How Long Does Withdrawal From Marijuana Last?
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Cannabis (marijuana) is the most commonly used illicit drug. For many years, marijuana has been considered a soft drug, exempt from the usual concerns about addiction. However, recent research has shown that cannabis withdrawal can and does occur when heavy pot smokers discontinue its use.
As a result, the diagnostic criteria for cannabis withdrawal is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5).
If you have been smoking pot heavily for at least a few months—whether as a regular pattern, in binges, or if you have become addicted—you may experience cannabis withdrawal if you abruptly stop using.
A Duke University study of 496 adult marijuana smokers who tried to quit found that 95.5% of them experienced at least one withdrawal symptom while 43.1% experienced more than one symptom. The number of symptoms the participants experienced was significantly linked to how often and how much the subjects smoked prior to trying to quit.
Those who were daily smokers experienced the most symptoms, but even those who reported using marijuana less than once a week experienced some withdrawal symptoms of moderate intensity.
Signs & Symptoms
Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening—their main danger is causing someone who really wants or needs to quit cannabis to relapse.
You might feel extra edgy and irritable, have trouble sleeping and eating, and may even get a stomachache or headache. Some people compare it to the feeling you get when you try to quit caffeine.
Although marijuana withdrawal typically lasts one to two weeks, some marijuana users experience several weeks or months of withdrawal symptoms, known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).
One person’s experience of cannabis withdrawal might be quite different from another’s, and the severity depends on a whole host of factors, including frequency of use as well as overall health. However, there are certain common withdrawal symptoms that usually occur within 24 to 72 hours of stopping heavy use.
Although many regular smokers of marijuana do not believe they are addicted to the drug, many former marijuana users report drug cravings in the early days of abstinence. The experience of cravings will vary from person to person, but tend to include a persistent desire to use the substance.
This is a hallmark of addiction, whether it’s heroin, alcohol, gambling, or sex addiction. In one study, 75.7% of participants trying to quit reported an intense craving for marijuana.
Irritability can range from mild and relatively easy to control annoyance to excessive anger and even aggression. This is a normal reaction to withdrawing from marijuana.
If the irritability lasts for more than a week, it is a good idea to seek support from a doctor, drug counselor, or psychologist, as the symptom may be part of another issue that your cannabis use was masking.
More than half of those who try to quit marijuana report mood swings, irritability, or anxiety. Others report aggression, nervousness, restlessness, and a loss of concentration.
Anxiety can be a symptom of both cannabis intoxication and cannabis withdrawal. The distinctive paranoid feelings that occur when high on marijuana are well known among users,.
It can be worrying when anxiety continues or worsens even after you quit. As with the irritability, it can be helpful to remember that your fears are probably a natural part of drug withdrawal.
If you continue to feel anxious after a week of discontinuing cannabis, see a doctor. Cannabis use can sometimes cause substance-induced anxiety disorders, and there may have been an existing anxiety problem before you started using cannabis.
If you experience extended paranoia, especially if you also experience hallucinations or delusions, it is very important to be properly assessed by a mental health professional, ideally with expertise in substance issues such as an American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM)-certified physician or a psychiatrist.
Depression, characterized by a persistently sad mood accompanied by several other symptoms like decreased interest in daily activities and difficulty concentrating, is another possibility of cannabis withdrawal.
Occasional depressed feelings are natural. It is not unusual for people coming off cannabis to also become more aware of some of the negative consequences of their drug use as well as emotional states the marijuana has been masking.
For example, some people who cease marijuana after using for several years can feel they have wasted a considerable part of their life. These feelings are normal and can often be used to bring about positive changes you want to make in your life.
If the feelings of depression don’t lift after a week or two, are impacting your functioning, or if making changes in your life seems overwhelming, seek help from your doctor or a drug counselor. As with other mood changes, depression can be substance-induced or pre-existing to your cannabis use, and it is treatable.
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression and addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
An estimated 46.9% of former pot smokers report sleep disruption problems, including insomnia (trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep), unusually vivid or disturbing dreams, and night sweats during cannabis withdrawal.
Others who have quit smoking report having “using dreams” in which they dream they smoke marijuana. Frequent, vivid dreams typically begin about a week after quitting and can last for about a month before tapering off. Although some former users have reported having these types of dreams years after they stopped smoking pot.
Insomnia symptoms after you stop using weed can last a few days or a couple of weeks. Some people find that they can experience occasional sleeplessness for a few months after quitting.
Not everyone who stops smoking marijuana experiences headaches, but for those who do, the headaches can be very intense, especially during the first few days after quitting.
