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Marijuana Withdrawal: What To Expect And How To Cope

Rufus Tony Spann is a nationally certified school psychologist and licensed professional counselor based in Washington, D.C.

Commissions we earn from partner links on this page do not affect our opinions or evaluations. Our editorial content is based on thorough research and guidance from the Forbes Health Advisory Board.

Table of Contents

  • What Is Marijuana Withdrawal?
  • Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal
  • Who Is Most Likely to Experience Marijuana Withdrawal?
  • 4 Expert Tips for Coping With Marijuana Withdrawal
  • Can CBD Help With Marijuana Withdrawal?
  • When to Seek Help

As the debate rages on about whether marijuana is an addictive substance, one thing is clear: Some habitual and long-term users experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop consuming it.

In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) includes diagnostic criteria for cannabis withdrawal syndrome. And it may be more common than you think—a 2020 meta-analysis of studies found 47% of people who regularly used or felt dependent on cannabis experienced cannabis withdrawal syndrome when they stopped consuming the substance [1] Bahji A, Stephenson C, Tyo R, Hawken E, Seitz D. Prevalence of Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome Among People With Regular or Dependent Use of Cannabinoids. JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(4):e202370. .

What Is Marijuana Withdrawal?

Unpleasant psychological and physiological symptoms can occur when a long-term, regular consumer of marijuana suddenly quits. “The more you use, the higher your tolerance becomes and the more severe your symptoms of withdrawal [can be],” says Michael Weaver, M.D., a psychiatry professor and medical director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Research on Addiction at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. While the effects are usually short-lived, they can be highly uncomfortable.

“The [body’s] endocannabinoid system has receptors on cells like satellite dishes,” explains Jordan Tishler, M.D., a Harvard Medical School faculty member, the president of the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists and the CEO/CMO of inhaleMD, a clinical practice led by cannabinoid specialist physicians. “When the system is flooded with cannabis [and then the person abruptly stops consuming it], problematic symptoms can occur,” he says. The way to avoid withdrawal symptoms, he adds, is “to turn down the volume by curbing intake or lowering the dose gradually.”

Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal

To meet the criteria for cannabis withdrawal syndrome, a person must exhibit at least three of the following symptoms within about a week of abrupt cannabis use cessation, according to the DSM-5:

  • Irritability
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Decreased appetite or weight loss
  • Depressed mood
  • Physical symptoms, such as abdominal pain, shakiness or tremors, sweating, fever, chills or headache

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The severity and duration of these symptoms can vary widely from person to person and may be influenced by their former amount of marijuana consumption, personality traits, the presence of other psychiatric or physical health conditions, the amount of stress in their lives and other factors.

While the typical effects of marijuana consumption can include feeling mellow or relaxed or getting the “munchies,” cannabis withdrawal symptoms tend to reside on the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of feeling relaxed, the person tends to feel restless or irritable; instead of craving sweet or fatty foods, the person can lose their appetite; instead of feeling sleepy, the person can experience rebound insomnia.

“It’s really about neuroadaptation,” says Patrick Fehling, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist with the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. “The withdrawal experience is the opposite of the experience of taking the substance.”

Who Is Most Likely to Experience Marijuana Withdrawal?

Marijuana withdrawal can happen to recreational users, as well as people who use cannabis for medicinal purposes. Heavy, long-term users are most at risk, says Dr. Tishler. “It’s very much dose-dependent.”

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There may be some gender differences as well. In a 2015 study in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, researchers found women seeking treatment for cannabis use disorders had higher and more severe withdrawal symptoms than men. More specifically, women had higher scores on measures of irritability, restlessness, increased anger, violent outbursts and gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and stomach pain [2] Herrmann E, Weerts E, Vandrey R. Sex differences in cannabis withdrawal symptoms among treatment-seeking cannabis users. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. December 2015;23(6): 415-421. .

4 Expert Tips for Coping With Marijuana Withdrawal

The best way to cope with marijuana withdrawal is to “recognize that it will get better—it will end,” says Dr. Weaver. The symptoms may be unpleasant and uncomfortable for a few days, but then they usually get progressively better. In the meantime, here are several expert-backed tips for easing the discomfort.

1. Exercise

The famous “runner’s high” is associated with the endocannabinoid system (which regulates neurotransmitters throughout the body), too, says Dr. Tishler. So doing a moderate-to-vigorous aerobic workout might help boost your mood and distract you from your uncomfortable symptoms. What’s more, a 2021 study in the Journal of Sleep Research found doing a 35-minute cycling workout every day for six days helped cannabis-dependent people fall asleep more easily and sleep longer than those who did a stretching workout [3] McCartney D, Isik A, Rooney K, Arnold J, Bartlett D, Murnion B, Richards E, Arkell T, Lintzeris N, McGregor I. The effect of daily aerobic cycling exercise on sleep quality during inpatient cannabis withdrawal: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Sleep Research. June 2021;30(3):e13211. .

2. Use Remedies to Treat Specific Symptoms

If you have nausea, you could treat it with Pepto Bismol, suggests Dr. Weaver. Or if you’re struggling with insomnia or other sleep disturbances, you could ask your doctor about medication solutions or try a sleep meditation app, says Dr. Fehling. The latter approach is likely to give you “the best bang for the buck,” he adds, because it can help relieve restlessness and set the stage for better sleep.

3. Consume Healthy Foods

“Take an inventory of your diet, including your snacking and consumption of processed food or fast food,” says Dr. Fehling. These choices can make you feel worse. Instead, stick with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein—and stay well hydrated.

