You've made the choice to quit smoking weed and are well on your journey toward being free. But, you may be battling several side effects, many of which might be symptoms of marijuana withdrawal.
The below addresses each of the different symptoms - from anxiety to depression, and should help you fight and overcome every single one.
However, let’s take a closer look at what’s happening to the many people who want to stop smoking. Knowledge really is power when you’re detoxifying. You've come this far...you can remain weed free forever!
I want you to ask yourself...
- Do you sleep much more than you used to, or do you have insomnia?
- When you sleep, do you have vivid, disturbing, or frightening dreams? Do you dream that you’re smoking again in any of the dreams?
- Are your motor skills “off” a little or a lot? Do you have muscle weakness? Are you dizzy or suffer from “the shakes”?
- Do you feel anxious or experience panic attacks (this is one of the reasons why Cee-Lo Green stopped smoking)? Have you experienced a psychotic event?
- Do you experience extreme mood swings, from euphoric to despondent feelings? Have you lost your sense of humor?
- Are you restless almost all the time?
- How’s your concentration? Can you focus attention or is it now difficult to concentrate?
- How’s your appetite? After eating a meal, do you suffer from indigestion? Do you suffer from nausea?
- Have your relationship dynamics changed now that you aren’t smoking?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. That fact alone might surprise you because, in popular culture, none of these symptoms are supposed to happen after you stop smoking marijuana!
A medical cure for much of the above is still in the future, and there aren't any pharma treatments to support the marijuana withdrawal process yet. It is strongly recommended that you contact a certified, medical professional.
If you are considering rehab (yes, marijuana addiction can warrant inpatient treatment), you can call this toll-free number to check and see if your medical insurance policy will cover the cost.
Physical and Psychological Marijuana Detox
Marijuana, or the dry leaves, seeds, flowers, and stems of cannabis sativa, is a drug. A chemical found in the plant, delta-90tetrahydrocannabinol or THC (plus other compounds) are known to alter the brain and mind. Some cannabis extracts contain even higher amounts of these drugs.
So, even if you just smoked pot, you used a powerful drug. With the decision to stop smoking, it’s logical that your body—and your mind—will need to adjust.
• Toxins build up in the body after even months of smoking. Don’t let anyone tell you that the symptoms you’re experiencing are in your head. These physical reactions to the body’s process of detoxing are real.
• Although not everyone experiences physical and/or emotional depressive symptoms after they decide to stop smoking marijuana, cannabis, weed, or hash, you should know that it might happen to you.
• Smoking for years will more likely create the need for your body to detox. Australia’s National Cannabis Prevention & Information Centre directly associates how much marijuana you used in the past with severity of withdrawal symptoms.
• In addition, those who are dependent tend to suffer more withdrawal symptoms and depression than infrequent users.
Dealing with Depression and Weed Withdrawal
According to medical researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the past few years, the decision to stop smoking marijuana for any reason can trigger depression. In fact, NIH studies in the recent past confirm that depression among former marijuana users is “prevalent.”
It’s important for you to have this information because, unlike the conclusions of earlier studies, dealing with depression and weed withdrawal is normal. If you’re working with a therapist, know that not all therapists associate a decision to stop smoking marijuana with clinical depression.
There’s enough evidence to suggest that, after you decide to stop smoking (or in tandem with the decision to stop smoking), you and your family members should get support from an experienced and reputable therapist. You won’t know what marijuana withdrawal symptoms you’ll experience until your body and mind begin the detoxing process.
1. Sleep Disturbances
The ability to get a good night’s sleep is essential to good health. Sleep disturbances are the most frequently cited symptom of THC withdrawal. Unfortunately, sleep quality issues tend to linger from weeks to months or even years in some individuals.
Chronic sleep deprivation is known to affect your cardiovascular heart health and weaken your immune system. You’re likely to have a serious accident if you’re not sleeping. Even if you're not concerned about your looks, they're likely to suffer.
So it’s easy to understand why not sleeping well can lead to relapse. If you’re tired and suffering from other withdrawal symptoms, you might be tempted to smoke marijuana to relax. That’s a bad idea, of course, if your goal is to stop smoking marijuana for good.
According to studies by Bolla, Lesage, Gamaldo et al, deciding to stop smoking marijuana can have an almost immediate impact on how well you sleep. If you’re a heavy smoker making a cold-turkey decision, this is especially likely.
