The past few years have seen numerous states pass cannabis legalization laws and launch legal cannabis markets. Now, 19 states allow adults 21 and older to purchase recreational cannabis, and lawmakers are considering legislation to legalize cannabis at the federal level. Consequently, cannabis is more accessible than ever, with the CDC reporting that 18% of Americans (48.2 million people) consumed cannabis in 2019-- and that's just those comfortable enough reporting it to the government. Despite this, many cannabis users don't know about marijuana withdrawal. They are unaware that they may experience symptoms of marijuana withdrawal that are overwhelming and unexpected once they decide to quit.
Yes, marijuana withdrawal is real, although it may not be as dangerous as withdrawing from other substances. This article will explain cannabis withdrawal, discuss the marijuana withdrawal symptoms you may experience, and share ways to cope with marijuana withdrawal until it passes.
What is Marijuana Withdrawal?
Withdrawal is the combination of physical and mental effects a person experiences when they cease or reduce their intake of alcohol, prescription, or recreational drugs. Many cannabis users argue that cannabis use doesn't lead to withdrawal, which feeds into the common misconception that cannabis is 100% risk-free. This is far from the truth.
Suppose you regularly consume cannabis and suddenly reduce or stop your intake. You will most likely experience a range of symptoms as your body adjusts to functioning without cannabis. Withdrawal will be dependent on how much cannabis you were using before quitting, especially if you were addicted to cannabis and using it frequently. Addiction is a compulsive psychological need to consume a habit-forming substance. Nearly 21 million Americans suffer from at least one addiction, but only 10% get rehabilitative treatment to help them beat it.
Severe withdrawal symptoms are one of the reasons people avoid addiction treatment. Cannabis carries a risk of dependence and addiction. There is a significant risk that users who quit will experience withdrawal symptoms, hampering their progress or causing them to regress. Acquainting yourself with the signs of marijuana withdrawal will help you better withstand the symptoms. Generally, marijuana withdrawals will last for three to four weeks, peaking after 2-6 days before steadily tapering off. The worst of the withdrawal symptoms should be gone after about a month. However, some people will experience minor symptoms even longer.
What are the Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal?
Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal will vary based on how much cannabis you consumed, how often you used it, and your genetics.
Regardless of these factors, you can expect to experience digestive changes. Your appetite will significantly decline, and you may experience nausea and food aversions. Having a food aversion is when you can't stand to eat or smell certain foods. These symptoms are typical for the first few days after you quit cannabis. For some people, these digestive changes may be enough for them to continue using marijuana. Fortunately, these unpleasant symptoms only last for a short time and peak quickly compared to other marijuana withdrawal symptoms.
After you stop using cannabis, you may also have mood changes. Frequent users may experience some of these symptoms within a week of quitting cannabis:
- Irritability or hostility
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Feelings of depression
Researchers found that around 12% of frequent cannabis users experience cannabis withdrawal syndrome. Individuals with a family history of mental disability and depression are more likely to go through marijuana withdrawals.
In addition to mood changes, you may also experience physical symptoms like insomnia, headache, chills, sweating, fever, shaking, tremors, and abdominal pain after quitting cannabis. Researchers found that 76% of participants experienced nervousness or anxiety, 72% felt aggression and hostility, 68% had trouble sleeping, and 59% felt depressed. Fewer participants reported experiencing physical symptoms, but headaches, sweating, and tremors were most common. Researchers concluded that the likelihood of experiencing marijuana withdrawal symptoms depended on how much cannabis you use each day.
Most marijuana withdrawal symptoms are relatively mild, only causing discomfort. However, some marijuana users can develop severe symptoms when they quit using cannabis, especially if they use it every day for an extended time. Cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is a severe symptom that causes repeated bouts of vomiting, lasting for up to 20 days. It is pretty rare and only affects heavy cannabis users, so light to moderate users don't have to worry about CHS.
In 2016, a study found that stomach pain, depressed mood, shaking, and sweating are more common marijuana withdrawal symptoms than nausea. Nausea tends to be more pronounced in females suffering from cannabis withdrawal syndrome than males. The severity of nausea depends on the kinds of cannabis products the user consumes. People who consume highly potent products like tinctures, extracts, and dabs with up to 80% THC experience severe nausea once they stop using cannabis. These highly concentrated cannabis products led to higher tolerance and withdrawal levels and were often associated with the onset of first-episode psychosis.
You might ask how long does marijuana withdrawal last? Withdrawal symptoms begin a day or two after you stop using cannabis, peak within a week, and taper off in 2-4 weeks. In the studies mentioned above, regular and former cannabis users found that the psychological and physical symptoms typically start within three days. The first ones are difficulty sleeping and concentrating, irritability, and anxiety. You may also experience cravings, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, as well as shakiness and headaches. These symptoms peak within three days and become milder and easier to manage after a week.
