How to Deal with Marijuana Withdrawal
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, marijuana is the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States. Some 48 million people, or about 18% of all Americans, used marijuana at least once in 2019. Because of its popularity, legal status in an increasing number of states, and the fact that its use lacks the same stigma of harder drugs like opioids or heroin, it may not surprise you that about three in 10 people who use the drug have a marijuana use disorder.
For habitual marijuana users, quitting the drug may not be as easy as it seems. And as the more than 300,000 people who enter treatment each year for marijuana use disorders can attest, marijuana withdrawal is real. If you or a loved one are concerned about the effects of quitting marijuana, you’ll want to keep reading as we go into detail about dealing with marijuana withdrawal.
What is Marijuana Withdrawal?
Marijuana withdrawal is the physical response felt by marijuana users when they stop using the drug. It’s important to note that not every person who uses marijuana will experience withdrawal. Generally speaking, it takes abruptly stopping after continued and regular use of marijuana — which often can manifest into a marijuana use disorder — before one is presented with the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal.
Anyone is susceptible to marijuana withdrawal after regular use, though preliminary research does show that women may encounter a greater number of withdrawal symptoms of higher intensity than men. Additionally, people who begin using marijuana before age 18 are much more likely to develop marijuana use disorder, which, in turn, increases their likelihood of experiencing withdrawal upon quitting.
In a Duke University study consisting of nearly 500 adult marijuana smokers who attempted to quit, 95.5% said they exhibited at least one symptom, while 43.1% had more than one.
Why Does Marijuana Withdrawal Occur?
Marijuana is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant and is composed of different cannabinoids, terpenes, and other elements. The cannabinoid responsible for the mind-altering sensation felt during marijuana use is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. The more THC in marijuana, the stronger the drug’s effect on the brain.
When someone regularly uses marijuana, they are sending a steady stream of THC to the brain, and the brain becomes dependent on this stream. When that steady stream abruptly ends, the body recognizes the loss and responds with uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms (more on those next). In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can be so debilitating that people will return to using marijuana because they believe it’s the only way to feel relief.
One of the factors that may be contributing to the increasing numbers in marijuana use disorder and withdrawal is the gradual rise in the drug’s potency. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the levels of THC content found in confiscated samples of marijuana over the last few decades have steadily climbed. Samples in the early 1990s had less than 4% THC, while comparable samples in 2018 were at more than 15%. There’s reason to believe that this higher concentration of THC could lead to worse consequences in today’s marijuana users — particularly those that are newer users who aren’t experienced enough to adjust how much they consume the drug.
What are the Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal?
There are a variety of symptoms commonly associated with marijuana withdrawal, including:
- Problems sleeping
- Strange and unusual dreams
- Anxiety or restlessness
- Decrease in appetite
- Cravings for marijuana
- Stomach pain
- Sweats and chills
We should also mention that some of these symptoms can work in tandem. For example, added anxiety can cause depression, and a decrease in appetite may result in stomach pain.
How Long Does Marijuana Withdrawal Last?
In most cases, there’s a consistent timeline for marijuana withdrawal. Within the first week of quitting, users can expect to experience peak withdrawal symptoms that impact their mood or physical condition.
While these physical symptoms typically last up to two weeks, the psychological symptoms are prone to last longer. Research shows that it can take up to four weeks after discontinuing marijuana use for cannabinoid 1 brain receptors to regain normal functioning. Also, the urge to use marijuana may return long after quitting for people who put themselves in similar situations that they were in while using the drug.
How Do You Treat Marijuana Withdrawal?
Many variables involved with the treatment of marijuana withdrawal exist, including how long the person has been using the drug and if there are any comorbid disorders (addiction to other substances), which commonly occur.
While there’s no way to entirely avoid withdrawal symptoms for someone who has been a long-time marijuana user, there are some actions that can be taken to ease the discomfort that usually appears at the onset of withdrawal. Prior to stopping marijuana use, be sure to stay hydrated by drinking an abundance of water. Additionally, it’s important to fuel the body with healthy foods and skip fried or sugar-loaded foods and soft drinks that make you feel irritable or listless. You may also be able to remove unwanted toxins by staying active and exercising at least 30 minutes each day.
Ultimately, it’s best to seek help to treat the drug abuse and not just the withdrawal symptoms. There are both inpatient and outpatient programs that offer varying levels of structure, individual and group cognitive behavioral therapy, and coping mechanisms to help people struggling with marijuana use disorder and withdrawal.
Midwest Recovery Centers Can Help with Marijuana Withdrawal
At Midwest Recovery Centers, we provide people seeking out help from substance use and abuse with a residential detoxification center so that they may break free from addiction and rid their bodies of harmful substances safely. Individuals in this program receive 24/7 medically supervised care and support in a facility designed for client safety and comfort.
We also offer a treatment program geared specifically for marijuana addiction that includes experiential group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step integration, and more. Contact Midwest Recovery Centers today to start the recovery process.
Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., MAADC II
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.