Cannabis Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, What to Expect, Treatment
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One of our previous articles mentioned that cannabis addiction is very real. Marijuana can be addictive and can lead to a condition called cannabis use disorder.
Like with any substance dependence, quitting it suddenly can cause the user to go through withdrawal symptoms. It is the same for marijuana as well.
If you use cannabis heavily and chronically, you might experience weed withdrawal symptoms. Depending on factors like metabolism, the potency of cannabis, and life history, the symptoms may range from mild to severe and cause discomfort. They may last for 4-5 weeks or, in worse cases, longer.
In this article, we are going to talk about cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS) – providing insights into its definition, common symptoms, and strategies for managing it.
With this article, Weed Review aims to empower people to make informed decisions about their use habits and support those who may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
What is marijuana withdrawal?
Cannabis withdrawal syndrome or weed withdrawal refers to the collection of physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms that can occur when regular cannabis users abruptly reduce or stop their consumption. It is common among those who suffer from cannabis use disorder/cannabis addiction.
It occurs as the body and brain adjust to the absence of cannabinoids, the active compounds found in cannabis.
According to Psychiatry Online, cannabis withdrawal syndrome affects nearly half of the regular users who quit.
But does this mean that every cannabis user who stops taking it will experience withdrawal? No.
The experience of cannabis withdrawal can vary from person to person. Not everyone who stops using cannabis will necessarily experience withdrawal symptoms.
The frequency and intensity of cannabis use, along with individual factors, often link to the severity and likelihood of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
The science of withdrawal
Cannabis contains various chemical compounds, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for its psychoactive effects.
THC interacts with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, particularly in areas involved in reward, memory, and motivation. This interaction leads to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. As a result, people experience feelings of euphoria and relaxation on weed.
Development of tolerance & dependence
The brain can develop tolerance to the effects of THC with regular cannabis use. Tolerance occurs when higher doses of the substance are needed to achieve the desired effects. In other words, your body becomes desensitised to cannabis over time.
Continued and heavy use of cannabis can also lead to the development of dependence, where the brain adapts to the presence of THC and becomes dependent on it for normal functioning.
During cannabis withdrawal, neurochemical changes occur in the brain as it rebalances itself without the influence of THC. The sudden absence of THC can result in a reduction in dopamine levels, leading to feelings of dysphoria and a reduced ability to experience happiness.
Other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, may also be affected, contributing to mood changes and anxiety. Neurochemical changes during withdrawal can contribute to various symptoms, including irritability, sleep disturbances, decreased appetite, and cravings.
Common symptoms of cannabis withdrawal
The symptoms of cannabis withdrawal can be categorised based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) criteria.
These symptoms typically occur within a week after the person stops using cannabis and can last for 4-5 weeks or more. The common symptoms include:
|Physical symptoms||Psychological symptoms|
|Headaches||Nervousness or anxiety|
|Nausea/digestive issues||Irritability, frustration, anger|
|Stomach pain||Difficulty sleeping|
|Disturbed sleep dreams/insomnia|
|Decreased appetite/weight loss|
According to the DSM-5 criteria, a person is diagnosed with CWS if they display three or more of these symptoms within the first week of quitting cannabis suddenly.
Duration & severity of CWS
The duration of cannabis withdrawal symptoms varies from person to person. There is no standard timeframe for how long the marijuana withdrawal will last.
After the last use, the body may take up to a month to remove weed completely from the system.
Typically, physical symptoms tend to reduce within a week or two, while psychological and emotional symptoms may persist for 30 days or even months in some cases. This does not mean that the person will experience withdrawal symptoms for the whole time.
The majority of the symptoms may fade within the first two weeks, after which the severity of CWS should slowly improve over time.
The intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can be influenced by 4 major factors, as listed below:
Cannabis use patterns
The frequency and duration of cannabis use play an important role in determining the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
People who have been using cannabis daily, especially in large quantities and over a period of 1-2 months or more, are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when they discontinue or significantly reduce their cannabis use. This is because regular, heavy cannabis use can lead to the development of tolerance and dependence, making the brain and body reliant on the presence of cannabinoids.
The potency of cannabis
The potency of the cannabis consumed, particularly its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content, can influence the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Cannabis strains with higher THC concentrations are more likely to lead to intense withdrawal symptoms compared to those with lower THC levels.
Additionally, the use of concentrated cannabis products, such as oils or extracts, can result in stronger withdrawal symptoms due to their higher potency.
