Marijuana Withdrawal: What Are the Symptoms and Timeline?
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Many people falsely answer the question “Is marijuana addictive?”; this belief comes from the fact that the withdrawal symptoms of marijuana are not as dramatic as other drugs.
But research over the last 15 years suggests that marijuana does have a potential for addiction, especially in teenagers. Current estimates indicate that one out of ten regular cannabis users develops a psychological addiction to the drug.
People who smoke marijuana (or “vape” it using a vaporizer) regularly for long periods of time – several months to years – often experience marijuana withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop. And that is a sign of physical dependence.
Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms
- What Causes Marijuana Withdrawal?
- How Prevalent Is Weed Withdrawal?
- What Are The Symptoms Of Marijuana Withdrawal?
- How Long Do Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
- What Factors Affect Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms?
- What Can One Do To Reduce The Discomfort?
What Causes Marijuana Withdrawal
Marijuana does have addictive potential, especially for teens and individuals who frequently use the drug. There are few legitimate studies on the physically addictive qualities of the active ingredient in marijuana – tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. But this is largely because there have been so few legitimate studies on cannabis use, period, due to repressive U.S. federal restrictions that prevented researchers from having access to the drug to test it.
What we do know is that unlike most other drugs, including alcohol, THC is stored in fat cells and therefore takes longer to fully clear the body than other common drugs. This means that some parts of the body still retain THC even after a couple of months, rather than just the couple of days or weeks required to eliminate water-soluble drugs.
Also, we know that addiction is a brain disease, which means that marijuana use chemically alters the brain to make it believe that THC is a necessary substance, one that it not only wants, but needs. These chemical changes are why a person might have uncontrollable cravings to use marijuana, and also why their body may have violent reactions when they stop using it. Such reactions are part of withdrawal, the process that occurs during detoxification or detox, the body’s natural process of removing toxic substances from the system.
Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms Prevalence
About one-third of regular marijuana users have reported withdrawal symptoms, while 50% to 95% of those in treatment have experienced withdrawal symptoms. Factors that seem to influence the severity of marijuana withdrawal symptoms include:
- Quantity of use
- Frequency of use
- Presence of co-morbid mental health issues
In response to this growing tolerance to THC, the user needs higher and higher doses to achieve a similar effect. The brain and the body become accustomed to regular marijuana intake, and begin to rely on the drug. This is how physical dependency becomes a reality.
From that point forward, the weed user will experience unpleasant sensations when they go too long without the drug: weed withdrawal symptoms.
What Are The Symptoms Of Marijuana Withdrawal?
Symptoms of withdrawal from marijuana include:
- Troubled sleep
- Loss of focus
- Cravings for resumed cannabis use
- Excessive sweating
- Stomach pain and/or nausea
- Low appetite or loss of weight
- Depressive states of mind
- Dysphoria, a feeling of general unease or dissatisfaction
- Tiredness during the day
These sensations are similar to the experience of breaking a tobacco addiction. They are not life-threatening, but can be disruptive enough that the user may have a difficult time being fully functional until the symptoms stop.
How Long Do Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
The marijuana withdrawal timeline begins one day after the last intake of the drug. The most difficult withdrawal symptoms will occur on the second and third days and may include headaches, cravings, sweating, chills, and gastrointestinal distress. The withdrawal timeline will continue for up to two weeks while the symptoms slowly fade.
Timeline – Day 1
The first symptoms of weed withdrawal appear immediately after the active molecules of THC have been processed. The body and the brain expect another dose, having learned to rely on a regular supply of the drug. Not receiving the expected dose of marijuana, the body’s expected chemical balance is disrupted.
The user will begin to experience:
- Troubled sleep. The most common symptom of marijuana withdrawal is insomnia. Insomnia can manifest itself as a complete inability to sleep, or as waking up regularly during the night. During the early THC detox process, people may experience very vivid dreams or nightmares, which can make relaxation at night very difficult.
- Irritability. The lack of proper sleep and relaxation during weed detox can make people more likely to lose control over their emotions. Irritation is common, as people become tired, but are unable to sleep. They may experience a wide range of previously-suppressed aggressive feelings. Some may experience outbursts, others irritation, and still others episodes of rage. These negative emotions are often accompanied by a lack of humor and a decreased sex drive.
- Loss of focus. Another byproduct of the constant fatigue is the loss of concentration, and difficulty with learning, memorization, and memory.
- Anxiety. It is quite common for individuals at the beginning of their cannabis withdrawal to experience anxiety attacks. The soothing marijuana effects are no longer active, so some react the opposite way, and feel uneasy and anxious.
Timeline – Days 2-3
Marijuana consumers in that early stage of detox will likely face some unpleasant consequences:
- Headaches are common during the detoxification stage, usually during the first three days. They usually weaken over time and ultimately fade away.
- Strong cravings. After the initial shock of withdrawal, almost every marijuana user will begin to crave the drug.
- Sweating and chills. During detox from weed, many users suffer from night sweats and chills, which should fade after a few days. The sweating is triggered by the body attempting to rid itself of toxins.
