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Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawals are mild, but can cause relapse

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Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Compared to withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting alcohol or other drugs, cannabis (marijuana) withdrawal symptoms are relatively mild, but they are uncomfortable enough to cause many who try to quit to relapse to relieve those symptoms.

In other words, marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening—their main danger is causing someone who really wants or needs to quit smoking weed to fail.

Answering these 10 questions may help you determine if your marijuana withdrawal symptoms are severe enough to tempt you to relapse if you try to quit.

Overview

Just as alcoholics who are trying to quit drinking may pick up a drink to relieve the sometimes life-threatening symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, marijuana smokers may light up a joint to relieve the discomfort they experience when they try to stop smoking.

This can be a serious problem for smokers who need to quit to keep their job or who have been court-ordered into treatment. One study found that 70.4% of users trying to quit smoking marijuana relapsed to relieve the withdrawal symptoms.  

Prevalence

A Duke University study of 469 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 cannabis less than weekly experienced some withdrawal symptoms of moderate intensity.

Symptoms

Following is a look at some of the most common symptoms associated with marijuana withdrawal.

Cravings

One of the symptoms most reported by people trying to quit smoking marijuana is a craving for marijuana or an intense desire for more. In one study, 75.7% of participants trying to quit reported an intense craving for marijuana.  

Although many regular smokers of marijuana do not believe they are addicted to the drug, one hallmark of addiction is craving when you try to stop, whether it’s heroin, alcohol, gambling or sex addiction. Craving is the most common symptom reported by former marijuana users in the early days of abstinence.

Mood Swings

The second most common symptom reported by those who have tried to quit smoking marijuana is mood swings. Former users report emotional symptoms of depression, anxiety and irritability. Irritability and anger are common symptoms for anyone who is giving up a drug of choice, especially if they are forced by circumstances to quit.

More than half of those who try to quit marijuana report mood swings.   Typically, these symptoms begin to diminish after two to three weeks but can linger in some up to three months.

Sleep Disruption

Insomnia is one of the most common symptoms of drug withdrawal, whether the drug is marijuana, alcohol or prescription painkillers. Just as someone who is alcohol-dependent or someone who has been addicted to opiates experiences difficulty trying to sleep after they quit, marijuana smokers also find falling to sleep difficult.  

Insomnia symptoms after you stop smoking cannabis can last a few days or a couple of weeks. Some smokers find that they can experience occasional sleeplessness for a few months after quitting.

But insomnia is not the only sleep disruption problem associated with marijuana withdrawal. Some people who have stopped smoking pot report having nightmares and very vivid dreams that also disrupt their sleep.

These frequent, vivid dreams typically begin about a week after quitting and can last for about a month before tapering off. An estimated 46.9% of former smokers report sleep disruption problems.  

Others who have quit smoking report having “using dreams” in which they dream they smoke marijuana. Some former smokers have reported having these types of dreams years after they stopped using marijuana.

Headaches

One of the most common physical symptoms reported by those who stop smoking is a headache.   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 associated with cannabis withdrawal can last for a few weeks up to a couple of months. 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 Symptoms

Other symptoms reported by researchers include:

  • Appetite change
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Digestion problems
  • Cramps or nausea after eating

Others have reported night sweats, loss of the sense of humor, decreased sex drive, or increased sex drive. Some former users have reported shaking and dizziness.  

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 the smoker used prior to stopping affects the severity and length of the withdrawals.

Resources

If you have decided to quit smoking weed, or you have been forced by circumstances to quit, 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.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or 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.

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.

Symptoms linked to cannabis (marijuana) withdrawal may be milder than those from alcohol and other drugs, but they are intense enough to cause some concern. Here are some symptoms of marijuana withdrawal.

Detoxing from Marijuana

What is Detoxing?

Detoxing is the way in which your body gets rid of the toxins accumulated from years of using. It happens the first few days or weeks after getting clean and/or sober. It is also the very beginning of getting used to dealing with reality and real feelings with no numbing agent.

Can there be physical effects from quitting marijuana?

In spite of numerous years of being told that there are no physiological effects from marijuana addiction, many of our recovering members have had definite withdrawal symptoms. Whether the causes are physical or psychological, the results are physical.

Others have just had emotional and mental changes as they stop using their drug of choice. There is no way of telling before quitting who will be physically uncomfortable and who will not. Most members have only minor physical discomfort if any at all. This pamphlet is for those who are having trouble and wonder what’s happening to them.

