Pot separates you from your feelings as it dissociates your thinking from the meaningful world.
Many people smoke dope to get in a better mood. We call this "self-medicating." Angry? Anxious? Worried? Smoke a joint and forget your problems for a while.
The problem, though, is that sometimes this doesn't work and instead you feel extremely anxious, afraid and paranoid. Since our reasoning processes are now turned off, when a bad feeling comes along, we have no way to soothe ourselves or discern whether there is legitimately something to be anxious about.
Appropriate feelings that are associated with real things and events become distorted, twisted and lost, especially since we can't track, remember and organize our perceptions.
This may have to do with pot's actions on our serotonin system: first it suppresses serotonin, then later, when you get drowsy, it stimulates it. Less serotonin activity equals more agitation; more equals lower arousal.
During this artificial messing around with our brain, feelings get repressed or buried. This may temporarily feel like an improvement, but meanwhile we have lost the opportunity to act based on our emotions.
Where do they go? We don't just lose those feelings. They don't just take off and fly away like angry butterflies. They stay in our body and when we don't express them, act on them or soothe them by actively processing them, weird things happen. They are like unhappy energy that will find a distorted or twisted way out sooner or later.
Between periods of being stoned, people often become irritable and let these emotional charges out in sideways bursts that now have little or nothing to do with what's going on. Pot is a wet blanket over your emotions. Over time, we lose the ability to respond and react to our feelings, surroundings and life in general.
This becomes worse over time and a chronic problem. When potheads finally stop smoking, these buried feelings, usually bad ones, come flooding out. Several weeks of anger, anxiety and depression are the result. This is withdrawal from marijuana.
This powerful and agitated irritability is difficult to get through and the urge to smoke more to cool it off will be intense, but that only extends the withdrawal. Long-term pot use makes people depressed. Add to this the responsibilities that we haven't been taking care of, the things we haven't been dealing with and the problems we've been neglecting, and you have a real mess on your hands.
The suppression of emotions becomes a habit in your neuronal circuitry, which is learning that, "I guess he/she really doesn't want to have any feelings." After a while, it may occur to you that you no longer have much of a personality left, including that sense of humor where, in the beginning, everything seemed so hilarious.
Heavy daily use of pot is guaranteed to produce depression and apathy (why bother?). No clear feelings equals no motivation. "I'll just be a ski bum and bus tables the rest of my life." It also creates impotence for the boys (by increasing estrogen and decreasing testosterone), messes with your sleep and dream cycles (can't fall asleep, too busy in your brain; then can't wake up and you forget about early morning appointments, classes, etc.).
If you ever had an edge, it'll be gone after smoking dope for a while.
In the next article, we'll explore more of the physical and quality of life issues with marijuana.
John Gilburt is the director of the Boulder Alcohol Education Center Inc.