(This was originally written in response to a stranger online.)
I really wish someone had set me down and explained this properly when I was younger. I know the precipice you're looking at and I've been through some of the futures you're scared of. I promise you, you can take control and you will be so, so much better off. You can absolutely find a balance between cannabis and life that doesn't leave you feeling trapped, but it won't be measured by an intake rate or a weekly cost. It's entirely about control. With control, you can smoke a little or a lot, as you decide, as a sensible adult, because it's your brain to play with. Without control, it doesn't matter how little or much you smoke, you build a special hell in your own head every time you do.
Right now, you're leaving open the door to failure, and wondering why the breeze rolls in. It sounds like you're early enough in this habit that right now is the time to get this framework straight in your mind because it's a bitch to untangle later on. As backward as it sounds, we don't build tests to help us succeed, we build tests to find out where we fail. Every day that you ask "Can I prove I have control?" you are inviting a demon to your door to tell you that you can't, and every time he wins you get weaker. Let's be adults about it and cut out the middle man. You're the one that chooses what you do and don't do. The weed doesn't smoke itself.
Don't test yourself, just decide. "Today I will not" and that's the end of it. We'll get to the details in a second, but this perspective is the key. You have to own your decisions, and not let them be something inflicted on you. When you decide to take a break, own that decision. Getting cravings? "I decided to put up with the cravings." Getting frustrated? "I decided to put up with frustration." Can't sleep? "I decided to put up with a rough night."
These aren't things inflicted on you by a cruel universe, they are temporary conditions you choose to endure for your own betterment. Don't open the door back up to giving in, move on with your thoughts and your body will find a way to follow.
Now trust me, I know those nags, and all the cozy sounding invitations to slip up. They're like mosquitoes, and the advice above is more like a hammer aimed at your brain. Even if you squish some of them while you work the forge, there will be more. Here's a little more practical webbing, the three D's of Down Days: Distraction, Distance, and Dinner. If you're looking to clear a single day, you have 24 hours to fill with not smoking. If you're looking to get past the cravings, it's closer to 72. Use your tools to fill these hours. The biggest tool in the chest for this is distraction.
If you can turn your focus away from what you're doing without, it will go a long way to turn the volume down on the cravings. A good new video game is really great for this but maybe stay away from the game you play when you're stoned. Change the scene to change the mind, you know? Books, movies, music, shows, even a good scholarly journal can do the trick if you find one to catch your fancy, just give your brain a place to go instead of dwelling.
When you do, it'll kind of suck. It will feel like a lot of work, and it probably won't really be that fun in the end. The hardest part is getting started, that lack of motivation is the killer when it comes to weed withdrawal, but it's an illusion. Shit's no harder than any other time, and if you get off your butt and get to it, you'll be in the flow of things quicker than you'd expect. So make a deal with yourself, "I can't give up for 30 minutes". Again, not a test, a decision. "I'm going to play this game for half an hour." "I'm going to read 50 pages in this book." If you're lucky, you'll get a few hours or maybe a whole night out of it. If not, you still get a super powerful tool: "I could do this for 5 more minutes".
Everything will still feel like a pain in the ass, but whatever you've started doing is now the easiest thing to keep doing. You can keep doing the "I want a bowl" sad song, or you can keep doing something more interesting and less agonizing. It's a simple choice, but one you have to make and commit to. Try Distraction first, because the next two steps come with harder costs.
Dinner is next, and it's exactly what it sounds like. Our brains do STUPID shit when we get hungry, and weed withdrawals are notorious for masking hunger. A good sandwich can do some damage to a bad mood, and if nothing else, cooking is a pretty intense distraction. Even if you don't "feel" hungry, make a point to eat a few nice meals. Scrounging for junk food and ignoring your stomach will make the withdrawal subjectively harder, so decide to eat well. The cost here is that it's a dangerous game to quell emotions with food. For a day or two, it can be a good plan, for longer than that you can build bad inner tension. Sugar is about as potent as THC, we're just super used to it. Using a crutch to get off a bad leg while it heals is OK, as long as you don't find yourself breaking your legs to keep the crutch.
If those two aren't giving you enough to make it to bedtime, Distance is the heavy play. The further you are mentally and physically, from the space you typically consume weed in, the easier it is to go without. If being near your supply is making it hard to hold back, move yourself. You're allowed to do that, you don't have to sit there and torture yourself. Removing your supply is an option, but not one I recommend you do in response to cravings because it kills your confidence in a sinister way. Flushing your drugs keeps you from using them, sure. But it also keeps you from overcoming them and reinforces the idea that you are too weak to do so. It's actually a way of hurting yourself, in a pretty twisted way.
What's better is to move yourself. Doing this mentally is the realm of Distraction, and if that hasn't worked, it's time to find a place to be. This is Distance. It doesn't have to sound fun, or like a good time, it just has to be farther away from your weed than you are currently, and you keep increasing that distance until you're ready for bed. At the barest, most desperate (which is really not a level you should hit with weed cravings, but you might), your goal is to build an obstacle course so that the act of failure comes with a steep fee of effort up front. I don't mean traps and balance beams, I mean distance and time. Make it take more than a few minutes to get from where you are to where you could smoke, and give yourself room to catch yourself if you start to turn back. You only go back that direction if your bed is that way. And when you go back, it's for bed and nothing else until the morning.
Bed is the goal. It's the finish line. If you're taking a break for a day, it's literally the threshold. If you're going for longer, you'll find every day is a lot easier than the day before, a night's sleep does wonders. Fill time until bed, then go to bed. Even if it's hard, even if you don't sleep well. Even if you get those intense withdrawal dreams (little tiny trips to reward you for a hard day).
And don't forget to drink some water. Dehydration is almost as bad as hunger when it comes to killing our brains, and you need the water to let your body process the change. Stay wet!
I know this is pretty long, but it's such an important lesson. Take control, use your tools, and be responsible, and there's a wild world of psychedelics that you can build paradise with. If you don't, it's doom.
Finally, I need to point out that some people benefit more from using cannabis medicinally. In these cases, the approach has to change. Using cannabis this way usually means losing the euphoric effects of getting high, and requires the user to manage their medicinal tolerance carefully.