Why do some effects last so long?

Unlike most other drugs, including alcohol, THC (the active chemical in marijuana) is stored in the fat cells and therefore takes longer to fully clear the body than with any other common drug. 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 for water soluble drugs.

Can this affect a drug test?

The experiences of some members have shown that if you quit marijuana and expect to take a drug test you should not go on a crash diet at the same time. Fasting, or a crash diet, can release the THC into the bloodstream very rapidly and can give a positive reading. This has happened to several of our members, but each time only with crash diets and major weight loss, not with just eating less than usual.

What are some of the more common symptoms?

By far the most common symptom of withdrawal is insomnia. This can last from a few nights of practically no sleep at all, up to a few months of occasional sleeplessness.

The next most common symptom is depression (that is, if you’re not euphoric), and next are nightmares and vivid dreams. Marijuana use tends to dampen the dreaming mechanism, so that when you do get clean the dreams come back with a crash. They can be vivid color, highly emotional dreams or nightmares, even waking up then coming back to the same dream. The very vivid, every night dreams usually don’t start for a about a week or so. They last for about a month at most and then taper off.

“Using dreams” (dreams involving the use of marijuana) are very common, and although they’re not as vivid or emotional as at first, they last for years and are just considered a normal part of recovery.

The fourth most common symptom is anger. This can range from a slow burning rage to constant irritability to sudden bursts of anger when least expected: anger at the world, anger at loved ones, anger at oneself, anger at being an addict and having to get clean.

Emotional jags are very common, with emotions bouncing back and forth between depression, anger, and euphoria. Occasionally experienced is a feeling of fear or anxiety, a loss of the sense of humor, decreased sex drive, or increased sex drive. Most all of these symptoms fade to normal emotions by three months.

Loss of concentration for the first week or month is also very common and this sometimes affects the ability to learn for a very short while.

What about physical symptoms?

The most common physical symptom is headaches. For those who have them, they can last for a few weeks up to a couple of months, with the first few days being very intense.

The next most common physical symptom is night sweats, sometimes to the point of having to change night clothes. They can last from a few nights to a month or so. Sweating is one of the body’s natural ways of getting rid of toxins.

Hand sweats are very common and are often accompanied by an unpleasant smell from the hands. Body odor is enough in many instances to require extra showers or baths.

Coughing up phlegm is another way the body cleans itself. This can last for a few weeks to well over six months.

One third of the addicts who responded to a questionnaire on detoxing said they had eating problems for the first few days and some for up to six weeks. Their main symptoms were loss of appetite, sometimes enough to lose weight temporarily, digestion problems or cramps after eating, and nausea, occasionally enough to vomit (only for a day or two). Most of the eating problems were totally gone before the end of a month.

The next most common physical symptoms experienced were tremors or shaking and dizziness.

Less frequently experienced were kidney pains, impotency, hormone changes or imbalances, low immunity or chronic fatigue, and some minor eye problems that resolved at around two months.

There have been cases of addicts having more severe detox symptoms, however this is rare. For intense discomfort, see a doctor, preferably one who is experienced with detoxing.

How can I reduce discomfort?

For some of the milder detoxing symptoms, a few home remedies have proven to be useful:

  • Hot soaking baths can help the emotions as well as the body.
  • Drink plenty of water and clear liquids, just like for the flu.
  • Cranberry juice has been used effectively for years by recovery houses to help purify and cleanse the body.
  • Really excessive sweating can deplete the body of potassium, a necessary mineral. A few foods high in potassium are melons, bananas, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, and tomatoes.
  • Eliminate fat from the diet until digestion is better.
  • Greatly reduce or eliminate caffeine until the sleep pattern is more normal or the shakes are gone.
  • The old fashioned remedy for insomnia, a glass of warm milk before bedtime, helps some people.
  • Exercise not only helps depression and other unpleasant emotions, it helps the body speed up the healing process.

From “How it Works”:

Do not be discouraged, none of us are saints. Our program is not easy, but it is simple. We strive for progress, not perfection. Our experiences, before and after we entered recovery, teach us three important ideas:

  • That we are marijuana addicts and cannot manage our own lives;
  • That probably no human power can relieve our addiction; and
  • That our Higher Power can and will if sought.

Detoxing from Marijuana What is Detoxing? Detoxing is the way in which your body gets rid of the toxins accumulated from years of using. It happens the first few days or weeks after getting