Marijuana, although commonly used, is still classified as an illicit drug in many areas. Because it’s now legal in many U.S. states and countries, however, it’s often thought of as a “soft drug” that doesn’t come with addiction or withdrawal concerns.
But recent studies have shown that marijuana withdrawal does typically occur when a heavy smoker stops using.
Cannabis Withdrawal Overview
If you’ve been a heavy marijuana smoker for a minimum of a few months, either as a daily pattern or in binges, it’s possible that you’ll experience withdrawals if you stop using abruptly.
A study of 496 adult cannabis smokers done by Duke University showed that 95.5% of smokers experienced at least one symptom after quitting, while 43.1% experienced multiple symptoms.
During the study, it was obvious to researchers that the participants who experienced multiple withdrawal symptoms were heavier smokers prior to quitting.
While daily smokers had the most symptoms, it’s interesting that smokers who said they used less than one time per week still experienced mild to moderate symptoms.
Symptoms and Signs
It’s important to understand that withdrawing from marijuana isn’t going to threaten anyone’s life. The biggest danger is that the symptoms may cause someone who’s trying to abstain from a relapse.
Someone experiencing withdrawals will probably feel irritable, edgy, lose their appetite, get a bad headache, or suffer from stomach pains.
Some have compared these withdrawals to the way you feel when you stop consuming caffeine.
There are common marijuana withdrawal symptoms that typically show up within 24 – 72 hours of quitting heavy use.
They are as follows:
You may be one of many marijuana smokers that don’t believe it’s possible to be addicted to this particular drug. But a lot of former users have reported that they experience pretty severe marijuana cravings within the first few days of abstaining.
The level and intensity of cravings seem to be different for each individual but typically include a desire to continue use.
Cravings are a typical symptom of addiction, whether the addiction is to alcohol, gambling, sex, or heroin.
In one particular study, nearly 76% of participants said that they experienced intense cravings while trying to quit.
Symptoms of irritability can be mild or excessive, sometimes even leading to aggression. This is one of several marijuana withdrawal symptoms that is normal to experience.
If the symptoms of irritability persist for more than one week, it’s probably time to seek the advice of a doctor, psychologist, or drug counselor. There’s a chance that the feeling of irritability may be caused by an underlying issue that marijuana was helping you mask.
Anxiety is a known symptom of THC intoxication from marijuana use as well as marijuana withdrawal.
The feelings of paranoia that some users experience while high are well known. But it can become a concern when the anxiety continues, or even gets worse, after quitting.
As with symptoms of irritability, it’s good to remember that these fears are a normal part of withdrawing from cannabis.
In the event that you are still feeling a lot of anxiety more than a week after quitting, talk to your doctor. Using marijuana sometimes causes anxiety disorders that are substance-related, or there could have been existing anxiety issues that marijuana use was masking.
Depression is normally defined as a persistent sad mood that is accompanied by additional symptoms such as:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Less interest in normal daily activities
It is a potential withdrawal symptom when you discontinue marijuana use.
Occasional feelings of depression are normal for most people. It’s also common for individuals coming off of marijuana to be increasingly aware of some bad consequences caused by their drug use.
Beyond that, people tend to become more aware of the emotional feelings that smoking marijuana was masking.
If depressed feelings don’t subside within a week or two of quitting marijuana, or are impacting your daily life, seek out a professional drug counselor or doctor.
As with mood changes in general, depression can be pre-existing or substance-induced by marijuana use. But it can be treated.
5. Problems Sleeping
Nearly half of all former marijuana smokers report sleep issues, including insomnia, disturbing or highly vivid dreams, and night sweats, while they withdraw from using.
Other people who have quit reported having “use dreams” wherein they have dreams of smoking marijuana.
Frequent vivid dreams normally start about seven days after the last use and can last up to 30 days before they taper off.
A few former smokers did report that they had these types of dreams for years after ending pot use.
For some people, one of the major marijuana withdrawal symptoms is severe headaches. Although not everyone who quits marijuana will have them, those that do say they are pretty bad, especially within the first 72 hours after last use.
Symptoms tend to taper off after about two weeks.
Your physical marijuana withdrawal symptoms will tend to peak sooner, be less intense, and fade away far more quickly than the psychological withdrawal symptoms will.
If that is the case for you, talk to a treatment provider or medical professional. The act of using marijuana can be a hard habit to break.
The amount and frequency of cannabis used before quitting will impact the length and severity of additional physical withdrawals, which could include:
- Weight gain or loss
- Stomach pain
- Appetite changes
- Symptoms of the flu, like sweating, tremors, shakiness, chills, and fever
All of these are normal and should pass within a few weeks.
There aren’t any physical dangers in stopping marijuana use cold-turkey and detoxing from it by yourself. However, it could be helpful to consult a doctor that can help you manage the psychological and physical symptoms of your withdrawal. This can help prevent a possible relapse.
It’s common for alcoholics to pick up a drink to stop the symptoms and pain associated with alcohol withdrawal. It’s also common for marijuana users to light a bowl to relieve the withdrawal symptoms they’re experiencing when trying to quit.
Is Long-Term Treatment Needed?
In the vast majority of cases, marijuana withdrawal symptoms will go away with a little time and can be handled without the need for medical attention. However, if symptoms continue for more than two or three weeks, it’s time to see a healthcare professional.
It’s important that you talk openly with your doctor about your marijuana use and withdrawal symptoms. If you simply state that you’re feeling anxiety or are depressed, they may prescribe medication such as benzodiazepines, which can become addictive in and of itself.
There are many non-addictive options that doctors can prescribe for anxiety issues, as well as drug-free treatments like CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy).
Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms Are Normal
If you’ve been a regular marijuana user and decided that it’s time to quit, there’s a good chance that you’ll have at least some kind of symptoms from withdrawal.
Depending on the frequency and amount you’ve been using, be wary that your symptoms could be bad enough that you’ll be tempted to find relief in a relapse.
Just remember that if you tough out the pain, a happier, sober life awaits you at the end.