Cannabis use self-help materials

What should I do if I'm concerned about my cannabis use?

Many people will try self-help-strategies as the first option in managing concerns about their cannabis use. Evidence suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help people to reduce or stop cannabis use.   Some self-help strategies can also be very useful, and the self-help information on this site offers practical tips for self-management.

Research suggests that the benefits of self-help can be improved by receiving guidance from a professional, so get some help if you (a) need support to practice the techniques (b) aren't improving on your own or if your problems get worse. 

How can I help myself to manage problems with cannabis?

(This material has been informed by "What's the deal on quitting? A do it yourself guide to quitting cannabis". National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre; and "Effective Weed Control", Turning Pont Alcohol and Drug Centre).

1) Admit you are having problems

It's important to acknowledge what's going on so you can do something about it. Intervene early and give yourself the best chance of improving.

2) Think about your cannabis use

Many people are in two minds about their use of cannabis. One the one hand, you might feel more relaxed while you're smoking, but on the other hand you might have money worries, feel unmotivated for study, or have a bad cough. To help make the issues clearer, try weighing up the pros and cons of your cannabis use. List all of the good things about using cannabis and then list all of the things that aren't so good. You could also give each issue an importance rating out of 10 to make things clearer for you.

Weighing up the pros and cons

    

Good things about cannabis

Less good things about cannabis

Example

 

I'm more creative when I'm stoned     /10

I often can't be bothered doing my assignments     /10

I can really relax      /10

I can't afford it      /10

I like smoking with my friends      /10

My girlfriend thinks I smoke too much and we argue   /10

I feel more sociable      /10

I get really paranoid sometimes      /10

 

Look back over your answers. Which side of your list is the longer? Are you concerned about any of the less good things? Which worries you the most?

Give your list careful consideration, and think about how you feel about using cannabis right now. If you're still in two minds, keep a detailed record of the good and less good things over the coming week then do this exercise again. It's also a good idea to record your cannabis use over the next week. This will help you notice any patterns or routines that might need your attention.

Cannabis use record

Day/time

How much did I use?

Who with?

Doing what?

What happened?

How did I feel?

           

If you decide to keep using cannabis as you are now go to the 'REDUCING HARMS' section at the bottom of this page for some useful tips.

If you'd like to make some changes to your cannabis use, go to the 'PREPARING TO STOP OR CUT DOWN' section for useful tips, or the Need Help Now section for available treatment options.

3) Plan for your change

PREPARING TO CUT DOWN OR STOP

Set a cut-down or stop date

Make a firm commitment to yourself, plan for it and STICK TO IT. 

Prepare your environment

Get rid of everything from your home, your car, and anywhere else that's been associated with using cannabis. These things are triggers for cannabis use and are likely to increase your cravings. Tell your friends about your plans if they'll support you and avoid those who won't; change your routines; do whatever it takes to give you a sense of a fresh start without cannabis in your life.

Manage self-sabotage - Taming the ‘cannabis critter' with the ‘cannabis coach'

Unhelpful thoughts often pop into people's minds -"life will be so boring without cannabis", "it'll be way too hard to stop". When you catch yourself thinking this way, this is the ‘cannabis critter'. The critter's job is to weaken your resolve and lead you back to cannabis. Tame the critter by calling on the ‘cannabis coach'. The coach's job is to support you to stay stopped. The coach says things like "it's hard to stop at first, but it gets easier every day". Help your coach by re-reading your ‘pros and cons' list to remind yourself of why you wanted to change in the first place. Keep a wallet- or purse-sized card with a list of the ‘less good things' about using cannabis so you can re-read it if you have cravings or the critter hijacks your thoughts. Make a list of the benefits of cutting down or stopping and read it frequently to help your coach help you stay committed to your goal.

Learn to say ‘no'

Most people have spent a long time saying ‘yes' so saying ‘no' when you're offered cannabis can be really hard at first. Although it's best to avoid all temptation in the early stages, think of some ways to say ‘no thanks' and practice them before your stop date so you're well-prepared and don't feel pressured to smoke if you're caught off guard.

Plan ahead

Make a list of all the things you have to do, and all of the things you like to do. Be creative and think about what you'd like to do instead of smoking. Then make time to do it!

