It’s a common belief that marijuana has no adverse health effects and is not addictive in any way. While it’s true that marijuana can be used for some medicinal purposes and is not as dangerous as other drugs, the notion that marijuana isn’t addictive is false. Frequent and prolonged use of the substance can lead to addiction, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal from any drug can be uncomfortable, painful, and even physically dangerous. Understanding the causes behind marijuana withdrawal and its symptoms can help you protect your health and well-being if you use the substance.
Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal
Marijuana withdrawal symptoms can be mental and physical, and they can range in severity. Some people experience one or two symptoms, and others experience many. In general, those who have used marijuana for longer will go through a more difficult withdrawal. The amount you typically use can affect the severity of the withdrawal, too.
The following are some of the most common cannabis withdrawal symptoms:
- Decreased appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dry mouth, excessive thirst, or dehydration
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Sweating or chills
- Change in mood
- Feelings or symptoms of depression
- Difficulty focusing
- Cravings for marijuana
Most of the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal aren’t immediately physically dangerous, but this does not mean that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. If you don’t address these symptoms, they could lead to serious health consequences. For example, many people lose their appetite and struggle to eat while they’re detoxing from marijuana. If your nutritional needs aren’t met, you’ll have an increased risk of other health problems. Dehydration is another common issue associated with marijuana use, and severe and long-term dehydration can affect your heart, muscles, and nervous system.
Causes of Marijuana Withdrawal
The physical experience of marijuana withdrawal is caused by your body’s tolerance for THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. Cannabis contains several compounds that affect your body, but THC is the component that gives the substance its psychoactive effects. It exists in high doses in many strains that are commonly used today. Medical marijuana tends to have lower amounts of THC, but concentrations of THC in recreational marijuana have increased dramatically over the last few decades.
When you regularly consume marijuana, your brain starts to develop a tolerance for THC. As your body gets used to the THC, the psychoactive effects feel less intense. Then, you have to either consume more marijuana or use a more potent strain to feel the effects. Your brain will continue to adjust to the THC, though, so you have to use more and more to continue feeling the results of the drug.
After prolonged, regular marijuana use, your brain is so used to the THC that being under the influence of the compound is its “normal” state. If you suddenly quit consuming marijuana, you may experience several unpleasant symptoms because your brain and body aren’t used to operating without it. Many people try to quit marijuana, but they feel so physically or mentally uncomfortable that they return to the drug to ease the symptoms after a few days.
Psychological or emotional addiction to marijuana is a genuine issue, too. Even if your body is not physically dependent on the substance, you can become attached to its mental or emotional effects. When you quit, you might crave the effects of the drug and have a difficult time coping without it.
Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline
The timeline for marijuana withdrawal varies from person to person. It depends on the length of time you’ve been using the substance, the amount of marijuana you typically use, and whether you quit cold turkey or taper off.
For most people, withdrawal symptoms last for a few days to a couple of weeks. Symptoms are usually the most severe in the first three days. After that, you may continue to experience specific symptoms, but they will gradually decline in severity until your body has adjusted to functioning without the substance.
The psychological symptoms of withdrawal tend to set in a couple of days after the physical symptoms. Your physical symptoms may fade away after a few days, but feelings of depression or anxiety may get stronger at this point. This is why it’s so important to continue vigilant with your mental health as you quit marijuana use. You may feel better quickly, but you have to keep taking good care of your mental health so that you’re able to fight off the cravings and get through the psychological withdrawal.
Preventing or Managing Marijuana Withdrawal
It may not be possible to prevent the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal completely. If you’ve been using marijuana for a long time, you should expect to experience at least a few symptoms after you quit. There are ways you can lessen the severity of the withdrawal, though.
If you plan to quit using marijuana on your own, gradually tapering off of the substance maybe your best option. When you quit cold turkey, the withdrawal symptoms as your brain and body detox can be overwhelming, and you may be more tempted to return to the drug. Instead, you can taper off by decreasing your dosage little by little throughout a couple of weeks.
You can also make the withdrawal symptoms more manageable by preparing for them. If possible, take a few days off of work so that you can focus on your health while you adjust. Make sure you have healthy foods in your house and make your sleeping environment as calm and quiet as possible. By giving yourself the time and space needed to get through the process, you’ll significantly reduce your risk of relapse.
If you’ve been using marijuana heavily for a long time or have tried to quit without success, seeking medical help may be necessary. Some people choose to stay at a detox center for the first few days after quitting marijuana. At a detox facility, you receive round-the-clock medical supervision and support. Your team may prescribe medications or other treatments to ease the withdrawal symptoms, and they can intervene in the event of a medical emergency. Attending a detox center gets you through the first few days of withdrawal, which can be the most vulnerable time.
There are other options for professional support while quitting drugs, too. Inpatient rehab centers offer a variety of therapies that can help you address the underlying causes behind your addiction and find coping skills to keep you off substances. You’re also under constant supervision while in an inpatient program, which helps you avoid relapse.
You could receive outpatient services after you go through inpatient treatment, or you could attend outpatient therapies as your primary form of support. Individual counseling, group counseling, and support groups are all valuable opportunities to strengthen your mental health while you navigate the withdrawal process.
Medical and psychological assistance is critical if you struggle with alcohol or other substances in addition to marijuana. Quitting multiple substances at once is complex, and some drugs can be hazardous to stop independently.
The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are often downplayed, but withdrawal is a real and challenging process. Your brain can become dependent on the substance, and quitting can lead to uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms won’t last forever, though, and the benefits of quitting are worth it. If you have any concerns or questions about marijuana withdrawal, consult your physician or another medical expert.