Marijuana Withdrawal: Symptoms and Timeline

Last Updated: November 23, 2021

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Many people falsely believe that marijuana can’t cause addiction; this belief comes from the fact that marijuana withdrawal is 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 1 out of 10 regular cannabis users develops a psychological addiction to the substance.

People who abuse marijuana regularly for long periods of time – several months to years – often experience marijuana withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop. And such effects are a sign of physical dependence. Cannabis withdrawal is a legitimate problem, and that it involves both psychological and physical addiction.

What Causes Marijuana Withdrawal

Marijuana does have a potential for addiction, especially for teens and individuals who frequently use the substance. 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, due to repressive U.S. federal restrictions that prevented researchers from having access to the drug to test it.

What is known is that unlike most other drugs, for example alcohol, THC is stored in fat cells and it takes longer for the body to fully eliminate it than other common drugs. It means that some body parts will still retain THC even after several months, unlike water-soluble drugs, which require just a couple of days or weeks for elimination.

Man smoking cannabis joint.

Also, it’s known 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 start having mental health issues and uncontrollable cravings to use marijuana and why their body may have violent reactions when they stop using it. Such reactions are part of weed withdrawal, which occurs during detoxification or detox, the body’s natural process of removing a toxic substance from the system.

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about one-third of those who abuse marijuana have reported withdrawal symptoms. THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient of cannabis. If it is consumed repeatedly over an extended period, the brain will develop a tolerance to the drug.

In response to this growing tolerance to THC, the user needs higher and higher doses to achieve similar effects. 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 effects when they go too long without the drug: weed withdrawal symptoms.

Fortunately, marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not as dangerous to one’s health as with drugs, such as benzodiazepines or opioids, although they can be unpleasant.

Symptoms Of Withdrawal From Marijuana Include:

  • Troubled sleep
  • Irritability
  • Loss of focus
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Shakiness
  • Cravings for resumed cannabis use
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Chills
  • 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
  • Insomnia

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.

Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline

The weed withdrawal timeline begins one day after the last intake of the drug. The most difficult symptoms of withdrawal from marijuana will occur on the second and third days and may include headaches, cravings, sweating, chills, and gastrointestinal distress. They will continue for up to two weeks until the symptoms slowly fade.

DAYS Symptoms
Day 1 Troubled Sleep

Irritability

Loss of focus

Anxiety

At this point, the first symptoms begin to kick in, typically several hours after the last marijuana dose, or at latest the following day.
Days 2-3 Headaches

Strong cravings

Sweating and chills

Gastrointestinal distress

Risk of relapse

The period of peak withdrawal symptoms occurs between 48 and 72 hours after the last cannabis use. During this period strong cravings appear, along with other symptoms.
Days 4-14 Depressive states

Cravings

Symptoms start to fade gradually, but some may persist, including depression and cravings.
Days 15+ Coughing

Insomnia

Depression

Anxiety

After two weeks, most of the symptoms should disappear. However, some symptoms may continue for several months until they fully dissipate. That is especially the case for severe addiction.

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 drug supply. Not receiving the expected dose of cannabis, the body’s expected chemical balance is disrupted.

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, making relaxation at night very difficult.

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.

Irritated man during cannabis withdrawal.

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. After the initial shock of withdrawal, almost every marijuana user will begin to crave the drug.

Headaches are common during the detoxification stage, usually during the first three days. They usually weaken over time and ultimately fade away. Many users suffer from night sweats and chills during detox from weed, which should fade after a few days. The sweating is triggered by the body attempting to rid itself of toxins.The discomfort and cravings can be strong marijuana relapse triggers.

Most symptoms disappear after day 15. However, speaking about severe addictions, some symptoms may stay and cause discomfort. 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 can return to a regular sleep cycle. Depression and anxiety can go on for several months. If so, this may indicate that the user has an underlying mental issue and should see a therapist. Do not hesitate to get help.

Woman with depression due to marijuana withdrawal.

So the question “How long does it take to detox from weed?” cannot be clearly answered, as the detox timeline varies for each user.

Factors That Affect Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Many factors can impact the duration and intensity of the withdrawal phase. Not every person will necessarily experience all the same symptoms as others.

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 using the drug often, and who have developed a greater physical dependency on marijuana will need to expect more intense weed withdrawal. The weed consumed strain 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 weed withdrawal symptoms.
  • General health and metabolism. The healthier the person and the better their metabolism, the quicker the toxins will leave the body.
  • Body type. Fat tissues store THC molecules; thus, 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 are likely to retain more THC in their bodies than men. As a result, their marijuana withdrawal can be more severe.

How To Reduce The Weed Withdrawal Discomfort

Fortunately, quitting marijuana is not as difficult as withdrawing from other drugs. However, trying to manage the symptoms on your own carries a greater risk of relapse. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening but quite uncomfortable. With the right treatment and support of medical professionals and peers, users are more likely to handle this process and achieve full recovery.

Although there are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of weed withdrawal, some medications are used to relieve the symptoms if they become too severe. Depending on the situation, there is a lot one can do to ease the withdrawal period.

MA Recommends the Following Tips During Marijuana Withdrawal:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking 2-3 liters of water per day. Avoid sodas and drinks with sugar or other artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid coffee and caffeine until the 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 medical doctor about cannabis detox
  • Eat healthy foods. 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.
  • Exercise regularly. By exercising, one will 1) boost mental health, and 2) increase the speed at which the body removes toxins through sweat.
  • Treat to a nice warm bath to relax and improve mood
  • Surround with supportive people, whether they are family or friends or online forums and local support groups

Get Professional Help

If one can’t deal with the withdrawal period alone, don’t hesitate to seek professional medical help.

Here Are Some Tips For The Treatment For Weed Withdrawal:

  • Medical assistance. If a person experiences debilitating pain or gastrointestinal issues, they should ask a doctor to prescribe specific medications. These medications can include treatment 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 an 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 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.

The first step is to admit there is a problem. Various addiction treatment centers are there to provide help for those in need.


Page Sources

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Published on: December 7th, 2016

Updated on: November 23rd, 2021

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.