Marijuana users (no other drug use as confirmed by tests) and drug-free control participants in the research study were monitored in a sleep lab. Researchers noted that the marijuana group:
• Found it more difficult to get to sleep
• Slept less in total than the control group
• Slept “less efficiently, with shorter REM (rapid eye movement) latency” – in other words, recent marijuana users’ brain waves in sleep were substantially different than the control
• REM is associated with dream activity, according to Harvard University. Many people suffering sleep disturbances associated with THC withdrawal say their sleep is broken by hard-to-forget vivid dreams or nightmares.
• Exhibited one or more “withdrawal symptoms, cravings, night sweats, and depression”
• Didn’t adapt during the study – that is, participants didn’t get more comfortable and sleep better during the multi-day study
The most recent sleep studies, such as a study performed by Angarita, Amadi, Hodges, et al. (2016) concur that marijuana use and withdrawing from marijuana use affects sleep. Multiple researchers say there’s no way to predict how long sleep disturbances will last after marijuana smoking stops.
Did I leave the refrigerator door open?
Sleep disturbances may include vivid dreams in which you’re smoking marijuana. These dreams are common and may persist for many years. Consider these dreams a part of the recovery process.
Some people can’t stop yawning after a night of little to no sleep and, if you're one of them, tell your doctor. Since poor sleep causes many people suffering from marijuana withdrawal symptoms to reach for coffee and other stimulants to focus on daily life, the cycle of drowsiness and sleeplessness is harder to break. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that chronic fatigue is a common complaint for that reason.
If you’re struggling with sleep disturbances, your medical team might be able to help. Your doctor might prescribe zolpidem (labeled as Ambien®) to make getting a good night’s sleep possible.
2. Mental and Physical Issues
The decision to stop smoking marijuana frequently stems from an individual’s realization that something—mentally or physically—isn’t right:
• Perhaps you’re a student and, as you smoke over time and/or smoke more often, it’s tougher to get good grades.
• If you’re a working adult, job performance can suffer. Forgetting meetings or deadlines because of an altered time sense or taking too many sick days can affect your livelihood.
• Though most people associate car accidents with alcohol abuse, driving under the impairment of marijuana is a growing first world problem.
• Even if there aren’t performance warning signs, U.S. courts say it’s possible for your employer to fire you because of marijuana use.
• Physical appearance can suffer. You may have stopped smiling because smoking caused yellow teeth or sallow skin.
Many smokers say the highlight of the day is getting home to enjoy their weed. Interest in other matters, like keeping a job, spouse, friend, or family, is less important.
The authors of “Psychology and the Challenges of Life” (2016) write “[marijuana] use can damage brain tissue, impairing memory and learning ability.” They say that marijuana is evidenced as an addictive drug because of extensive withdrawal and depression symptoms that result when smokers quit.
It's not make-believe: marijuana use can impair your memory and learning ability.
Nagging self-doubts about where your life is going or how your health is faring are also valid reasons to get sober:
• Marijuana use over time can make you sick. The American Lung Association says that marijuana causes illness and paves the way for more illness over time by breaking down your immune system.
• Some common physical issues plague marijuana smokers. For instance, smoking it can make it harder to breathe. Just like cigarette smokers, there’s often smoker’s cough, phlegm, lung illnesses and infections. The jury is still out concerning lung cancer, though.
• Increased heart rate of marijuana users can mean a higher risk for the development of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
If you’ve dealt with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular problems as a marijuana smoker, you probably wanted to quit smoking to get better. It’s discouraging to continue to suffer or even get worse after you quit.
Harvard University says that male smokers outnumber females three to one. However, pregnant females have more than their own health to consider:
• The NIDA says that smoking marijuana can cause developmental problems in the unborn. If the pregnant woman’s partner smokes, it’s also reason for concern.
• After marijuana smokers have children, it’s important to consider second-hand smoke effects. According to “Hodge Podge Marijuana Info Collage” author Mary Darkeff, children of marijuana smokers can suffer developmental delays or withdrawal symptoms when the parent quits.
Former marijuana smokers also report that muscle weakness or poor motor skills are common. Uncontrollable tremors, tics and shakes occur can occur for weeks or longer. Bumping into things, falling up or down stairs and other accidents can cause serious injuries.
Researchers say that the body’s tissues and fat store marijuana chemicals and, as your metabolism discharges the drugs over time, you might experience Parkinsonian-like tremors or muscle weakness.
• This type of symptom is difficult to manage and socially debilitating. You aren’t in control.
• Consider taking time off from work or school.
• Don’t drive if you’re experiencing muscle weakness, dizziness, or the shakes.
3. Anxiety and Panic
According to the National Panic & Anxiety Disorder Association (NPAD), marijuana use is associated with increased anxiety and panic disorders. Users frequently report higher pulse rates and “pounding heart.”
Marijuana users suffer anxiety, panic, agoraphobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder even if they’ve never experienced these states of mind before.