- Gastrointestinal distress. Over 30% of former marijuana addicts report that when detoxing from weed they have had some form of eating problem. Most often, the former marijuana users suffered from a loss of appetite, which caused mild weight loss. Others reported digestive issues such as stomach cramps and nausea.
- Risk of relapse. The discomfort and cravings can be strong marijuana relapse triggers.
Timeline – Days 4-14
Symptoms start to fade gradually, but some may persist, such as:
- Depressive states. The brain’s chemistry is undergoing changes trying to adapt and function without THC. Mood swings and emotional issues are not uncommon and are a sign of the brain trying to reestablish a healthy chemical balance.
- Cravings. Cravings to use cannabis again will persist in almost all former marijuana users on a detox program. Cravings are a natural consequence of the body adapting to the absence of THC.
Timeline – After Day 15
However, some symptoms may continue for several months until they fully dissipate. That is especially the case for severe addicts. They can expect:
- Coughing. After two weeks, people may begin coughing up phlegm. This is a result of the body attempting to clear the lungs after extended abuse.
- Insomnia usually stops after two weeks to a month. But it can take up to two months until a person is able return to a regular sleep cycle.
- Depression and anxiety can go on for several months. If so, this may be an indication that the user has an underlying mental issue, and should see a therapist. Do not hesitate to get help.
Factors That Affect Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms
Factors that affect marijuana withdrawal symptoms include:
- Frequency and length of use. The longer an individual uses marijuana, the more it builds up in their body.
- Consumption rate. The amount of cannabis that the person typically consumes in one intake session. People who have developed a greater physical dependency on marijuana will need to expect more intense withdrawals from weed. The strain of the weed consumed can also affect the withdrawal – for example, Charlotte’s web marijuana strain is low in THC; hence, the withdrawal might be relatively mild.
- Emotional and physical vulnerability. People who are less able to handle stress will likely experience more severe withdrawal symptoms from cannabis.
- General health and metabolism. The healthier the person and the better their metabolism, the quicker the person will get rid of toxins and end the unpleasant withdrawal sensations.
- Body type. Fat tissues store THC molecules; as a result, the more fat that one has in the body, the more storage space one provides for toxic cannabis molecules. Most women naturally have a higher fat content than men, and thus are likely to retain more THC in their bodies than men. As a result, their marijuana withdrawals can be more severe.
How To Reduce The Weed Withdrawal Discomfort
Fortunately, quitting marijuana is not as difficult as withdrawing from other drugs. Medical supervision is usually unnecessary because the symptoms, while unpleasant, are not dangerous. In many cases, people manage to quit on their own when properly motivated.
What One Can Do At Home
Here is what a user can try at home to soothe milder detox symptoms during weed withdrawals:
- Stay hydrated by drinking 2-3 liters of water per day. Avoid sodas and drinks with sugar or other artificial sweeteners.
- Eliminate coffee and caffeine until sleep cycle returns to normal.
- Do not use other substances while detoxing from marijuana. That means: stop drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and consuming other drugs. If someone is taking medication, talk with a doctor about cannabis detox.
- Eat healthy foods like bananas, lemons, green leafy vegetables, melons, and tomatoes. These will replenish potassium and other minerals an individual loses through sweat. Avoid processed foods as much as possible. If a patient has digestive problems, cut down on fats and sugars considerably. Cranberry juice has been used effectively by recovery facilities to help purify and cleanse the body.
- Exercise every day, even if only for a short while. By exercising one will 1) boost mental health and 2) increase the speed at which body removes toxins through sweat.
- Treat to a nice warm bath to relax and improve mood
- Surround with supportive people, whether they are members of family or friends or online forums and local support groups.
Get Professional Help
If one can’t deal with withdrawal period alone, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
- Medical assistance. If a person experiences debilitating pain or gastrointestinal issues, they should ask a doctor to prescribe some specific medications. These medications can include treatments for drug abusers with digestive problems, sleeping pills to counter insomnia, or anxiolytics to reduce restlessness and anxiety.
- Get therapy. Individual counseling is always helpful during any step of recovery. Look for psychologists specializing in behavioral therapy. There are also various support groups in every major town, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Marijuana Anonymous.
- Go to addiction rehabilitation center. For people who find that they are really struggling to deal with withdrawal symptoms or additional substance abuse, the best option may be to go to marijuana rehab. Naturally, people who are also dealing with co-occurring mental or physical health issues should also consult medical professionals. Often such individuals will receive a referral to an inpatient rehab center. These facilities are well equipped to help users recover from marijuana dependence and addiction.
How to detox from weed? Will marijuana detox kit help?If one is ready to give marijuana detox a try, start by contacting the people who can help one do it successfully, and with the least discomfort.
- Lee D., Schroeder J. R., Karschner E. L., et al. Cannabis withdrawal in chronic, frequent cannabis smokers during sustained abstinence within a closed residential environment. The American Journal on Addictions. 2014; 23(3): 234–242. doi:10.1111/j.1521-0391.2014.12088.x. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3986824/.
- Bonnet U., Preuss U. W. The cannabis withdrawal syndrome: current insights. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation. 2017; 8:9–37. doi:10.2147/SAR.S109576. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5414724/.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. Marijuana Withdrawal Is Real. 2015. https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/marijuana-withdrawal-real.
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