Coming from a middle-class background in a small town, I, like most teens, tried pot a couple of times. And then in my twenties, I really got into it. As a result, I started to smoke more and more.
At first, it didn’t seem like a big deal, and soon our party favorite becomes a daily occurrence. By age 24, I found myself having trouble falling asleep without my helper. Firstly, I never saw myself as an addict. I mean, who gets addicted to pot? Then, I found that quitting was more difficult than I’d promised myself. I realized that I needed a change. Therefore, I stopped for a while. However, the cravings were driving me crazy. Consequently, I started again. They call this a marijuana relapse. The next time I tried to quit, it took double the effort. Since then, I have stayed clean for a couple years now. It’s been hard, but I think it’s worth it.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a green-grey mixture of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. First, they will dry the leaves and flowers. Then, they will shredded and smoked it, brewed, or mixed into food.
How does Marijuana Act in the Body?
The active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It causes the central nervous system to change the way it works. It is because the presence of THC makes the brain fire off certain chemicals. Usually, the brain maintains a fine balance known as homeostasis. It will normalize as well as it can stay running. Therefore, the brain will fully adapted to THC and its workings. Conversely, it will have trouble functioning without THC. As a result, the user will become dependent on marijuana.
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What is a Marijuana Relapse?
There is a controlled study by David Allsop, Ph.D. They did it at the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre at the University of New South Wales. Researchers set out to understand symptoms of marijuana withdrawal. This is when users quit smoking marijuana over a period of two weeks.
In addition, there is a 2012 study, published in the Public Library of Science. They found that heavy users were more prone to a marijuana relapse. Also, they experienced withdrawal symptoms more intensely. The people who had these symptoms were more likely to fall into marijuana relapse.
In addition to the above, common symptoms included depression and mood swings. However, less common symptoms included fatigue, night sweats, and hot flashes.
To somebody who’s addicted to pot, this doesn’t translate into the shopping list of side effects. Also, there is a contraindications listed in the pamphlet that comes with a box of Valium. They report that it feels, quite simply, like you’re missing something you need. Furthermore, you’d feel less bad if you were just high.
Sometimes, the chemical addiction takes hold. As a result, the body’s reliance on THC team up with day-to-day stresses to make quitting even more difficult. No matter the promises you make to yourself, a marijuana relapse can always occur.
Why does Marijuana Relapse Occur in Such a High Rate?
Dr. Gabor Mate
The Rat Park Experiment
Bruce Alexander did a Rat Park experiment in 1970. Researchers tested for a connection between addiction and environmental stresses. Meanwhile, the experiment itself became famous. They proved that mice can indeed become addicted to opiates. However, its hypothesis remained for the most part ignored.
They gave two groups of rats access to a solution containing opiates. The first group lived in a space 200 times the size of a standard cage. They had access to food, balls, and wheels for play and plenty of space for sleeping and mating. On the other hand, the second group lived in conditions which were the exact opposite. They had cramped cages with no recreation or stimulation.
Rats from the first group would sometimes sample the opiate solution. In most cases, they would not develop any dependency. However, rats from the second group would face serious dangers to get to the opiates.
Then, they introduced the opiate-addicted rats to the ‘rat utopia’ of the first group. As a result, they would wean themselves off the opiate solution. The researchers Alexander and Fraser had proved this. When placed in a suitable environment, it can decrease dependency.
THC Dependency & Emotional Stress
The physical dependency created by THC resembles only the visible part of the addiction. However, the root of the substance dependency usually reaches deeper. In fact, it reaches into the realm of emotions and coping strategies.
Users will often cite the withdrawal symptoms themselves as the reason for a relapse. These symptoms: fatigue, insomnia, angst and depression, will resurface. Usually, it happens when patients attend therapy for underlying causes.
There is a key to understanding the seeming inability to completely break free from dependency. You can find it in understanding the way the CNS accommodates regular dosing with THC. They do it by normalizing the chemical homeostasis. Also, it is the way that the brain processes emotions. Strangely enough, it is themselves habit-forming.
