Marijuana and me

This article is difficult to write. It's an admission that I failed. And it's not like I failed once, but failed repeatedly over the course of several years. And it's not that I really failed failed, you know. It's that I failed myself. I failed to live up to my own expectations.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

Goody Two-Shoes

I grew up Mormon. Among other things, this meant that nobody in my family consumed recreational drugs of any kind. Mormons have a strict prohibition against such indulgences. And, as most folks know, they even take their stricture against “strong drink” to mean that caffeine is forbidden.

So, my parents didn't drink alcohol or coffee. They didn't smoke cigarettes. They didn't do anything that led to altered states. Hell, my father even hated television because he considered it a “plug-in drug”. For much of my childhood, we didn't have a TV. When we did have a TV, access was often restricted.

My parents left the Mormon church when I was a freshman in high school. We returned to the local Mennonite congregation in which my father was raised. Mennonites aren't quite so restrictive with mind-altering substance as Mormons are — they love their coffee! — but they're close.

In high school, I was never tempted by alcohol. I had friends who would drink, but it never appealed to me. Plus, it was against the rules.

Also in high school, I had friends who discovered marijuana. While I was ambivalent about booze, I was actively opposed to pot. I believed it was evil. Plus, it was illegal. As a rule follower, there was no way I would touch the stuff. And when I was with friends who did get stoned, I'd read them the riot act. (I once chewed out my best friend Sparky because he had the gall to get stoned while we were waiting in line to buy tickets for a Tears for Fears concert.)

Essentially, I started life as a Goody Two-Shoes. I refused to do anything illegal or immoral, and I condemned others for choosing anything that I wouldn't choose. I was a self-righteous young man who couldn't see that there's no single Right Answer to life.

Hello, College

College opened my eyes. I was exposed to hundreds of other smart kids, most of whom had radically different backgrounds from my own. They believed different things than I did and they made different choices. Because I lived with them and saw that they were (mostly) good people, it was impossible for me to condemn my classmates as evil or immoral. No, they simply had different backgrounds which led them to have different worldviews.

Most of my friends in college drank alcohol, for instance. Our campus was a sort of safe haven for underage drinking, with an explicit “don't ask, don't tell” policy. So, kids drank. A lot. I experimented with alcohol a bit too, but I didn't like the stuff so didn't drink regularly.

It's probably no surprise that college is where I first smoked pot. Marijuana use wasn't common, but it wasn't rare either. And the kids who used it didn't try to hide it. By the time my moral stance against the stuff had weakened, it was a simple matter to find somebody in the dorm who would show me how to get stoned.

I smoked pot three times in college. The first time was awesome. It's still one of my favorite memories. But the other two times I smoked the stuff, I was unimpressed. I barely remember the incidents. Weed held even less appeal to me than booze.

As an adult, marijuana was never an option. For one, it was still illegal and I am still (mostly) a rule follower. More to the point, my ex-wife was a forensic chemist for the state police. She wasn't allowed to use illegal drugs or to be around anyone else who was using them. To do so would have cost her a career. She was well aware of this, and so was I. Neither of us were ever remotely tempted.

So it is that I managed to avoid marijuana from the time I left college until the time recreational use became legal in the state of Oregon.

Legalized Marijuana

When Kim and I returned from our 15-month RV trip, Oregon had legalized marijuana. I decided to experiment with it.

My experience with pot started slowly. I had real problems inhaling the stuff, so I shied away from smoking it and opted instead for edibles. I liked gummies. I also liked tinctures I could take under my tongue.

The problem with edibles and tinctures, though, is that they tend to have variable onset and variable effects. If I eat a gummy at, say, six in the evening, it could take anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours to set in. And when it sets in, it could give me a mild buzz or it could turn me into a puddle of pudding on the couch.

In time, though, I learned how to smoke weed. I also learned which strains gave me a happy little high (as opposed to sending me to Crazy Town). I particularly liked Willy's Wonder.

In late 2016, when I first began experimenting with pot, I maybe used it once a week. Instead of drinking on a Friday night, I'd get stoned.

The frequency with which I used pot increased over time. This happened for a few reasons.