Headaches, like most other symptoms of withdrawing from marijuana use, will usually begin one to three days after quitting and will peak two to six days after stopping. Symptoms usually fade after two weeks, but some former smokers report continued symptoms for several weeks or even months later.
Other Physical Symptoms
Physical symptoms of marijuana withdrawal tend to be less intense, peak sooner, and fade more quickly than the psychological symptoms associated with quitting. The frequency and amount of marijuana used prior to stopping affect the severity and length of the withdrawals, which may include:
- Stomach pain
- Changes in appetite
- Weight loss or gain
- Flu-like symptoms, such as headache, sweating, shakiness and tremors, fever and chills
Coping & Relief
Making a few healthy lifestyle changes and employing some coping strategies can help you get through this period of withdrawal:
- Stay physically active to help ease bodily tension.
- Let friends and family members know when you need support or space.
- Avoid situations that you find anxiety-provoking, such as loud, crowded parties.
- Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation.
- Establish sleep rituals and avoid caffeine too close to bedtime.
There are no worrisome dangers in quitting marijuana cold-turkey or detoxing on your own. That said, consulting a medical professional can help you better manage the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal and prevent relapse.
Just as people with alcohol use disorder who are trying to quit drinking may pick up a drink to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, marijuana users may be tempted to light up a joint to relieve the discomfort they experience when they try to stop smoking pot.
One study found that 70.4% of users trying to quit smoking marijuana relapsed to relieve the withdrawal symptoms.
In many cases, the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal will dissipate with time and can be treated without medical attention. However, if your symptoms last for more than a couple of weeks, you should see your doctor or mental health professional.
Make sure you tell your doctor that marijuana withdrawal is playing a role in how you are feeling. If you just say you are depressed or anxious, you may be prescribed medication, like benzodiazepines, that can present its own set of dependence issues.
Fortunately, many non-addictive pharmacologic options exist for anxiety, as well as non-drug treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
If you have decided to quit smoking weed after regular use, chances are you will experience some kind of withdrawal symptoms. Depending on how much and how often you have been smoking, these symptoms could become intense enough to drive you to relapse to find relief.
But you don’t have to do it on your own. Seek help from your healthcare provider to deal with the physical symptoms of withdrawal or seek help from a support group like Marijuana Anonymous to handle the psychological symptoms.
A Word From Verywell
Experiencing the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal can be unpleasant and may temporarily interfere with performance at work, school, and daily life. While withdrawing from marijuana use can present challenges, remember that what you are going through will pass. Be patient. Making life changes is always challenging, but with the right support, they can be transformative.
Withdrawal from marijuana isn’t always easy, so here is everything you need to know about withdrawal symptoms, the timeline, and how to get help.
This Is Why Giving Up on Weed After Years of Smoking Can Feel So Miserable
A renowned neuroscientist explains the unique challenges of quitting marijuana for good.
I was an avid marijuana smoker for nearly ten years of my youth, and today I am a neuroscientist who studies addiction. I loved the taste, the smell, and the fabulous buffering effects of weed separating me from the messy business of interacting with other people and fulfilling my daily obligations—as well as the promise of something new and glittering in the midst of the relatively unappealing present. As an antidote to boredom, the drug made everything more interesting, and time and space delightful instead of threatening.
Not to belabor the point, but from the first time I got high until long after I’d smoked my last bowl, I loved the drug like a best friend. Some people it makes sleepy, others paranoid (due, no doubt, to an unfortunate confluence of neurobiology and genetics), but for me it was nearly perfect. One of my favorite moments was shortly after coming to consciousness in a new day and seeing for an instant the vast bleakness of life before me and then suddenly realizing—just as newlyweds might reach in excitement and hope for a spouse beside them in the bed—that I could get high. The first few hits of the day were reliably comforting as the gray dust of reality was blown away to reveal beauty and meaning in everyday encounters.
If alcohol is a pharmacological sledgehammer and cocaine a laser (and they are), marijuana is a bucket of red paint. This is so for at least two reasons. First is its well-known ability to accentuate environmental stimuli: Music is amazing, food delicious, jokes hilarious, colors rich, and so on. Second, its effects are widespread. It’s a five-gallon bucket and a four-inch brush, painting up the grain on all kinds of neural processing. Unlike cocaine, for instance, which acts in relatively few discrete spots in the brain, THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, acts throughout the brain, and in some regions in every single connection (of which there are trillions).