It’s believed that withdrawal from it can cause primary anxiety and panic episodes in some people. If you already experienced panic, anxiety, or psychosis as a marijuana user, you’re likely to continue suffering as your body detoxifies from the drug:
• Vanderbilt University researchers report that cannabinoid brain receptors stimulate the amygdala, generating fear, anxiety, and even panic in some current or prior marijuana users.
• What’s more, there may be other as yet unidentified receptors of cannabinoids to trigger psychosis.
• Time Magazine reports a “pot paranoia” Canadian research study at the University of Western Ontario. Researchers successfully blocked cannabinoid brain receptors in the rodent control group and enhanced other rodents’ receptors to stimulate their brains’ amygdala regions.
• Stimulation of this part of the brain is associated with schizophrenia and related disorders.
Because so many people say they smoke weed to reduce their anxiety, it’s important to understand that unwanted added anxiety can result. As you’re detoxing, it’s also possible to suffer anxiety or panic for the first time—even if you never experienced it as a smoker.
The risk of experiencing anxiety or panic may be related to the THC level in the detoxing individual's body. Knowing how much THC is stored in your fat tissue is difficult or impossible to determine.
The FDA hasn’t approved therapies for the specific purpose of THC withdrawal. Severe symptoms, such as psychosis, are typically considered rare. Researchers say, in that case, some patients in research studies have received opiate suppressors, such as those given to people withdrawing from heroin:
• Researchers believe that when psychotic events happen in the context of weed withdrawal, it’s because THC held in the body’s tissues is quickly released.
• The blood stream is flooded with a higher than typical dose of the drug causing psychosis.
• Harvard University researchers say that people who start smoking marijuana in their teens have an increased psychosis risk.
• People born with a genetic variation of gene COMT also have a higher risk of psychosis, according to the study.
Other studies around the world seem to point to stronger cannabis on the market. More concentrated THC could be the reason that some studies point to a direct correlation between marijuana smoking, marijuana withdrawal, and psychosis.
King’s College London research suggests that psychosis resulting from marijuana use is relatively common. A 2015 study showed that about 24 percent of studied psychosis cases were caused by cannabis and that cannabis use increases the potential of a psychotic event by 300 percent.
Doctors and medical researchers around the world want to provide treatments to help users withdraw from marijuana. Trials for drugs to manage marijuana dependence are in process. To date, researchers have studied the following drug types with little to mixed success:
• Anti-depressants: bupropion (2001), nefazadone (2003), fluoxetine (2005), lofexidine + supplemental THC (2008), bupropion + nefazadone (2009), baclofen/mirtazapine (2010)
• Agonists: Oral THC (2004, 2007), dronabinol (2008)
• Cannabis antagonist agents: SR141716 (2001), rimonabant (2007)
• Opiate antagonist agents: naltrexone (2000, 2003, 2007, 2010)
• Dopamine delivery agents: entacapone (2009)
• Glutamate: N-acetylcysteine (N-A-C)
• Norepinephrine Reuptake/Inhibitor: atomoxetine (2008, 2010)
• Anxiolytic: buspirone (2006, 2009)
• Mood stabilizing agents: lithium (2005, 2009), divalproex (2004)
Although no study has identified the best support agent for THC withdrawal, NIH reports that doctors sometimes use anti-epilepsy drugs like gabapentin. Nutritional supplements like N-A-C are available without a prescription. Some studies theorize that N-A-C may help to ease weed withdrawal symptoms by preventing the breakdown of your own cannabinoid receptors.
5. Use Disorder
Marijuana use disorder is the name given by medical researchers to marijuana overuse and addiction. According to the NIDA, about 30 percent of users struggle with this. Individuals who start using or smoking before their 18th birthday are 400 to 700 percent more likely to develop the disorder or become addicted.
This disorder is also frequently identified with dependence. The person becomes dependent to marijuana when his or her brain adapts to using large amounts of it. This use prompts his or her body to decrease or block sensitivity to endocannabinoid transmitting cells within the body.
Dependence means the user is in a kind of mini-withdrawal between uses. A dependent user can become addicted when it becomes impossible for him or her to stop smoking. Other tasks are then seen as intolerable interruptions to the user.
Rising potency of marijuana may increase the number of people who become dependent or addicted to marijuana. Confiscated marijuana samples in 2013 had almost twice the potency of samples taken in the 90's.
NIDA estimates that about nine percent of all marijuana users will develop a dependency on it. This figure is estimated at about four million people (2014). In 2014, just 140,000 received treatment for marijuana use disorder.