By this point in your marijuana withdrawal timeline, you have gone through the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. You may continue to experience trouble sleeping, lack of energy, and reduced appetite as you enter your second week of sobriety. The flu-like symptoms should have dissipated. While the physical symptoms will likely fade after the first week, you may still feel restless, depressed, and anxious and have some trouble sleeping in weeks three and four. After four weeks, you should start to feel normal again as the remainder of your symptoms fades away.
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Why Some People Experience Withdrawal Symptoms
Some people can stop using cannabis without suffering from marijuana withdrawals, while others experience symptoms like reduced appetite, fever, and chills for weeks before they return to normal. While the onset and severity of these symptoms depend on a wide variety of factors, if you are addicted to and dependent on cannabis, you will likely experience withdrawal when you quit. Over 30% of cannabis users had a marijuana use disorder in 2012 and 2013. More than 300,000 people begin treatment for the condition each year.
With cannabis becoming more accessible to the public than ever, these numbers are most likely higher now. Using cannabis regularly can lead to addiction, especially if you use highly potent products with high percentages of THC and CBD, increasing your tolerance. Women are more likely to experience nausea, and, regardless of gender, your body will naturally crave the cannabis it has become accustomed to. Cravings are most intense at the beginning of the marijuana withdrawal timeline. Combined with insomnia, these symptoms cause many people to relapse soon after they've quit.
Is It Cannabis Withdrawal?
In some cases, you may experience symptoms that are not associated with signs of marijuana withdrawal. Cannabis is a very lucrative business, but because it's so new, there are few regulations, and it has developed a reputation similar to that of the wild west. It is easy for unscrupulous players to flood the cannabis market with substandard and toxic products without oversight from the regulatory bodies. Over the past few years, the market has seen an influx of synthetic cannabinoids, which are synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of THC and CBD. These synthetic cannabinoids can be much more potent than natural cannabinoids, making synthetic cannabis products more attractive to customers who prefer high-potency products.
These synthetic cannabinoids are often dangerous, causing users to suffer from rapid heart rate, vomiting, confusion, anxiety, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and violent behavior. Synthetic marijuana withdrawal closely mimics withdrawal from real cannabis. Cannabis contamination is another issue that affects the modern cannabis business. Heavy metals, solvents, and bacteria are culprits of cannabis contamination that can cause symptoms similar to the signs of marijuana withdrawal. Fortunately, you can avoid this by ensuring that the cannabis you consume is grown organically and without harmful contaminants.
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How to Ease Marijuana Withdrawal
The easiest way to deal with withdrawal symptoms is to not cause them in the first place. For some people, that means quitting.
If you're a regular cannabis user who wants to quit, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. You can get through withdrawal if you prepare in advance. If you consume a gram every day and 2 grams on the weekend, you can start by cutting it down to 0.7 grams on weekdays and 1.5 grams on weekends. Decrease the amount of cannabis you consume every 3-5 days, depending on your comfort level, until you reach a safer amount for you, whether it's zero grams or microdosing.
Now that you know how long marijuana withdrawal lasts and the symptoms you may experience, you know what to expect. There are several things you can do to help ease through marijuana withdrawal.
Practice a Healthy Lifestyle
Detoxing from cannabis is more manageable than other drugs, but it still requires effort and dedication. It will take your body some time to regain its equilibrium. Taking care of your body during that period will make detoxification less challenging. Eat healthy organic foods, and drink lots of water. To alleviate your lack of appetite and insomnia, you can start exercising daily.
Not only will exercising keep you in shape and make it easier to fall asleep, it will also help reduce cravings and stress. Additionally, your appetite will stabilize as your body requires more food to fuel your workouts.
Get a support system
Surround yourself with people who will help. Unfortunately, that may mean limiting the time you spend with friends and family who use cannabis. Some people and places will trigger cannabis cravings. Identify these triggers and reduce your contact with them. Surrounding yourself with people who care about you during this time will help keep you accountable. They will also provide support when withdrawal gets difficult.
Get Professional Help
There is no shame in seeking professional help. Many rehabilitation centers can help treat marijuana use disorder and help you through the detoxification process. Reaching out to a counselor or therapist who has experience in addiction medicine will increase your chances of quitting. There's no shame in asking for help.
Many people use cannabis to deal with anxiety, chronic pain, or to relax. However, if you feel like you've developed an addiction, you're the only thing stopping you from quitting. You may experience some marijuana withdrawal symptoms, but they are often mild and resolve within two to three weeks. If your goal is to quit, avoid anything or anyone that may trigger cravings, surround yourself with a support system, and talk to a professional if necessary.