After 30 Years, Woody Harrelson Quits Weed for Scientific Reasons


Acclaimed actor, weed advocate, and advisor to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Woody Harrelson has decided to ditch the bud. Nope, this isn’t an Onion article: In a recent interview with Vulture, Harrelson said that he quit smoking marijuana almost a year ago. In a candid chat, he said that 30 years of “partying too fucking hard” and a desire to be more present had led up to his decision.

“The effect is euphoria,” said Harrelson about the drug. “But when you’re doing it all the time, it just becomes … I feel like it was keeping me from being emotionally available.”

This, according to scientific research on weed, is a fair assessment about how one might feel after three decades of smoking pot.

Actor Woody Harrelson has decided to quit smoking marijuana.

Getty Images / Dimitrios Kambouris

In a February 2016 paper published in PLOS One, a team of researchers argue that there may be a complicated relationship between cannabis consumption and emotion processing. In their study of people of who either identified as chronic, moderate, or non-users of marijuana, they found that there was a difference in people’s ability to identify “deeper levels” of emotions. While non-users and chronic smokers could identify basic emotions from facial expressions, the chronic users had a more difficult time empathizing with how the people experiencing those emotions might feel.

While that study was unable to pinpoint exactly why this disparity in emotion detection was happening, a different paper published in Nature in March 2016 offers some context. This research showed that while one hit of marijuana increases the release of dopamine, long-term smoking can lead to a dulling of the dopamine-based reward system — which means that the things that normally feel great don’t feel as good anymore.

These effects come down to the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that kickstarts dopamine release. The researchers behind the Nature paper believe that long-term smoking means a long-term history of forced dopamine release, which eventually means those neurons don’t respond as actively as they used to. (How long “long-term” is, they aren’t sure.) That Harrelson might feel less emotionally available after 30 years of smoking makes sense when you consider that his neurons have been firing off pot-smoking for so long.

That’s not to say that he is anti-marijuana. He tells Vulture that he still thinks it is a “great drug” and that he doesn’t have a problem with anyone else smoking. And while Harrelson, who once attempted to open his own dispensary, may not be smoking anymore, we at least forever have the pop culture moments where he is a very excellent, poncho’d stoner.

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