  • First, pot is cheaper than alcohol. It's much cheaper, in fact. A package of ten gummies might cost me $20 (although it's usually less). At one or two gummies per use, that's only $2 or $4 per evening of fun.
  • Second, pot has fewer calories than alcohol. If you smoke marijuana, you consume no calories at all. Wine and (especially) beer are packed with calories. So, in theory, using pot is smarter for my waistline. (In reality, using pot almost always gave me the proverbial “munchies”. My snacking while stoned was off the charts!)
  • Third, and most importantly, pot helped me sleep. I have trouble sleeping. It sucks. But when I take pot I sleep soundly. It's so amazing!

Because of these three factors — especially because of the better sleep — my pot use crept from once or twice a week to almost every single night. It took a couple of years to get there, but get there it did.

By the time the pandemic hit, I was a daily marijuana user. If you've been reading me for a while, you know that this was also around the time that my mental health problems peaked. (Shocking!)

Stoner J.D.

I've always struggled with depression — that's been present since fifth or sixth grade — but by 2019 I'd sunk to new lows. And as 2020 arrived, the depression became coupled with anxiety. Oh, how much anxiety I had! It was dreadful. It prevented me from accomplishing even basic tasks. (Ask Kim how difficult it was to get me to make a basic phone call…)

But the worst thing was that I'd become stupid. I've always thought of myself as a smart guy, a guy who likes to read and think Deep Thoughts and have complex discussions with friends. But I was becoming dumber and dumberer, and I could sense it. I truly began to panic once I realized that I was losing the ability to write a coherent article or essay.

For me, writing is life. Writing is how I process my thoughts and feelings and the world around me. If I can't write, I'm crippled. The pot was leaving me wordless and broken.

But I didn't know that the pot was taking away my ability to write. I didn't know that the pot was making it tough for me to read. I didn't know that the pot was exacerbating my depression and causing my anxiety and turning me into a bitter old man. I couldn't see the source of my problems. All I knew was that these things were happening, and I hated it. To cope, I got stoned. Again. And getting stoned just made me more anxious and stupid.

There were times I'd go weed-free for a while. These instances generally happened when I was traveling. If I were headed to Europe for a few weeks, for instance, I'd have no access to marijuana. I was fine with that. In my head, I didn't have a problem with the stuff. Pot was just something I used to sleep and (once or twice a week) as an alternative to alcohol.

I was missing some obvious signs that yes, I really did have a problem. Here's an example.

During my three-week trip to Portugal, Wisconsin, and California in 2019, I had real trouble at the start of the adventure. I was attending an F.I. chautauqua, which should have been fun and exciting. Instead, I struggled mightily. I slept like shit. I could not focus. Worst of all, I was irritable. I was an asshole. I managed to alienate a couple of colleagues, which I deeply regret.

By the time I reached Joshua Tree at the end of those three weeks, my disposition had improved. But still I didn't realize that yes, I had a problem with pot. That yes, I'd experienced withdrawal symptoms in Portugal. That yes, quitting might be the best move for me.


When I returned home, I resumed taking THC to help me sleep every night. In fact, I upped my marijuana use because I was trying to lose weight. I sharply curtailed my alcohol intake and allowed myself to use as much pot as I wanted — especially once COVID hit a couple of months later.

I became your stereotypical stoner.

By the Numbers

As most of you know, I'm a numbers nerd. I like to track things in spreadsheets. No surprise then that for the past eighteen months, I've been logging every alcoholic drink I consume and every time I use pot.

This has been helpful.

Instead of guessing at how much I drink and how much pot I use, the numbers tell me the truth. (It helps that I'm completely honest with my spreadsheet. It makes no sense to “cheat” by putting in false numbers. That would defeat the purpose.)

My substance use spreadsheet

I began this spreadsheet because I wanted to document my problems with alcohol. Instead, I found myself more concerned with my marijuana use. Yes, the numbers showed that I ought to reduce my alcohol intake, but my drinking really wasn't too far out of line with recommended guidelines. My pot use was.

I took 265 doses of marijuana during 2021 — then a similar amount during the first half of this year. And those doses grew stronger and stronger with time. When I smoked, I took deeper hits. When I consumed edibles, I took more of them.

Then, about two months ago, I stopped using marijuana. This wasn't deliberate at first. It just happened.

During the day, I was performing heavy physical labor as I landscaped the front yard. This physical exertion made it easy to fall asleep at night. Plus, in the evening Kim and I were drinking more beer as warm weather set in. These two factors led to a streak of ten days during which I didn't use pot at all.

