While cannabis can give you benefits like enhanced relaxation and creativity, there are many good reasons to take a break or cut down on your weed intake.
Perhaps you have to undergo drug testing for a new job, or you’re planning a cannabis-free business trip. Maybe you’ve been overindulging for a while, and you would like to take a break to lower your tolerance. Even if you consume cannabis for medical reasons, you may want to pause once in a while to assess your symptoms.
Anyone who has tried to transform a deeply ingrained habit knows how difficult it can be. Our brains are hardwired to maintain the status quo to ensure our survival. Fortunately, we can change our habits if we understand how they work and arm ourselves with a few practical strategies.
Define Your Goals
Are you trying to cut down, take a tolerance break, or quit consuming cannabis entirely? Maybe you just want to stop “waking and baking” or overindulging on evenings and weekends. Clearly defining your goals is crucial to success.
One helpful practice is to write down your specific goal and your reasons for obtaining it. Post your answer in a place where you’ll be reminded regularly.
For example, you might decide to quit smoking weed in the mornings so that you can concentrate better at work. In this case, it would be helpful to post your goal and reasons for choosing it on your bathroom mirror.
Find Out Exactly How Much Weed You’re Consuming
The next important step in reducing your weed intake is to find out how much you’re currently consuming. Most of us don’t realize how much weed we’re consuming until we notice a low stash or go over our monthly expenses.
Monitoring your normal consumption for a few days or weeks will give you a much better understanding of your usual cannabis habits and what measures you’ll need to take to reach your goals. Try to make a note every time you partake. Include the amount consumed, the type of cannabis product, and your reason for consuming at that time. This leads us to the next technique in our habit toolbox: identifying your triggers.
Identify Your Triggers
We often repeat actions in response to certain conditions. Researchers who study habitual behaviors call this phenomenon a “habit loop.” Charles Duhigg deftly explains the phenomenon of habit loops in his bestselling book, The Power of Habit.
A habit loop follows the pattern of cue, routine, and reward. For instance, smokers often get the urge to puff during break times at work or right after a meal. The time of day or act of finishing the meal is the cue that triggers the routine of lighting up and smoking. Finally, the reward is a perceived sense of relaxation after performing the smoking routine.
Every person has unique triggers that provoke them to perform certain habits. It’s important to identify your triggers and substitute your excessive cannabis consumption for a more desirable action. Logging your cannabis sessions in a journal is an excellent way of identifying your triggers.
The Latte Method
One of the most common cues that provokes people to overindulge is a negative or stressful event. Most people can maintain their new healthy habits until something stressful inevitably happens.
Starbucks found that its baristas usually attended to their customers with a smile regardless of how they were feeling that day. However, the company also discovered that their servers lost the willpower to maintain their cheerful demeanors when faced with a particularly challenging situation, such as a customer yelling at them.
In response to their findings, Starbucks implemented a successful training method that helped their baristas maintain their cool during stressful incidents. The process, called the Latte Method, involves a series of actions employees can take when they’re faced with unpleasant situations.
Why not define your own version of the Latte Method that will help you make better choices for dealing with stress? Instead of your habitual reaction of lighting up a bowl, you could decide to spend a few moments breathing deeply, writing in your journal, or taking a walk around the block.
Break the Chain
The human brain groups patterns of behavior for the sake of efficiency. A complex of brain structures called the basal ganglia is responsible for chaining behaviors together, so we don’t have to consciously think about our actions when we’re faced with matters of survival. After performing certain actions together, we no longer need to waste brainpower with each individual step. This mechanism is called “chunking.”
Chunking is highly useful for performing complex series of behaviors like cooking a meal, driving a car, or playing an instrument. Most of us have a morning routine that is a mostly positive example of chunking.
It’s when chains of chunked actions include unhealthy behaviors that we start getting into trouble. The good news is that even a slight shift in behavior can interrupt a chunked pattern or deeply-ingrained habit loop.
You can achieve this by replacing your usual weed habit with another action in the chain. For instance, let’s say your typical evening involves coming home from work, eating dinner, lighting a joint, and turning on the television. You could replace the joint with 15 minutes of meditation, reading self-help, or making a cup of tea. Eventually, the new behavior will take the place of the joint in your habit chain.
Focus on a Keystone Habit
Some habits can cause a positive ripple effect that makes it easier to adopt other changes in our routines. Duhigg calls these behaviors “keystone habits.” Keystone habits include healthy actions, such as exercise, meditation, getting enough rest, or even making your bed. Including a keystone habit in your daily routine can naturally support your goal to consume less weed.
If your primary goal is to cut down on the amount of cannabis you consume, delaying gratification can be an excellent tactic. The part of us that craves weed is more likely to tolerate waiting until later than being denied entirely. Anyone who has ever cared for a child can attest to this method. A simple “no” means “forever” to a small child, and your subconscious, craving mind works much the same way.
Reminding yourself that you can enjoy some herb at a defined point in the future will go a long way in helping you resist cravings. Are you used to smoking first thing in the morning? You could start with delaying your cannabis session until after lunch. Are you taking a two-week tolerance break? Post the date and time when you can partake on your calendar and reference it often.
Practice Harm Reduction
After finding that complete abstinence wasn’t practical or even a goal of many “problem” alcohol and drug consumers, a group of therapists came up with a program called “HAMS.” The primary objectives of HAMS are to reduce the harmful consequences of overconsumption and make improvements in small increments. With the harm reduction model, you define your own goals and the negative consequences you’re trying to avoid.
If you’re concerned about the health consequences of smoking, you could substitute some of your joints or bong hits for edibles or invest in a dry herb vaporizer. Or perhaps your high THC consumption causes you to spend all your free time glued to the couch instead of doing productive activities or spending time with your family. In that case, you could decide to consume less-potent herb instead of powerful concentrates.
Knowing that you’re not alone is a powerful tool for changing unwanted habits. There are many forms of support available for people wanting to change their habits, from traditional therapy to online groups. Support can even be as simple as repeating affirmations, reading self-help books, or watching youtube videos.
Celebrate Small Wins
The third variable in the “cue, routine, reward” loop shouldn’t be ignored. Remember to reward yourself for reaching even the small goals. You could reward yourself with a healthy treat, a massage, or a favorite TV show when you meet a goal like not smoking weed for a few days. Regularly rewarding yourself will help your subconscious mind solidify your new healthy habits.
Behaviors start out as choices, but after time they begin to function on autopilot and become habits. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome them. Adopting some of the techniques in this article will put you well on the way to developing a healthier relationship with cannabis.