Various factors can impact the duration and severity of cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
Genetic predispositions, overall health, and mental health conditions can play a role. For example, those with a history of mental health disorders may experience more intense psychological symptoms during withdrawal. Additionally, factors such as age, metabolism, and general resilience, social settings can also influence the duration and severity of symptoms.
Support and coping strategies
The availability of support networks and coping strategies can also impact the experience of cannabis withdrawal. People who have access to supportive friends, family, or professional assistance during the withdrawal process may find it easier to manage symptoms and navigate the challenges associated with cessation.
Timeline of cannabis withdrawal
Mentioned below is a general timeline of marijuana withdrawal.
- Acute withdrawal phase (24-48 hours): The acute withdrawal phase typically begins within a day or two after reducing or stopping cannabis use. Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, sleep disturbances, and decreased appetite may be most prominent during this phase. Psychological symptoms, including irritability, anxiety, restlessness, and cravings, may also arise. The acute withdrawal phase usually lasts for about one to two weeks, but the duration and severity can vary.
- Subacute withdrawal phase (2-4 weeks): Physical symptoms gradually subside during this phase, but psychological and emotional symptoms may persist. Mood swings, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and cravings can still be present. The subacute withdrawal phase typically lasts for 3-4 weeks or more, but the duration varies from person to person.
- Post-Acute withdrawal phase (1-3 months or more): In some cases, people may experience a post-acute withdrawal phase, also known as protracted withdrawal. This phase involves lingering psychological and emotional symptoms that can persist for months or longer after the last cannabis use.
You may experience symptoms irregularly, which include mood disturbances, cognitive difficulties, and heightened stress sensitivity. The post-acute withdrawal is relatively rare and primarily affects individuals with a history of heavy, long-term cannabis use.
How to treat marijuana withdrawal
There are no approved remedies to treat cannabis withdrawal syndromes. If you are ready to quit weed, you may talk to a doctor for professional advice. In the meantime, you may try the following:
Gradual reduction of cannabis use
Gradually reducing the frequency and amount of cannabis consumed can help reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
This approach allows the body and brain to adjust more gradually to the absence of cannabinoids. Tapering off cannabis use over a period of time, rather than abruptly quitting, can minimise the discomfort associated with withdrawal.
It’s essential to create a personalised reduction plan and set achievable goals based on individual circumstances – which can be done with the help of an expert.
Detoxification, or detox, is an essential step in managing cannabis addiction.
You can either do a self-detox at home by following natural remedies or under supervised care. Medical supervision ensures safety and comfort during detox, with healthcare professionals providing necessary medications and monitoring vital signs.
In either case, it is advisable to speak to a doctor.
Supportive lifestyle changes
Making supportive lifestyle changes can contribute to managing cannabis withdrawal symptoms more effectively.
Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a nutritious diet, and getting adequate sleep can help improve overall well-being and reduce the impact of withdrawal.
Practising stress-management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can also be beneficial. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as hobbies or spending time in nature, can provide a positive distraction and help in symptom management.
Certain medications like dronabinol, nabiximols, gabapentin, and zolpidem may help manage withdrawal symptoms like anxiety or sleep problems. However, it is crucial to consult a doctor before taking this route, as these medications are still being researched for treating weed addiction.
Similarly, CBD (cannabidiol) may also serve as a potential treatment for cannabis addiction.
Rehab & external help
Rehabilitation programs and external help are valuable resources for managing cannabis addiction.
Inpatient rehab programs offer a structured and immersive treatment experience, with therapy, counselling, and support from healthcare professionals. They are suitable for severe addiction or co-occurring mental health disorders. This may involve checking into a dedicated rehab centre for marijuana – which has its own costs.
Outpatient programs provide flexibility, allowing people to attend treatment while maintaining their regular routines. Counselling, therapy, and support groups, such as Marijuana Anonymous, offer one-on-one and group sessions to address underlying factors, develop coping strategies, and foster a supportive community for recovery.
Cannabis withdrawal is a real phenomenon that can occur when people stop or significantly reduce their cannabis use. It is marked by a range of physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms that can vary in duration and severity. While not everyone who uses cannabis will experience withdrawal, daily and heavy users are more likely to encounter pronounced symptoms. It is better to talk to a doctor if the withdrawal symptoms are difficult to manage.
Understanding cannabis withdrawal is crucial for those looking to manage their cannabis use or support others in their journey to recovery. Strategies for managing cannabis withdrawal include a gradual reduction of cannabis use, adopting supportive lifestyle changes, and seeking professional help through rehab programs, counselling, and support groups.