I extended this streak when Kim and I flew to visit her mother in Colorado. I had no pot with me, so I wasn't tempted. By the time we returned home, I'd noticed something interesting: I felt great. For the first time in a long time, I felt clear-headed. I felt motivated. I felt like my old self again.

“Do you think I feel good because two weeks has been enough time for the THC to leave my system?” I asked Kim. (THC is the active chemical in marijuana, the stuff that gets you “high”. It lingers in the bloodstream, which leads to residual effects even if you haven't used it for a while.)

“Maybe,” she said. “Probably. You should keep testing it.” So I did.

Two weeks without pot turned into three weeks without pot. That turned into four weeks. Then five and then six. It's now been nearly two months since I used marijuana. At this point, I feel confident concluding that the marijuana was causing many of my problems. Not all of my problems, of course, but many of them.

I last used marijuana on Independence Day. Since then, my mood has improved remarkably. My fragile mental health seems to be regaining stability. I've been vastly more productive in the past two months than at any other point since returning from the RV trip. I've become more sociable. I'm reading more and making more long-term plans. I'm writing a ton. The only thing that's really suffered has been my sleep. (Marijuana sure helps me sleep!)

Marijuana Is Not My Friend

Look, I'm not anti-pot.

I'm not here to condemn marijuana use for society at large. I'm here to condemn marijuana use for me.

But here's the thing. While I support your ability to choose marijuana, I no longer want to choose it for myself. I've seen first-hand just how profound an effect it can have on a person. Each day that passes since my last use, my mind boggles at how much happier and more productive I've become.

Again, this is true for me. It might not be true for others, including you. If using pot helps you, fantastic. Puff away. It didn't help me — even when I thought it was doing so. I had, essentially, allowed myself to become the stereotypical high-school stoner: lazy, unmotivated, nonchalant, apathetic. This led to deep self-recrimination…then further pot use.

It feels awesome to be my old self again. This summer, I've truly enjoyed rediscovering how to read books and how to write long articles like this one. I'm impressed by my ability to have some difficult (but much-needed) conversations, conversations that in some cases I've put off for years due to marijuana-enhanced anxiety.

I'm not saying that all of my problems have magically disappeared. I'm still just as messed up as the next person. But at least right now, I'm not adding fuel to the fire. I haven't shackled myself in the chains of THC. I'm granting myself the ability to work my way through some of my issues instead of increasing the burden with weed.

Next up? Alcohol.

When I decided to give up pot in July, I gave myself permission to drink what I wanted for a while. Well, it's been a while. It's time for me to cut back on the booze again.

A Difficult Day

Today was tough. Kim and I reached the difficult decision to euthanize Mom's cat. We fostered Bonnie in January when Mom moved to memory care, and it's been one long, costly, flea-infested adventure.

Before taking her to the vet, however, I drove ninety minutes north to give Mom and Bonnie some final time together. For nearly an hour, they melted into one. They were both so, so happy. Then I drove ninety minutes back to Corvallis and sat with Bonnie until she had crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

Bonnie on Mom's lap for one final visit

Now, as we near bedtime, I'm agitated and wide awake. I know from experience that this is a bad combination. The likely result is that I won't be able to fall asleep. I'll toss and turn and my mind will spin, but I'll be up until midnight or one o'clock — or maybe even four.

My normal solution for this — normal since 2016, anyhow — would be to smoke some weed. When I'm wired at night, I know that a hit of Willy's Wonder or Blue Dream will knock me out.

I'm not going to do it, though. Yes, I'll likely be miserable tomorrow due to lack of sleep. I accept that. But you know what? I'd rather have one bad night than allow myself to relapse into that dark and constant state of self-loathing that's been my norm for the past six years…

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There are 25 comments to "Marijuana and me".

  1. Anne says 30 August 2022 at 08:51

    You said a few days ago, that a long time friend had ended the friendship, much to your surprise. He said something to the effect that you were “messed up.” I was surprised also because you seem like a thoughtful friend in all senses of the word. As you look back now, can you see your treatment of him in a different light? Do you have some clarity on that situation that you possibly didn’t have while constantly stoned?

    • J.D. Roth says 30 August 2022 at 08:58

      This is a great question, Anne, and something that I’ve thought about over the past month. It’s very possible that the social anxiety induced by the chronic pot use did play some role here. It certainly did in other relationships. (I’d reached a point where I dreaded reaching out to contact anyone, which seems crazy to me right now but it was true.) But in this particular instance, I don’t think that was the case. At least to my memory, I’d continued reaching out to this friend and had never altered the way I treated him. His perception is different, of course, and I may never know what caused that split.

