THE POWER OF CANNABIS STIGMA
The impact of the stigma surrounding cannabis is more damaging than cannabis could ever be. It’s a good place to start. Understanding how certain stereotypes can shape our attitudes towards cannabis use is crucial to integrating it into a fulfilling life.
We’re far removed from the “reefer madness” days, but negative associations with cannabis are still the mainstream norm and can have subtle but serious consequences for users.
The consequences for users arise from a lifetime of being told that they are some type of deviant, doing something that makes them stupid and lazy. These insults can come in a joking, more passive-aggressive way from non-using friends or coworkers, or direct, intense attacks from parents, teachers, police, etc.
It takes a toll, and a depressing portion of the cannabis community is quite self-loathing, blaming all sorts of problems on relatively minor cannabis consumption, holding back on trying to improve their lives because they think have to “quit smoking weed first.”
I think even the most dedicated users are not immune to sometimes questioning their path in the face of so much negativity. And worst of all, it cuts off millions of people who might benefit from cannabis because they’ve been told all their lives that it’s “bad” (mmmkay).
This is not to say that cannabis is for everyone, or that it’s 100% consequence free. Some people hate getting high, and if you use it heavily, there’s going to be a few side effects (although a bargain trade considering the benefits, in this humble author’s opinion). There’s also a tiny portion of the population whose bodies seem to completely reject cannabis and have a total freakout or panic attack from a single milligram for some yet unknown reason.
I don’t think any rational person would try and convince people that don’t like or want cannabis to use it. As I said in the introduction, this is about hopefully shifting the attitudes of people who are already using, for whatever reason, and are harboring negative feelings. I don’t think many cannabis users realize how these underlying thoughts can contribute to things like anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, or just a bad attitude in general.
Lack of motivation/laziness is by far the deadliest overstated consequence, and I’ve dedicated the following chapter to that discussion. Cannabis users deal with the age-old, self-fulfilling prophecy that plagues any group of people being negatively stereotyped by mainstream society: The stereotypes themselves marginalize them socially, professionally, legally, etc., leading them to often fulfill the stereotypes placed on them, whether they would have or not. And if you tell people their whole lives that they’re lazy or undesirable, all but the strongest will take it to heart.
This stigma is revealed in some funny double standards of varying seriousness for users as well.
Taking a nap
Ever heard of someone taking a nap? Seems pretty normal. Maybe it was a big weekend, break from the kids, or just because. You don’t hear people beating themselves or others up for catching a quick snooze.
But, if you use cannabis regularly—weed nap! You’re probably “burnt out” and in urgent need of some adjustment to your cannabis intake. Perhaps that’s true if you’re overdosing yourself, but it’s massively overstated. There’s all sorts of people consuming just as much as you and not having a nap, and people not consuming anything that are having a nap.
Making a mistake
A bad one to deal with in any work environment, which I discuss in another chapter. Like with naps, we all know people make mistakes. Weatherpersons, bus drivers, NASA scientists, whatever. “We all make mistakes!” and similar sayings acknowledge their inevitable nature.
Regular cannabis users are not so lucky. Any mistake you make, whether it be saying something stupid, causing an accident on the road, or forgetting to feed the cat will be immediately attributed to “impairment” from cannabis use. You are not allowed to make mistakes. Kind of sucks.
And of course, many users internalize this and lament about how past mistakes could have been avoided if they hadn’t been “impaired,” not realizing everybody fucks up now and then. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference.
“Feeling like shit”
You hear this all the time from people, whether they use cannabis or not. There’s a million reasons, but it seems like with most people, it’d be easier if they noted the rare times when they felt good. But, if you’re a regular cannabis user and you tell someone that, they’ll usually link it to your dark habit, whether they’re a doctor or just an acquaintance.
And of course, many users hold this belief internally and think they’re being held back by cannabis; if they just quit, they’d feel fine. This may be so for some people, but a lot of the time, not enough attention is being paid to things like poor diet or lack of exercise. They’re trying to pick what they see as low-hanging fruit before they tackle the real work.
A lot of “normal” people have the luxury of using this line as a socially acceptable excuse to get out of all sorts of things, but regular cannabis users will be immediately labelled as lazy, unmotivated potheads if they say something like this. You are not allowed to be tired.
Not “making it” in life
This is the height of ignorance, stupidity, and cruelty towards cannabis users. On paper, every child born into this world has unlimited potential. And we take that concept literally, especially in the West. Unfortunately, for an infinite number of reasons, many people don’t meet their “potential.” Some very promising people have lives that add up to absolutely nothing. It’s just the nature of our existence and it can be a source of stress for anyone.