The most frequent users say they suffer the same list of symptoms that users with the intention to permanently stop smoking. Both groups report:
• Sleep disturbances, insomnia, restlessness, fatigue
• Mood disorders, anger, and irritability
• Appetite swings and cravings for certain foods and beverages
Research shows that, for those willing to tough it out, the worst physical symptoms occur during the first week of detox and typically last about two weeks.
However, withdrawing may become more challenging than ever. It’s not a matter of will power. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve described, including wide mood swings, anger, or even aggression, it’s not your imagination.
6. Mood Swings
Mood swings, from extreme highs to deep lows, are frequently reported by people who are detoxing from marijuana use.
We aren’t focusing on medical marijuana now but, because more people are using marijuana for medical reasons than ever before, it’s possible to better assess benefits, risks, and withdrawal symptoms.
According to Harvard University, the risks of using marijuana outweigh the benefits. Mood swings are one of the biggest risks to current and former users in detox.
The risk of mood disorders is probably highest for people with a diagnosed bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, cannabis actually induces mania episodes and then hastens the cycling between depression and mania.
Researchers don’t know if using marijuana—or if a certain plasma level of THC—could increase the development of bipolar disorder. Here’s what we know:
• Medical science doesn’t really know a great deal about depression. Study conclusions are unclear.
• Some users say they got a mood boost from smoking it. Others say they got depressed when they stopped using.
• Several studies seem to suggest that weed can act like an antidepressant in some people. In others, it had opposite effects.
• Daily use of marijuana seems to promote depression, according to observational studies.
• Depression is a common, widespread symptom when users decide to stop smoking. For instance, a study performed in Australia showed that participants who smoked marijuana in the mid-teen years had about twice the likelihood of developing depression in their early twenties when compared to the control group who never smoked at all.
• Women in the study were almost five times’ more likely to suffer depression as the control group who had never used it.
Metadata seem to show that if you started smoking marijuana at a young age, such as in your teens, even a small dose can increase the likelihood of later depression. If you started smoking early and then smoked for 10, 20, or more years, weed withdrawal can be very difficult.
According to NIDA, the average person hoping to withdraw from marijuana use has used it almost daily for at least a decade. The average user has tried to withdraw from it at least six times:
Truly, it is the gateway drug...
• The average user struggles with marijuana withdrawal because symptoms during the detox period can last a long time. Relapse is easy because the user has a close relationship with the drug.
• Young users have an added struggle with additional psychiatric and mood disorders.
• Young users are also more likely to use other drugs, such as alcohol and cocaine.
Current substance abuse treatment studies seem to indicate that many patients benefit from standard treatments used in mental health disorders and addiction. If the user has struggled with weed withdrawal many times over a decade or more, one or more varieties of behavioral therapy can also provide support:
• Motivational enhancement therapy can help the withdrawing user to produce change and remain motivated in the desire to change. This type of therapy doesn’t treat the individual but engages his or her inner resources to change and remain engaged in the treatment.
• Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people to identify and then correct behaviors by developing strategies that support self-control. This therapy type can be used to address multiple co-morbidities or problems that are occurring with marijuana withdrawal.
• Contingency management is a therapeutic approach relying on the monitor of behavior and the removal or addition of positive rewards when desired behavior happens or doesn’t happen.
One or more of these therapies can help you get through the difficult experience of THC withdrawal and the depression that's likely to come with it. Therapy tailored to your needs can provide you and your family with strategies and tools to get healthy and sober. A therapist on your medical team can mean the difference between getting through one day at a time.
Want to see if your insurance policy covers the cost of rehab?
Call our secure toll-free hotline to check!
NIH researchers say that smoking marijuana decreases your ability to concentrate. What’s more, it is thought to “rewire” your brain and reduce your IQ, and detoxing from it can involve a host of symptoms based on neurocognitive changes in the brain over time:
• Studies show that chronic smokers have lower scores on learning/memory tests. They’ve got short attention spans. Their processing speeds are lower.
• Cannabinoid metabolites are still detectable in withdrawing users’ urine samples for almost a month. The presence of these metabolites can mean the withdrawing user is still suffering negative neural function. Short-term memory, attention, ability to identify visual and spatial differences, and psychomotor tasks may be affected.
• Some research shows that adults (ages 30-55) don’t suffer long-term effects of cannabis once they quit using. Studies show that after a month of abstinence from marijuana, withdrawing adults’ memory and verbal performance was similar to that of control adults who had never smoked before.
• Other research points to lasting negative effects of marijuana use in adults.
• Adolescents are at greater risk of lasting neurocognitive deficits from cannabis use. Even when younger people withdraw from marijuana, visual learning, memory, executive function, and psychomotor speed remain.