Anticipate risky situations

List every potential situation you can think of that could lead you to smoke cannabis again. Situations could include a certain time of the day or night; being with friends who smoke; being offered a joint or bong; feeling tired, bored, or angry; needing to be creative or inspired; feeling happy; feeling stressed; wanting to celebrate; wanting to reward yourself; wanting to relax; having lots of money; having no money; having a craving, etc. Make an ‘action plan' for each risky situation.

An action plan might include:

1) a list of numbers for people you can call on for help, or who'll support you through a risky situation

2) your ‘less good things about using cannabis' reminder card

3) the 'good things about stopping' reminder card

4) ways to say ‘no thanks'

5) how to leave a risky situation in a hurry

6) things to do if you feel tired, bored, stressed, angry, and other risky mood states

7) a list of safe places to ‘ride out' a craving or crisis

8) ways to celebrate without cannabis

9) a list of reliable distractions

10) your preferred ways to manage cravings (see below)

Think about how you'll manage cravings to smoke cannabis

In the early stages of changing your cannabis use, cravings can be a problem, so it's important to know what works for you. Cravings usually pass quite quickly, but if you give in to them they won't go away.

A helpful strategy is the 3 D's:

DELAY - Delay your decision to smoke for a few minutes at a time. This will help you break the pattern of reaching for a joint or bong whenever you have a craving. Tell yourself "I can do this... I don't have to smoke right now..."

DISTRACT - Do anything else other than smoke cannabis- walk, run, take a shower, make a phone call, sing, eat, dance, practice relaxation exercises - just do whatever it takes to get you through the craving.

DECIDE - Decide all over again to stay committed to your goal. Read your ‘less good things' list again and congratulate yourself on not giving in to the craving. Reward yourself with something healthy and know that the next time a craving hits it will be less intense and you CAN manage it.

4) Act on thoughts and plans

STAYING STOPPED

Stopping yourself from falling back into old habits requires some serious planning. The following steps could be helpful.

Get active

Plan to do enjoyable things that don't involve smoking cannabis and make time to do them.

Call on your support people

Make a list of helpful people that you can spend time with and make the time do it.  

Be aware of your thoughts and actions

It's easy to fall back into old patterns of thinking and behaving which can lead you right back to smoking cannabis again. If you find yourself operating on ‘automatic pilot' bring your awareness back to yourself and stay committed to your goals. Changing old habits requires lots of attention until the change becomes the new habit. 

Remind yourself why you've made a change

It's really easy to forget why you wanted to make a change in the first place. Read your 'less good things' reminder card; ask your friends to remind you of what it was really like. Think about all of the ways that cutting down or stopping cannabis has improved your life and make a commitment to your new lifestyle every day.  

Don't give up!

If you do slip up and have some cannabis (or more than you'd planned) don't beat yourself up about it. Many people sabotage themselves by thinking " I've used cannabis again - I'm useless and I might as well keep using since I can't stay off it". But the truth is, you CAN... you HAVE... and you can CONTINUE to stay stopped or cut down.   

A more helpful way to think is "Ok, I've had some cannabis but it's just been this once and I don't have to have any more. I'm doing well and this is just a minor slip". 

You can't learn from mistakes if you never make them so go easy on yourself and add the trigger that led you to use cannabis to your 'risky situations' list and come up with a good plan if you're faced with it again.

If you made a deliberate decision to start smoking again, go back to the very beginning and weigh up the pros and cons of continuing to use cannabis. Revisit all the reasons you decided to stop in the first place. Going back to cannabis use increases cravings so each time you lapse you send yourself back to square one.

Think about what you could have if you weren't using cannabis: 

  • More money
  • More energy
  • More motivation
  • More time

ABOUT CANNABIS WITHDRAWAL

About one person in every ten who have ever tried cannabis might become dependent at some time in their lives. Heavy daily or near daily users are most likely to experience withdrawal symptoms.

The most common symptoms of cannabis withdrawal include:

  • Anger, aggression, irritability
  • Anxiety/nervousness
  • Decreased appetite or weight loss
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep difficulties including strange dreams

Less common symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Depressed mood
  • Stomach pain/physical discomfort
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating

Symptoms usually begin within 1-2 days after last use, peak at day 2-6, and subside until most symptoms disappear by week 2-3.

There's some evidence to suggest that withdrawal from both nicotine and cannabis at the same time leads to more severe withdrawal symptoms than would be experienced during withdrawal from either substance alone. Tobacco users are also more likely to report cannabis withdrawal symptoms and experience more withdrawal symptoms than non-tobacco users.