      • Donna Freedman says 09 September 2022 at 05:54

        You can always reach out to contact me, pal. The worst that could happen is that I will mention your height.

    • Kristen says 30 August 2022 at 18:13

      Being open to learning and vulnerable is why I have checked in on your site for so many years. I am so sorry about the kitty. I can only imagine how difficult that was for you. Best wishes for good sleep and continued growth as a human. You seem like on of the good ones

  2. Dave @ Accidental FIRE says 30 August 2022 at 12:27

    Wow, the vulnerability here is genuine and appreciated. As someone who’s shared my own former struggles with alcohol I realize how hard that can be to do. Glad to hear you figured out that pot was not doing you favors, now you can move on with that knowledge. Here’s to getting healthier!

  3. Tracy says 30 August 2022 at 13:44

    Congratulations on figuring out a big contributor to your challenges!

    Melatonin can be effective for sleep onset insomnia in ND folks — 1-3mg 30 minutes before bedtime. (It was not found to be effective for waking up throughout the night.)

    I’ve been taking 3mg of melatonin before bed for about a year. I think I’ve only had a handful of bad nights. All that sleep hygeine stuff (consistent bedtime and wake time especially) probably helps too.

    At the suggestion of my providers I also tried l-thianine, tryptophan, and magnesium threonate, but didn’t notice a difference with any but the thianine (300mg). I’ve since stopped it and am just using the melatonin now.

    I also tried a sleep restriction insomnia program and it made little difference for me (though I didn’t follow the instructions well enough according to the doctor). It was the most miserable five weeks of my life ? Probably a bad call to combine with depression. But it did offer some useful reframing — you’ll be fine on five hours of sleep (they called it core sleep iirc), and even less than that is not the end of the world occasionally. The program was also hardcore on the “get up if you haven’t fallen asleep in half an hour” rule.

    Good luck with your sleep, insomnia sucks!

  4. zzzzzz says 30 August 2022 at 17:41

    Any thought that perhaps CBD without THC might help your sleep issues without the negative effects you’ve been experiencing?

    Or perhaps you could incorporate regular strenuous physical activity into your daily routine.

  5. Chris says 31 August 2022 at 04:22

    Appreciate your honesty, J.D. Long time reader (since 2008), but don’t comment often. I am pulling for you. So sorry to hear about the kitty, it is hard. Can relate to the insomnia.

  6. Greg says 31 August 2022 at 07:24

    Great post. Love the honesty and vulnerability. Glad to hear you are doing better.

    As far as tracking goes, how would you keep track during the day? With a notecard or did you use the excel app on your phone to keep track?

    • J.D. Roth says 31 August 2022 at 08:14

      Actually, Greg, I didn’t do anything fancy. It’s never been a problem to remember what I consume. Yesterday, for instance, I had two beers when I met a reader for tacos. Then, I had a bit of gin before bed. I had three drinks.

      The real issue is that my definition of “drink” isn’t precise, and neither was my definition of “dose” of pot. A beefy 20-ounce 8.1% ABV beer is one drink, but so is a 12-ounce can of Miller Lite. In reality, these two drinks have very different alcohol content. The former has 3-4x the amount of alcohol in it, but I count them both as a drink. Same problem with my pot tracking. I’ve accepted this flaw in my system and am constantly aware of it. I don’t try to game things by “sneaking” high potency drinks. Besides, I’m really trying to track frequency more than anything.

      I view this a lot like tracking spending when you first get a handle on your money. It’s designed to build awareness so that you can change behavior in the future.

  7. Kirsti says 31 August 2022 at 09:23

    Long time reader, first comment. Wanted to thank you for your openness and vulnerability with your blog. It is one of my favorite because of that.

    Have you dabbled with meditation? Might be a good next experiment for you and has been shown to help with anxiety/depression/sleep

    • S says 03 September 2022 at 07:17

      I have almost the same comment. Thanks for sharing your struggles. Its easy for us to only show to others things that are going well, it shows great strength of character to also share the difficulties. I also recommend meditation, its not a cure all but definitely a tool you can use. I use the headspace app, but you can find lots of free stuff online. Take care.

  8. Jennifer says 31 August 2022 at 09:39

    J.D., thank you for yet another amazing post. I’m always so impressed with your willingness to share such things with your blog community.

