Marijuana Withdrawal

People who use marijuana heavily often experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop using the drug. Symptoms such as irritability, sleep problems and cravings motivate people to use the drug again and make it difficult for them to quit.

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Quitting marijuana can be difficult. Research shows that marijuana withdrawal is similar to tobacco withdrawal and causes many of the same symptoms, including irritability, nervousness, anger and insomnia.

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A 2017 article in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation cited several studies showing that 35 to 75 percent of people who stop using marijuana will develop withdrawal symptoms.

While marijuana withdrawal is not as dangerous as alcohol or opioid withdrawal, the symptoms can be severe enough to derail attempts to quit using the drug.

According to a 2015 article published in the American Journal on Addictions, studies have found that between 65 and 70 percent of individuals who relapsed after attempting to quit weed said that avoiding withdrawal symptoms played a factor in their relapse.

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are more subtle than those of alcohol, opioids and benzodiazepines. But weed withdrawal is uncomfortable, and it can cause a range of debilitating physical and psychological symptoms.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Anger and aggression
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Disrupted sleep or insomnia
  • Unusual dreams
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Cravings for marijuana
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Sweating
  • Chills

Cannabis withdrawal is not life-threatening. The severity of symptoms varies depending on the person’s history of marijuana use and his or her level of dependence on the drug. Other physiological and environmental factors also play a role in the severity and duration of symptoms.

People who frequently use marijuana tend to have a harder time detoxing. Some research suggests that women may experience worse withdrawal symptoms than men.

A 2016 study in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research noted that women are more likely to experience an upset stomach, abdominal pain, irritability, restlessness and angry outbursts than men. In the same study, men were more likely to suffer from insomnia and vivid dreaming during withdrawal. Other studies have not found any differences in symptoms among men and women.

Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline

Like other drugs, marijuana causes biochemical changes in the brain when it’s used repeatedly. These changes create a physical dependence on the drug, which causes people to feel like they need the drug to function normally.

People who are dependent experience distressing withdrawal symptoms when they stop using weed or reduce their use. The symptoms typically begin within one to three days of last use of the drug, and they peak during the first week of abstinence. Withdrawal symptoms typically resolve within one to two weeks.

On occasion, sleep difficulties and other symptoms may last longer. Some studies have reported that insomnia and strange dreams can persist for at least 45 days after quitting marijuana.

Typically, marijuana remains in the body much longer than withdrawal symptoms last. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and its metabolites can be detected in the urine of heavy marijuana users for one to two months after quitting.

While many people who are dependent on weed are addicted to the drug, it’s possible to be dependent and not have a marijuana addiction. Addiction causes people to use marijuana compulsively despite its negative effects on their lives.

Treatment for Marijuana Withdrawal

While people can often stop using marijuana on their own, some individuals need professional help to overcome marijuana addiction or dependence. In 2015, more than 200,000 people sought treatment for a marijuana problem.

Detox, which helps people manage the symptoms of withdrawal, is often the first step of marijuana addiction treatment. Marijuana detox and rehab usually take place in an outpatient setting, meaning people can live at home and visit a facility for treatment.

But some people — such as those with severe withdrawal symptoms or psychiatric problems — may require inpatient treatment. With this approach, also known as residential treatment, patients live at the facility and receive around-the-clock care.

The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any medications for treating marijuana withdrawal symptoms, but investigations are underway.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, early studies indicate that several existing prescription medications may relieve the sleep disturbances caused by weed withdrawal. These include the sleep aid Ambien (zolpidem), the anti-anxiety medicine Buspar (buspirone) and the anti-seizure medication Neurontin (gabapentin).

Other substances, including allosteric modulators, FAAH inhibitors and the supplement N-acetylcysteine, may help reduce withdrawal and suppress the rewarding effects of THC.

Author
Amy Keller, RN, BSN
Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
As a former journalist and a registered nurse, Amy draws on her clinical experience, compassion and storytelling skills to provide insight into the disease of addiction and treatment options. Amy has completed the American Psychiatric Nurses Association’s course on Effective Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder and continuing education on Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). Amy is an advocate for patient- and family-centered care. She previously participated in Moffitt Cancer Center’s patient and family advisory program and was a speaker at the Institute of Patient-and Family-Centered Care’s 2015 national conference.
@DrugRehabAmy
editor
Joey Rosenberg
Joey Rosenberg,
Editor, DrugRehab.com

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