The broad reach of this drug was a big surprise to researchers when it was realized in the early 1990s. I was in graduate school at the time, and the news was so momentous that—in the way that some people remember where they were and what they were doing when Kennedy was shot or the Twin Towers came down—I remember exactly where I was when the THC receptor was identified all over the brain.
Of course, we didn’t evolve the machinery to produce these complicated receptor proteins or spend the energy to put them all over the brain just in case someone offers us a hit. The wide and dense distribution of cannabinoid receptors has profound implications. In a nutshell, the chemicals—endocannabinoids—that trigger these receptors act as a sort of exclamation point on neural communication, indicating that whatever the message just transmitted across the synapse, it was important.
The purpose of the cannabinoid system is to help to sort our experiences, indicating which are the most meaningful or salient. The system activates naturally to distinguish input that might contribute to our flourishing—for instance, a good source of food, a potential mate, or other meaningful connections, information, or stimuli. Natural cannabinoids and their receptors are all over the brain because such input might be carried in any number of pathways, depending on the exact nature of the stimulus.
For example, let’s say one day you are exploring your surroundings somewhat aimlessly, when you serendipitously begin following a route that eventually leads to something good. The millions of neurons involved in this discovery—including those involved in processing input from your senses, stimulating movement, coding memories, or thoughts connecting this good thing to your plans or communicating it to others—are likely all releasing cannabinoids to turn up the volume on this information, helping to distinguish it from the other parts of your day in which interactions with the environment weren’t all that special.
This should make it easy to understand why the stimuli we encounter when stoned are so intensely rich. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to all this neural spotlighting. If everything is highlighted as meaningful, then nothing can really stand out. What use is a watering can, after all, if the fields are flooded? After one comes down, the lack of sorting makes it hard to recall what was so wonderfully urgent about those experiences.
Also unfortunate is that chronic exposure leads to substantial consequences. The brain adapts by downregulating the cannabinoid system so that without copious amounts of pot onboard, everything becomes dull and uninspiring. There’s been a long-standing debate, akin to one about the relationship between cancer and smoking, about whether regular marijuana smoking leads to an amotivational syndrome (“amotivational” means lacking motivation). Does regular use lead to spending long hours on the couch watching cartoons, or does it just so happen that people who like to sit around watching mindless television also enjoy marijuana?
Cigarette companies argued for decades that a predisposition for cancer and the tendency to inhale cigarette smoke just coincidentally occur in the same people. In both cases, common sense and mounting evidence point to the same thing. Downregulation of cannabinoid receptors makes the user more suitable for jobs that don’t require creativity or innovation, exactly the effects that initial exposure seemed to stimulate.
After I got sober, it took me a little over a year to go a single day without wishing for a drink, but it was more than nine years before my craving to get high abated. For the longest time, I couldn’t go to indoor concerts, especially if I was in proximity to pot. Good sinsemilla would induce a sort of mini panic attack. During this nearly decade-long purgatory, I broke up with a pretty good guy (great cook, decent skier) only because he occasionally wanted to get high. Though it was not even around me, I was unable to bear the idea that he’d be somewhere laughing his ass off, while I’d be totally straight, missing the joke.
My first few months without pot were especially miserable. Though I was in a new environment, with new friends and countless novel experiences, I experienced everything as bland beyond belief. However, about three months into my new drug-free life, I was walking along a street in Minneapolis and nearly fell to my knees, struck by the brilliance of the fall foliage. All around me were a million bright oranges, reds, yellows, and greens; I must have felt the way the first viewers of movies in Technicolor did. Where had all this come from? In fact, downregulation had reversed with my abstinence. As my receptors returned, so did my appreciation for everyday beauty.
The takeaway is this: downregulation has consequences. I have a friend and colleague, a smart professor at a good university, and a family man, who used to like to drink a lot but was finding some of the effects embarrassing if not disabling. He switched to smoking pot. He started to notice that if he smoked a little before doing his “daddy duties” he was, as he described it, a more engaged parent. With just a couple of hits, he was able to play more with his children and didn’t find the carpool, meal preparation, or team coaching quite so irritating and tedious.
“Great,” I said. “How’s it with your kids when you’re not high?”
“Increasingly irritating and tedious,” he admitted.
So, if you smoke weed, remember that infrequent and intermittent use is the only way to prevent downregulation and its unfortunate effects: tolerance, dependence, and a loss of interest in the unenhanced world.
From the book NEVER ENOUGH: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction by Judith Grisel. Copyright © 2019 by Judith Grisel. To be published by Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
A renowned neuroscientist who is in recovery for addiction explains what happens when you suddenly give up on marijuana after years of smoking.