I’ve never had a good experience with weed. It’s sad, really, to sit and watch funny stoner comedies I can’t relate to, to see my friends joyfully sharing puffs out of their cute bowls, and to spend every 4/20 wishing I could join in on the fun, but knowing I’d have a complete inner meltdown of anxiety and paranoia if I tried. As someone who was in the midst of hitting puberty just as Miley Cyrus was hitting her bong and Pineapple Express was gracing our screens, I’ve always thought of weed as a cool, kinda edgy past-time, which made me feel extra-lame for not “getting” it. And as experts continue to explore the medical benefits of cannabis and states begin to legalize recreational use, I’ve started to feel even more like an outsider to an exclusive club. I want to enjoy weed — I just can’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried. I smoke a handful of times each year, hoping — no, praying — that this will be the time I finally feel the euphoria of being happily stoned, and can enter into the world of funky grinders and brightly colored rolling papers. I want to be able to bond with others over whether or not I prefer Blue Dream or Purple Kush. But that’s never been my reality. One of the first times I actually got high — like, really high — I was meeting up with a boy I had a crush on. He liked to smoke, so I pretended that I also liked to smoke. We did our thing, and then my plans went off the rails: I spent two hours completely silent, having an intense internal freakout. Then my mom came to pick me up.
Although that was arguably my worst and weirdest experience, my adolescent and adulthood experimentations have all followed a similar pattern. I’d take a hit or two and immediately feel anxious. I’d start visualizing my eyelids falling off or I’d get incredibly jumpy and convince myself that everyone in the room hated me. I’ve found that the only way to escape that feeling is to go to sleep.
But the FOMO is almost worse than the bad highs. Knowing that some of my friends are happily partaking in a smoke session with one another — without me — also makes me feel anxious that everyone hates me. “That fear that others are bonding without you is tied to the fear that you will ultimately lose your place in the group, which as social creatures, threatens your survival,” Sage Grazer, co-founder of digital mental health company Frame and a licensed therapist in Los Angeles, CA, previously told Refinery29. When my friends smoke while I sit on the sidelines, I almost feel not just uncool but unwelcome, like my distaste for getting high precludes my friends’ ability to bond with me at all.
My strategy for dealing with weed FOMO has always been to convince myself that one day, I will learn to like weed. And when I talk to Jennifer Dooley, chief strategy officer at Green Thumb Industries, about the subject, she says that’s a possibility. She suggests trying to experiment with different strains, CBD-to-THC ratios, and methods of ingesting the drug. “The combination of all these things together and how your body internalizes it is different for everyone,” she explains. It’s kind of like how one glass of wine might not have any effect on you but might give someone else a solid buzz.
For a weed-hater like me, Dooley suggests starting with a small dose of an edible, a chocolate bar with a CBD to THC ratio of 1:1. “You get that euphoric, in-your-head feeling, but the CBD really balances out for a more body relaxation feeling, and the combination of those two is really nice,” she tells me.
This sounded doable to me. I got my hands on the bar, and decided to give it a shot on a quiet Sunday night when I didn’t have any plans that could be ruined. But when it came time to unwrap the bar, I paused — I was nervous. How would this affect me, mentally? Would I have another terrible high and lose a quality night of sleep? Would I wake up groggy, confused, or mad at myself that I tried yet again to like something I knew that I just didn’t enjoy? I couldn’t make myself do it. I put on an episode of Love Island and did a face mask before dozing off instead.
The day after I chickened out, I called Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-owner of BFF Therapy in Beacon, NY, to hear her thoughts on the FOMO of it all. “There’s always this desire of belonging and being cool,” she points out. “Even if it’s just a pair of jeans. Everyone can say that they don’t care about being cool but we all want community, and so if your community is [smoking weed], then you don’t want to be by yourself.”
But the idea that smoking weed successfully will help me feel bonded to my friends or “cool” in any way is a false one. I bond with my friends over plenty of other experiences that I deeply enjoy, and I have other interests that make me fun to be around. Me not being particularly down for this one thing doesn’t mean… anything, really, about my likeability or my inherent worth. In fact, DeGeare congratulated me for knowing my body well enough to recognize what serves me and what doesn’t, and for not taking one more stab at getting high. I was able to ask myself whether a fleeting sense of belonging was really worth the mental distress, and decided that it wasn’t.
I think I made the right move. But to fully rid myself of weed FOMO — and, by extension, the persistent idea that one day I might actually like the feeling of being high — DeGeare says there’s one thing for me to do: practice radical acceptance. Own the fact that I don’t love weed, and that I probably never will. “It’s knowing your own boundaries,” she said.
As far as the chocolate bar goes, maybe I’ll save it for a special occasion to try when I’m in a good headspace and have a few hours (or days) free — or maybe I’ll just pass it along to a friend who actually can enjoy it. But until then, I’m fine with leaving it tucked in the back of my closet, out of sight.