How old you were when you started smoking makes a difference.
Tests of withdrawing adults suggest slower information processing and difficulty in focusing attention when researchers asked. Perhaps reduced energy and blood flow to sections of the brain are the reason. Many adult study participants showed lower than normal glucose metabolism in the brain’s cerebellum and reduced blood flow to the frontal and cerebellar brain.
Studies seem to show that adults can better withstand the assaults of chronic marijuana if they started smoking as an adult. But there’s no guarantee that all your body and brain functions will return to normal after weed withdrawal.
Young people are always at greater risk while using marijuana and may suffer the greatest permanent physical and mental effects from the drug.
Appetite and Digestion
NIH clinical research shows that certain symptoms, including irritability, anger and mood swings; nervousness; sleep disturbances or difficulty; weight loss and/or decreased appetite; restlessness; depression; and “other” physical symptoms, such as abdominal pain, tremors or “the shakes,” headache, fever, chills, and profuse sweating are components of cannabis or weed withdrawal.
Many people report a loss of appetite for food. Others report stomach upset and nausea as well as the inability to keep down their meals. Most studies show that the onset of poor appetite happens early in the detox process.
There are many reports of those going through the withdrawal process who say that their appetite returns within a week to one month of the detox process.
Talk to your doctor about appetite and digestion problems. Even if you can't eat regular meals for a short period, stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, clear broth, gelatin desserts, or ice pops. Avoid caffeinated drinks, coffee, and tea. These can upset your stomach.
Detox is a stressful process. A large percentage of people say their interest in sex decreases at this time as well. That's okay. Communicate your thoughts and feelings if you can to a significant other at this time.
Some individuals report that interest in current long-term relationships, such as with a husband, wife or dating partner, also change. After one of the partners stops using marijuana, he or she has little in common with the other spouse. In contrast, other couples have stronger relationships after the difficult passage of THC withdrawal and detoxification.
Weed Withdrawal: Now You Know
The decision to break free from marijuana use and withdraw from dependency or addiction forever is an act of courage. The symptoms you’re experiencing are real.
Breaking it down
1. If you’re not sleeping well or find that you’re exhausted and you’re not up to usual daily life, know that your experience is completely normal. Almost everyone who withdraws from marijuana has problems sleeping or staying asleep. It’s common to feel really tired in the morning because, that’s right. You didn’t get the sleep you wanted.
2. Know that without it, your brain and body are returning to better health.
3. Other symptoms, like abdominal pains, tremors, shakes, sweats, chills, fever, or crushing headaches are also common but they occur a little less frequently than sleep difficulties.
If you have any of these symptoms or all of them, tell your medical team. Most likely, your doctor will say that what’s happening is an indication that withdrawal is in process.
4. If you’re really irritable and even angry some of the time, or you’re ecstatic and then depressed, you’re experiencing additional common symptoms of THC withdrawal. Your irritability and feelings of anger may not happen for the first week or two.
If you experience aggressive feelings and want to take out your feelings on someone by hitting them, do your best to take a deep breath. Tell your medical team. You’re likely to hear that anger, irritability, aggression, and even wanting to punch someone are part of the detox process.
5. If you start to feel nervous or generally anxious, it’s probably related to weed withdrawal. Not all researchers agree that nervousness is one of the symptoms of weed withdrawal but it happens frequently enough that many researchers say it’s part of the detox your body needs now.
6. Eating less and a resulting weight loss are probably going to happen to you. If you’re a few pounds overweight, it’s all good and part of the THC withdrawal process.
If you become nauseated or develop diarrhea, let your medical team know about it. Your doctor may prescribe something to make you more comfortable. Do your best to stay well-hydrated. This symptom should be over relatively soon.
7. Many people say they’re restless. They report feeling like a pacing lion or tiger. A racing heart or rapid breathing can happen, but it’s not usually an early symptom of withdrawal.
8. Depression and other mood swings are common symptoms as you withdraw. As above, you may also feel restless, nervous, irritable or angry.
Asking for help
As you can see, weed withdrawal isn’t something you should do alone. Look for resources before you begin the detox process. Take the time you need to recover.
• If you work, ask your firm’s human resources team about time off from work. If you’re a student at school, ask your guidance counselor or college administrator about the forms you’ll need to file.
• Discuss your wish to live clean and sober with trusted family and friends. Ask for their support during the weed withdrawal process.
• Believe in yourself. Withdrawal and recovery from depression and other symptoms related to detoxification is a very challenging process. Live each day one day at a time.
Knowledge is power, and there's a better life waiting.
http://www.bbc.com/news/health-31480234 (King’s College London cannabis and psychosis study)