4. Seek Support From Friends and Family

These relationships can help you stay motivated to get through this difficult transition without relapsing—and help you “occupy yourself with other things that will take your attention away from not feeling so good,” says Dr. Weaver.

Can CBD Help With Marijuana Withdrawal?

The jury is still out on whether CBD can help with marijuana withdrawal. Some experts, including Dr. Tishler and Dr. Weaver, say using cannabidiol (CBD) is unlikely to help with cannabis withdrawal symptoms because it’s less psychoactive than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and THC is what causes the desired effects (as well as the withdrawal symptoms) of marijuana. But a 2018 review of 10 studies on the subject concluded that cannabinoids like CBD may help treat cannabis withdrawal symptoms. What’s more, they may “decrease the rate of relapse in the treatment of cannabis dependence due to withdrawal symptoms.” [4] Werneck M, Kortas G, de Andrade A, Castaldelli-Maia J. A Systematic Review of the Efficacy of Cannabinoid Agonist Replacement Therapy for Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms. CNS Drugs. December 2018;32(12):1113-1129.

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Coping with cannabis withdrawal symptoms

If you use cannabis (weed) regularly you may get withdrawal symptoms when you cut down or stop.

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Withdrawal symptoms are a positive sign that your body is recovering. They usually stop within a few weeks.

Here’s some advice to help you get through them.

Signs of cannabis withdrawal

It’s normal to experience low mood and cravings when you cut down or stop any drug.

If you cut down or stop cannabis, you may also experience:

  • sleep problems
  • strange dreams
  • anxiety and restlessness
  • irritability and anger
  • sweats and chills
  • changes in your appetite
  • nicotine withdrawal (if you smoke cannabis with tobacco)

Cannabis withdrawal symptoms usually peak about four days after you stop or cut down.

They will probably be more intense if:

  • you stop completely rather than cutting down
  • you smoke cannabis every day or most days

Most symptoms stop by 10 days but some people carry on getting them for up to four weeks.

This is because the active ingredients in cannabis are stored in fat cells in your body. It takes up to four weeks for your fat cells to release them all.

How to handle cannabis withdrawal symptoms

Cannabis withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to deal with but they don’t last forever.

Be kind and patient with yourself as your body recovers.

Sleep problems

You can expect a few sleepless nights when you give up cannabis, especially if you use it to help you sleep.

To help you sleep better:

  • Get up and go to bed at the same times each day – having a regular sleep routine helps to train your body to fall asleep at the same time each night.
  • Have a calming bedtime routine – having the same routine each night tells your body it’s time to sleep. Include calming things like a warm bath, reading or watching TV in your routine – whatever helps you feel relaxed and sleepy.
  • Avoid going on your phone just before bed – the light from the screen makes it harder for your brain to switch off and go to sleep.
  • Get out and about during the day – even a short walk in daylight hours will improve your mood and your sleep, and help with stress and anxiety too.

You’ll find 10 tips to beat insomnia on the NHS website.

Strange dreams

Some people start having strange or disturbing dreams when they stop using cannabis. These should start to fade after about a week.

Follow the sleep tips above till they pass.

Anxiety and restlessness

It’s quite common to feel anxious when you stop using cannabis. This is more likely if you use cannabis to manage anxiety.

The trick is to find new ways to handle your anxiety.

Writing your worries down can help. So can using simple breathing exercises to calm your breath.

Avoid coffee and other caffeinated drinks as well.

Without the sedating effects of cannabis, caffeine can make you feel more jittery and anxious than usual.

Irritability and anger

Some people say they feel irritable and angry when they stop using cannabis.

These feelings are normal and they will pass.

Try to cut down stress in your life and build in more things that you find relaxing, such as playing games or listening to music.

Telling a close friend or family member how you are feeling can be a great source of support.

If you don’t want to tell them you’re irritable because you’ve stopped using cannabis, you could just say you’re feeling under the weather.

Sweats and chills

You may get flu-like symptoms like sweats, chills, headaches and muscle pains when you give up cannabis.

If this happens, look after yourself as though you had a cold or flu.

Wrap up and take it easy. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids and take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease any aches and pains.

Changes in your appetite

Food may taste different when you’re withdrawing from cannabis, and your appetite may change.

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If you don’t feel like eating, try to eat little and often or have smoothies instead. Getting some exercise and fresh air may help to build your appetite too.

Some people get nausea and stomach pains. These should go away in a week or two.

If you smoke cannabis with tobacco

If you usually smoke cannabis mixed with tobacco, be aware that you’ll also get nicotine withdrawal symptoms if you stop.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are similar to those for cannabis. You may feel irritable, restless and like you can’t concentrate on anything.

To avoid withdrawing from nicotine at the same time as cannabis, you can use nicotine replacement treatments like patches or gum.

It’s best to avoid things like vaping or e-cigarettes. Anything that reminds you of smoking could be a trigger to use cannabis again.

Need help now?

For support with giving up cannabis and coping with withdrawal symptoms talk to us online or get in touch with one of our local services.

Cannabidiol for the treatment of cannabis withdrawal syndrome: a case report

What is known and objective: Cannabis withdrawal in heavy users is commonly followed by increased anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, migraine, irritability, restlessness and other physical and psychological signs. Tolerance to cannabis and cannabis withdrawal symptoms are believed to be the result of the desensitization of CB1 receptors by THC.

Case summary: This report describes the case of a 19-year-old woman with cannabis withdrawal syndrome treated with cannabidiol (CBD) for 10 days. Daily symptom assessments demonstrated the absence of significant withdrawal, anxiety and dissociative symptoms during the treatment.

What is new and conclusion: CBD can be effective for the treatment of cannabis withdrawal syndrome.

© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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