But when someone uses cannabis regularly and they don’t live up to whatever arbitrary idea of “success” has been placed on them by parents or society, they’ll be accused of throwing their lives away on cannabis use. It’s extremely hurtful.
A lot of this comes from parents, who place massive expectations on their children yet make all sorts of mistakes and set the kid up for failure. When things go wrong, they frantically blame cannabis for corrupting their child while taking no responsibility for their own shortcomings.
The nanny society we live in also uses cannabis as a scapegoat in this manner. And it’s a trap of logic; no matter what a cannabis user accomplishes, people will imply that they could have done more if they didn’t use. I have no doubt that if a chronic cannabis user set the world record in the 100-meter dash, critics would lament that the time could have been even faster if they weren’t a “pothead.”
Every human who has ever lived could technically be upset about not doing more, regardless of cannabis use. Every billionaire could have made another billion. One-term presidents get down on themselves for not winning the second time. The most aesthetically immaculate bodybuilders in the world beat themselves up for only winning Mr. Universe once.
It’s the nature of humans to constantly strive for more, and it’s unfair and damaging to imply that cannabis users have shortchanged themselves. Like everyone else, it’s already a huge source of pressure without a massive guilt trip being put on you.
This is not meant as some exercise in gaining sympathy for the plight of cannabis users. I’m simply trying to illustrate some of the ways these stereotypes can damage the self-esteem of many users.
This is already starting to change. More and more, famous and successful cannabis users are “coming out of the closet” as legalization spreads. In the past, many celebrities, noted athletes, and CEOs had to keep their usage quiet for fear of damaging their personal reputations or their brand. Now, as cannabis becomes more socially acceptable, the public will see for the first time how many wildly successful regular cannabis users there really are.
Some of the negative associations make perfect sense when you look at it this way; for the last 100 years, the media has shown nothing but lazy degenerates as the image of the typical user while the best and brightest of our community have been forced underground.
This also goes for regular people who aren’t famous. How your perception of cannabis might change when you find out that guy at your office who did double your sales last year actually smokes pot all day, or that the woman who seems to destroy you in every local marathon has a vape pen with her everywhere she goes. When all we see is goofballs smoking ounce joints at 420 rallies, it’s no wonder so many stereotypes exist.
It’s also a generational thing. A large portion of baby boomers still subscribe to an arbitrary yet rigid set of values and beliefs that constitute “good” or “bad,” and you know what category “dope” is in. There’s simply no rational debate to be had with these people. Cannabis is a drug that’s “bad,” and that’s all you need to know. But we’ve had far too long of this “Father Knows Best” garbage, and fewer and fewer young people are listening. The epidemic of addiction, car crashes, and social harm that “experts” have been warning is right around the corner since the Fifties has never come to fruition.
The internet has made it a lot easier to figure out when you’re being lied to, and millennials and the Gen-Z crowd are by and large not buying this nonsense.
I just mentioned the dominant values and beliefs that constitute “good” or “bad.” Also part of this moral judgement is an implied version of what “success” looks like in our society, and this is an important point for cannabis users. If that version of success is what you truly want, cannabis will not stop you. You can become a CEO like George Zimmer and make millions of dollars and have nice cars and houses. But I believe many cannabis users have a different set of values than most people, and I encourage you strongly to pursue your own definition of “success.”
It’s a generalization, but I like to think most of us value our own health and happiness more than we do material possessions or trying to impress people, or trying to fit into some impossible model of what a “good” person looks like. Happiness is success. Peace of mind is success. A connection with your soul and the environment is success. Don’t get caught up trying to meet some ideal if cannabis makes you feel happy and fulfilled.
Even if you are flat broke, if you’re happy every day, you’re far more “successful” than a depressed billionaire. Cannabis use is something that will bring you success, not stand in the way of it. You just might not get the phony version of success sold to the public by the government, media, and corporations.
Listen to your body as the only guide for what amount of cannabis, if any, is healthy for you. Throw out every single negative stereotype you’ve associated with it, and you’ll start to get a better idea of what it may or may not be doing to you.
Letting these beliefs creep into your mind will make it virtually impossible to have lots of energy and happiness while using regularly. Your negative expectations can create an underlying placebo effect that will actually cause you to feel tired or lazy, or just eat away at your self-esteem.
We’re slowly moving towards mainstream acceptance of cannabis use, but in the meantime, be vigilant in not letting other people or society at large tell you how cannabis makes you feel. Your attitude will determine your outcome.