that is nourishing rather than depleting.

Back to the Super Bowl 

The legalization of recreational marijuana in the home states of the two Super Bowl teams has sparked an interesting national debate. Much of the talk has centered on the effect that marijuana has on human health.  While this question is important to consider, there is a deeper inquiry that is necessary if we really want to improve our health as a society.

What we need to be asking is what we are addicted to and how we can be free of it.  Everyone needs to check out sometimes when life gets overwhelming.  If you can notice your inclination towards whatever it is you use to check out, and to instead do things that nourish rather than deplete you, you will feel happier and more peaceful.