High Anxiety

Last fall, an ad for drugs appeared on Craigslist. Unlike the classified site’s many thinly veiled offers of recreational substances, however, this one was about just saying no. At least sometimes. “Do you need a joint to face the day at work?” it asked. “Or the evening alone? The anxiety or depression that you experience on a daily basis? If you are questioning the role marijuana plays in your life and would like to embark on a journey of self-exploration and discovery, the IMPACT Pilot Project may be for you.”

The group’s organizer is Carsen Farmer, a 26-year-old psychology student at UBC. Farmer started the group-the Introspective Marijuana Personal Awareness and Critical Thinking Group, in full-because “I know a lot of people who struggle with how they feel about using marijuana. It’s definitely not an abstinence group-people are using.” She doesn’t talk about her own marijuana issues (“I’m here to facilitate,” she says), but Farmer, who holds a BFA in film production from Concordia in Montreal, will say that she’s had similar experiences.

In February, three people gathered at Farmer’s West End apartment for IMPACT’s inaugural meeting. These first participants had in common that they were single, male, and in their early 30s. As the Sunday-night group has grown, talk has turned to the meaning of life and the nature of happiness. Says Farmer: “People are wondering, ‘Am I not where I want to be in life because I smoke weed every day, or am I not at the point I want to be in life for other reasons and I’m smoking weed so I feel better about it?’ It’s confusing. That’s one of the places we get stuck in discussion.” Being stuck is a common lament. One member, she says, speaks of “just being so upset about smoking weed and being stuck in the cycle. Not being happy at not being able to control it. Sitting in the park crying and smoking a joint at the same time, crying about ‘I need to quit this’ but smoking anyway.”

Milos (a pseudonym) is like many of the participants: he doesn’t want to stop altogether, but he recognizes being stoned eats up all his time. “My habit is I smoke pot and lie in bed and watch TV. You can be watching a show you’ve watched six times before and not be bored. That to me is where I have a problem. If I were to smoke pot and go for a jog it wouldn’t be such a big issue. So I’m looking for a way I can smoke pot this summer but only outside. We’re all working on changing habits.”

Farmer asserts marijuana is psychologically addictive, but because its physical addictiveness is unproven, “dependence is downplayed”-chronic marijuana users don’t get the same sympathy as alcoholics. And unlike crack and heroin addicts, whose lives crash and crumble, potheads “rarely find themselves at this dire crossroads.” They may function year after year, as she writes on IMPACT’s website, “drifting through the enigma of an addiction that subtly distorts their world.”

Milos moved to Vancouver two years ago with a plan to join the film industry but instead is working unhappily as a market researcher. He suspects he can’t get a job on a set because he doesn’t have his driver’s licence. And he doesn’t have his licence because he hasn’t bothered to get it. It’s like the CD he’s been meaning to burn for friends. “All of us in the group think of pot as a reward system,” he explains. “We talk about making lists and setting goals and then rewarding yourself with pot.” He tells himself: “I get to smoke a joint if I do the rest of the dishes.” Or, “I can smoke tonight if I burn the CD.” The CD is in his computer. The trouble is, he says, once he smokes pot, he doesn’t feel like doing anything. “Pot lets you shut down,” he says. “Take the batteries out and then you vegetate.”

Andrew (also a pseudonym) is a 32-year-old from Toronto. He joined IMPACT out of curiosity. For 10 years, he says, “I was stoned from the time I woke up until I went to bed.” Single when many of his friends are settling down and getting married, he dreams of being a writer but instead is unfulfilled working in a sales job.

Members are encouraged to keep journals, and his involvement with IMPACT has allowed Andrew to write about missed opportunities. “Women don’t find potheads attractive,” he writes. “Once I was stoned and walking downtown when an attractive lady approached and asked me for the time. I was a little startled, looked at my wrist where I found no watch and said, ‘Sorry.’ Then I realized I had my cellphone and could have read the time off to her. If I wasn’t stoned, maybe she would’ve gotten the time and a smile. It was a missed oppor­tunity. If I’m under the influence frequently, I create a long string of missed opportunities, and one day I may find out that my life has become one big missed opportunity.”