Joe’s introduction to weed came the night of his high school graduation. He was at a party at his girlfriend’s house in Massillon, Ohio, and her older brother had baked a batch of weed brownies. “We thought he was full of shit because we ate a few, and they weren’t doing anything,” he remembers. “So my friend and I just kept eating them. We ate, like, half the fucking pan. A half hour later I was just gone — on another planet, astral traveling. I looked around and the world was brand new. I thought, This is great. It was a super strong sense of euphoria.”
It also wasn’t a feeling he was interested in giving up — especially because his friends went to “party schools” out of state, while he was stuck at nearby University of Akron. “There’s not that much to do in fucking Ohio,” he says. “It’s just a lot of restaurants around here. I figured, What’s the harm? I was doing everything I was supposed to: I was going to college; I was working. Why not smoke everyday?”
For the next four years, that’s exactly what he did — eventually quitting school to work at a software company (and smoke weed). “I had a lot of things I wanted to do with my life,” Joe says, designing video games and composing music chief among them. “But at the end of the day, when I had set aside time for those goals, I’d just smoke and get too lazy to do them. It was just Groundhog’s Day — the same shit everyday.”
It was around this time that Joe discovered r/leaves, a Reddit community for people who, like Joe, have spent a large portion of their lives baked out of their gourds, but have since realized that weed is an impediment to their growth — personally, professionally, physically and emotionally. Or as Joe, who hasn’t smoked in two months, explains it: “The behavior I need to achieve my life goals, and the behavior I have when I smoke — one of them has to go.”
This, of course, runs counter to the current weed narrative. Over the past several years, marijuana has been elevated to a recreational substance as acceptable as booze and a potential cure-all for a host of maladies (including, ironically, alcoholism and other substance addictions). But as weed increasingly winds its way into the American mainstream, there are a growing number of people who are giving it up. “The first thing we say [at r/leaves] is that we’re a pot-positive community,” says Subduction, r/leaves’ founder and lead moderator. “The only problem we have with pot is it isn’t right for us.”
Their experiences range from that of Kristin Standridge, a 30-year-old, stay-at-home mom in Bend, Oregon, who smoked weed everyday in high school — “I could challenge WIllie Nelson to a smoke off and win,” she says — but tapered off her usage after she divorced her first husband. “Weed was a big part of my life for years. But I don’t miss it. There’s a time and place for everything in life, and at the time I quit, there was no room for [weed] anymore.”
To people such as Isaiah, a 30-year-old Bay Area tech worker who recently went cold turkey after years of trying (and failing) to curb his intake. “One of the reasons [quitting weed] didn’t really stick was because I didn’t take it too seriously,” Isaiah says. “Casually quitting wasn’t enough. I needed to make it clear to myself I was serious this time.”
For his part, Subduction would “quit” for a few days or weeks, but always eventually relapse. “I wanted the cycle to stop, but I didn’t know how to break free,” he says. That’s when he decided to think of his weed use as a “problem.” “I didn’t wake up naked in a guy’s backyard or anything. But the bottom for me was knowing my use was unsustainable.”
Subduction did eventually stop for good with the help of therapy and an outpatient rehab program. And in 2010, after 12 years of sobriety, he founded r/leaves, the name derived from r/trees, the subreddit for weed enthusiasts.
Feeling stagnant — professionally, and just in life — is the single most common lament among r/leaves contributors, Subduction says. Many suffer from “couch lock,” r/leaves jargon for being too high to muster the drive to ever actually do anything. “People on r/leaves look back at their past year, and they’re upset they didn’t get anything done,” Subduction says. In fact, the most frequently shared piece of content on r/leaves is a South Park clip where Randy Marsh says the downside to marijuana is that it makes you “fine with being bored,” as opposed to acquiring new skills and knowledge.
It was the boredom that also made Isaiah realize he was relying on weed too much. “I just wouldn’t know what to do with myself when I wasn’t high,” he says. Everything he used to do while high — chores, watching TV — seemed crushingly dull. He quit smoking for good last spring, and the void made him realize he had used weed as a coping mechanism his entire life — to avoid dealing with his parents’ divorce and the death of a close family friend, specifically.
Looming over all of this is the idea that marijuana addiction is a farce. There’s a famous scene in Dave Chappelle’s cult stoner comedy Half Baked, where Chappelle’s character, a self-proclaimed weed addict, is castigated by his fellow rehab attendees for not having a serious enough addiction.
That notion is backed by the official scientific literature — marijuana isn’t recognized as a physically addictive substance the way alcohol and opioids are (though the National Institute on Drug Abuse says excessive marijuana use can take “the form of addiction in severe cases”).
Subduction and other r/leaves devotees adamantly disagree, though. They argue that while marijuana may never cause a physical dependency the way alcohol does, many people’s marijuana use has all the key markers of addiction. Specifically:
- They continue using marijuana despite it having negative consequences on their life.
- They want to quit using marijuana, but have difficulty stopping.
At the very least, smoking marijuana is psychologically addicting, r/leaves members say. Aaron Sutherland, a 30-year-old comedian in Chicago, began frequenting r/leaves at the beginning of the year, and identifies with the stories of people struggling not to succumb to temptation (he still smokes on occasion). “That’s the fucking thing that makes me so mad — I still think about it a bunch. As much as they say it’s not addicting, it’s habit-forming. It’s tough to break that cycle, especially after a fucking decade.”
For Joe, the psychological addiction was exacerbated by having to distance himself from his old smoking buddies, some of whom he knew since middle school. “We definitely hang out less,” he says. “We still see and talk to each other, but the bond feels less strong.”
Reports of physical withdrawal symptoms are also common on r/leaves, Subduction says, with members describing heightened anxiety, night sweats, sleeplessness and vivid dreaming the first few months after quitting.
But the withdrawal symptoms are overshadowed by glowing confessions about the positive physical and mental effects of quitting. People’s lethargy passes, and they exercise more. Sutherland, for instance, has lost 16 pounds since decreasing his usage earlier this year. Standridge’s diet has significantly improved since she stopped smoking. “I don’t eat nearly as much junk food,” she says. “There was no stopping me when I had the munchies. I’d destroy an entire bag of Doritos, all of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch and a bag of gummy bears.”
That said, none of the r/leaves members I spoke to have a negative perception of weed. (If anything, they like it too much.) The vast majority of people can smoke weed with little to no negative consequences, they say. r/leaves, meanwhile, caters to the small portion of the population that doesn’t have that luxury. “Many people are able to incorporate weed into their lives just fine. But some people are more susceptible to addiction,” Isaiah says. “And that downside should be acknowledged — just like alcoholism is acknowledged.”
* Joe and Isaiah’s names have been changed to protect their anonymity.