    The anxiety you reference is also something I find to be related to alcohol consumption, and is one of the key reasons I’ve dialed back on how much alcohol I drink.

    Kudos to you for having the insight to connect the dots in how marijuana was affecting you and even bigger kudos for doing something about it.

    Not that you have to answer this question, but how did Kim feel about your marijuana usage and its impact on your personality & day-to-day activities?

  9. Ryan says 31 August 2022 at 10:03

    A Bluetooth sleep mask and rain sounds has been a game changer for sleeping for me. It quiets the mind enough that I’m not tossing and turning all night.

  10. RichardP says 31 August 2022 at 11:21

    Marijuana can affect people so differently. A friend of mine had debilitating pain from chronic diseases and the right type of marijuana allowed him to continue working (as a programmer) while managing the pain.

  11. Susanna says 31 August 2022 at 12:44

    Great post – so honest and vulnerable. I’m sorry to hear about the cat. That’s always a hard decision to make, but almost always the right one.

    I struggle with sleep too. I have contemplated getting a prescription card and trying THC. This makes me think twice. I’ve found that taking a valerian root generally helps me relax enough to fall asleep. If I wake in the night, listening to a book that’s interesting enough to hold my interest, but not so exciting to keep me awake, usually helps keep me from mentally spiraling and allows me to go back to sleep. I have the 99% Invisible City and The Anthropocene Reviewed in regular rotation for that. Hope you figure out something that works for you.

  12. Caro says 31 August 2022 at 17:53

    Welcome back to yourself. We are all always realizing growing and improving, for often surprising reasons.

    Man not being able to sleep sucks. I am not usually prone to anxiety but when I was agitated due to some life altering changes I had some success with this Marconi Union song. I find it kind of hideous, but effective, as long as I turned off the screen while it ran.

  13. J.D. Roth says 01 September 2022 at 08:12

    In related news, I went for a long hike with my buddy The Happy Philosopher yesterday. Because both of us are eager to reduce our alcohol consumption, he suggested that we make a pact to drink nothing for the month of September. I agreed. So — in theory anyhow — September will be the first month in a decade during which I consume no alcohol and no marijuana. I’m eager to see the results. I have a suspicion I already know what I’ll learn…

    • Lindsay Call says 01 September 2022 at 08:45

      Like others have said, I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability (and your spreadsheet nerdery 🙂 It’s what has kept me coming back for 15 years even when I’ve given up falling almost all my other blogs. Wishing you all the best on this continuing journey!

    • rh says 06 September 2022 at 10:25

      I would really like to reduce my alcohol consumption too. Much like you, we moved to a smaller town later in life with no kids. In order to meet people, we have been socializing at various pubs each week. It’s great in that we have met many new folks, but it means I am drinking 15-20 drinks a week. How are you meeting people in your new town outside of happy hours, etc… I would really like to know as meeting new people after 40 in a small town is hard.

  14. Amanda says 01 September 2022 at 13:48

    Thank you so much for your vulnerability. It is tough to be vulnerable with friends let alone on the internet for everyone. Kudos to you focusing on your wellness.

  15. Joe says 06 September 2022 at 09:31

    Yikes, it became a real problem. I’m glad you recognized it and quit. I occasionally take 1/4 edible and that’s plenty for me. I’ll keep this in mind if I’m ever tempted to take it regularly. Not being able to write and think clearly would be devastating.

  16. Kathy Kristof says 14 September 2022 at 08:10

    Thanks for sharing your story, JD.
    My son uses melatonin to sleep. Says it really helps.
    I tried pot in high school. Did it a few times and realized that all it did was make me stupid. I stopped. But I see much the same result from people I know who do it now. Few people are more fun when they’re stoned…they’re just stoned.

  17. Amanda V says 15 September 2022 at 16:00

    I have found that alcohol makes me wake up multiple times in the middle of night. So maybe cutting back will help your sleep. I also lost 25 lbs in the last 6 months and that has let me sleep better. Although I have found that I take after my dad who only sleeps 5-6 hours a night in his sixties, so insomnia may be my future no matter what I do.

  18. Liz says 23 September 2022 at 05:55

    Thank you for your vulnerability. I don’t sleep great at night either but I’m a great napper. One of the best things about being FI is my ability to nap as needed. Curious that you didn’t mention napping as one solution.

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