I heard this term ‘smoking up’ for the first time as a young therapist in training, having to Google after the client left to understand what it meant. It’s the process of using drugs like hash or weed that evokes a ‘high’; a false feeling of euphoria, well-being and sedation in a person. Hash is widely used in Pakistan these days and even though it might not qualify as an addiction, there is a strong addictive element. Addiction is classified as the psychological or the physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug or activity and more and more people seem to be addicted to hash even though it does not fall under the traditional realm of hardcore drugs. Hashish, or hash as it is commonly known, comes mainly from the flowers of the cannabis plant with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as the active ingredient, similarly found in marijuana. This ingredient activates the ‘high’ that hash users crave.

In my work as a therapist I keep coming across young people ages ranging from age 20-35 years who are using hash on a daily basis. I have also come across many married couples that use it daily, implicitly indicating how it seems to be the 24/7 therapist in their relationship. I choose to write about this, not from a place of judgment on those who use it, but as an attempt at throwing some light on why hash usage has become so popular since the last few years.

First of all, it is important to understand that the drug is not necessarily the ‘high’ that the individual seeks, but more significantly in avoidance of emotional pain that they are going through in their lives right now or an unprocessed experience from the past. The drug helps them run away from any pain they are experiencing in the form of a failed relationship, failing at some worldly goal, being misunderstood or judged etc. and this drug can stop them from feeling that pain.

As human beings we are conditioned to avoid pain, whether physical or psychological, using coping skills that are limiting in their nature. The use of hash might start as a recreational drug, which might turn into a space of seeking a ‘high’ that helps them distract from the ‘low’ in their lives. Being ‘high’ simply explained, is feeling happy, more connected to one’s own emotions, and more importantly, lowers the defences of the person and gives them the chance to take off the mask they wear in their lives and to feel less scared and inhibited.

This factor always makes me sad when I listen to the stories of people, the difficulty of not being externally supported to search for some meaning of life through a drug that invariably affects their body and mind. Some people use it to avoid depression and anxiety, not realising that in reality its use leads to chronic depression and anxiety and they are stuck in that vicious cycle where these two triggers actually lead them to the same two states.

Having said that, it also stands true that for some, it’s a recreational drug and they do not have the same relationship as other people for whom the drug might help them to avoid looking within themselves; an abyss of pain and turmoil.

Hash has proven in some cases to create emotional and psychological issues that include apathy, a lack of motivation, depression and an increased risk for the development of psychosis. It can also change the mood and cognition.

The common response I get whenever I highlight the ‘dependence ‘on this drug is met with denial and how it doesn’t affect their functionality. But dependence here is the physiological adaptation of the body to the drug’s presence. Withdrawal symptoms will occur with decreased levels of the substance in a person’s system, once physical dependence is established.

I also wonder what legalising hash would mean for the human mind. Is it the temptation for the forbidden that makes the attraction so strong? Would it minimise the temporary good feeling that hash provides? More importantly what is about the world now that makes this generation want to numb any conflict that triggers them? One strong possibility might be that in today’s day and age in this digital, fast-paced world, hash gives them the license to slow down.

For those that use hash, ask yourself next time when you are smoking up. What does this drug mean for you? What are you distracting yourself from? If you were smoking up for days at end, what would it be like for you to quit? Smoking up your pain through pleasure might give temporary relief, but pain is a beast that will rear its head in places most unexpected.