Sometimes, a person may experience physical pain like when the person experiences emotional pain. As a result, many of the very same neural circuits will light up. Other times, a user will suffer from emotional pain. This can happen at both a conscious level or an unconscious level. The drug may provide escape or relief on this count.
The drug then acts as a substitute for the brain’s chemical signals for reward and motivation.
Who Is Most Likely to Relapse?
There are those who feel that the struggle with the withdrawal symptoms become too much. As a result, this is the main group of marijuana relapse sufferers. Most teenagers and young adults who consume weed in groups are very likely to relapse. Also, there are people who have a physical weakness or mental issues. Then, there are people with other drug dependencies or any other life issues in their life. They are all at a higher risk. People who experience these symptoms are also likely to relapse.
Depression and irritability
- Physical exercise helps to balance hormones and will up your dopamine levels
Higher body temperature
- Wear comfortable clothing and set the thermostat lower
- Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake will ease night sweats
- Become aware of your body’s reaction to marijuana withdrawal. In fact, recognize that it’s temporary. Breathing exercises will lower your heart rate.
- Cutting out caffeine completely goes a long way to curb insomnia, as will going to bed as soon as you become tired. A bedtime routine signals your body to prepare for sleep.
Loss of appetite
- Foods that are easily digestible can help to settle your stomach. For example fruit and plain starches like rice or toast will be great.
Risks of Relapse
Studies have shown that it’s a bad idea to continue to smoke pot after the first episode of psychosis. It will increase the risk of a psychosis relapse.
Because this drug is a habit-forming drug, it may be very difficult to shake. This is especially after a relapse. Actually, it will start the cycle of abuse all over again.
There may be a development of major depression at some point during the recovery process. As a result, it will increase the risk of a relapse. One study claims that they have linked drug abuse and dependence to distress. In fact, they have even linked it to suicide risk.
When someone experiences a marijuana relapse, it could cause severe depression. Consequently, this will make the person feel like a failure. This enhances the depression even more, which could later prove to be fatal.
Warning Signs of Relapse
A marijuana relapse will usually happen after certain behavior and thoughts. Some of these warning signs include:
- Reminiscing about the good times when using marijuana
- Reduction in recovery program participation
- The belief that you can use marijuana again, for fun
- Reconnecting with old friends who are still into marijuana
- Losing interest in daily activities such as hobbies
Perhaps, like me, you’ve been here before and quitting didn’t work on the first try. Find comfort in knowing that there are many people at this same crossroads. Therefore, this in itself is a resource which can make quitting easier.
Most people will recommend a Twelve Step Program as the end-all of quitting. However, the failure rates of these programs remain staggeringly high. This is according to peer reviewed studies. Also, only 5% of all addicts who complete these programs remain substance-free in the long run.
Here’s a handy list of ways to deal with a marijuana relapse:
1. Recognize That You Need Help
A close friend of mine got involved in a fight with his weed dealer. This was over the amount of herb he got for his money, only to have his mobile stolen. Realizing that he’s usually not a violent person he checked into rehab the next day. Asking for help is the grown-up way to deal with problems and doesn’t involve shame.
2. Talk to A Trusted Friend
Tell them you’re quitting and ask them to be there when you need someone.
3. Throw Out the Stash
Delete your dealer’s number off your phone. Get rid of the bongs. Flush your marijuana down the toilet (so you won’t be able to dig out it later). This will make it a lot easier to not relapse when things get tough.
4. Individual Therapy / Group Therapy
Individual therapy cuts to the very core of the addictive behavior of abuse and marijuana relapse. Most health insurance companies provide cover for group therapy. This is if they don’t pay for individual therapy. In-patient and out-patient rehabs are worth checking out.
5. Find A Sport or Activity That You Enjoy
This may help ease depression and other negative emotions. However, physical activity in itself is also a form of therapy. In fact, it may help focus your attention away from the addiction.
6. Don’t Replace One Addiction with Another
This will only hinder your efforts to deal with the underlying addiction. Plus, you’ll have another addiction to deal with.
7. Make Changing Your Habits a Habit
What is the best way to make big changes over a span of time? The Japanese discipline of ‘kaizen’ perfectly encapsulates this change. Check out apps like the Joint Effort Quit App and Quit Cannabis to help track your progress.