As yet, no medications have been shown to be helpful in withdrawal or to help people stay off cannabis.

GETTING THROUGH WITHDRAWAL

  • Know what to expect and tell yourself that the symptoms WILL PASS
  • Keep occupied and distract yourself from concentrating on the symptoms as well as cravings
  • Eat well, exercise, and try to get some quality sleep (plan regular rest breaks if sleeping is a problem)
  • Practice relaxation exercises 
  • Manage cravings
  • Call on your support people
  • Consider getting professional support - see "How to get help" below
  • If you find that stopping abruptly is too hard, consider weaning yourself off cannabis - delay having your first smoke for as many hours as you can, and then cut down the number of joints or cones you use by 20% each day.

REDUCING HARMS OF CONTINUED CANNABIS USE

  • Don't inhale and hold the cannabis smoke in your lungs. Contrary to belief, holding on to the smoke WON'T increase the effect, but it WILL increase your risk of lung problems by exposing your lungs to smoke for longer than necessary.
  • Discard seeds and stems - they contain no THC and cause unnecessary irritation to throat and lungs.
  • Avoid mixing tobacco with cannabis. Exposure to tobacco increases risk of lung problems, and daily users are at risk of becoming dependent on both tobacco and cannabis at the same time.
  • Mixing dried herbs with cannabis or other alternatives to tobacco is not much better. Anything that is burnt and inhaled causes irritation to the respiratory system.
  • Of all the ways to smoke cannabis, bongs do the most harm to the airways by exposing a greater surface to tar and other carcinogens. It's also difficult to measure how much you use when pulling a bong. A joint is the least risky way to smoke cannabis. Ingesting cannabis is less risky still but it's easy to take more than you intended and as the effects can last a long time extra care is needed.
  • Cigarette filters can remove as much as 60% of THC from a joint, which often causes people to smoke much more cannabis to get the same effect. If this is true for you, consider removing the filters.
  • Avoid driving or operating machinery if you've been smoking cannabis to reduce risk of accidents and injury.

Keep an eye on how much cannabis you're smoking. Tolerance, which is the body's way of adapting to regular exposure to cannabis, can creep up on you. If you find you're becoming tolerant (i.e. need to smoke more to get the same effect), it's a good idea to have a complete break from using cannabis. If you find it difficult to take a break, then you might be dependent in which case a total break is strongly recommended.

GET PROFESSIONAL HELP

If you find that the self-help tips are not working for you then it is advisable to contact professional help.  There are many agencies around Australia that are very experienced in helping people through cannabis withdrawal.  You can obtain contact details for the nearest agencies to you by contacting one of the 24hr helplines in your State.  Just go to the Need Help Now section on the right hand side of this page, which lists contact numbers in every State.

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC)

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) is a Government Initiative aimed at providing evidence-based information about cannabis use to prevent uptake, especially by young people and in Aboriginal communities, and support treatment of users. Check out the link to their website below.

http://ncpic.org.au

It may be a big step for your friend to get help for cannabis use. Speaking to a professional yourself might help you become better informed about the effects of cannabis and what someone might go through in withdrawal. If you are wanting to know more about managing cannabis use you may want to get in touch with the National Cannabis Information and Prevention Centre (NCPIC) 1800 30 40 50 or visit their website using the link below. 

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC)

The NCPIC's website provides cannabis information to the community, users, their families and the various workforces involved in the delivery of cannabis related interventions. Check out the link to their website below.

http://ncpic.org.au

 

Better Health Channel

Better Health Channel is a Victorian site that provides health and medical information, fact sheets on health conditions, healthy living tips and questions & answers from health experts.

http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/

DrugInfo Clearinghouse - Australian Drug Foundation

DrugInfo Clearinghouse is a service provided by the Australian Drug Foundation. It functions as a drug prevention network providing information about alcohol, other drugs, and drug prevention.

http://druginfo.adf.org.au/

National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC)

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) is a Government Initiative aimed at providing evidence-based information about cannabis use to prevent uptake, especially by young people and in Aboriginal communities, and support treatment of users. Check out the link to their website below.

http://ncpic.org.au/

National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC)

NDARC conducts research and related activities that increases the effectiveness of Australian and international treatment and intervention responses to alcohol and other drug related harm.

http://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/

Get Help Now