What Is Marijuana Withdrawal?
Marijuana withdrawal, also called cannabis withdrawal, is something some people who use marijuana experience. While it doesn’t happen to all users, slightly less than half of the people who engage in regular or dependent levels of cannabis use were shown by one meta-analysis to experience it.
Talking about withdrawal from marijuana is sometimes difficult in that it’s worth noting many people don’t experience it even after significant use, and some people who do experience it don’t see it as a significant impediment to quitting marijuana use.
At the same time, it is a real phenomenon that can cause discomfort. It may sometimes cause serious enough symptoms that it may prevent a person from quitting marijuana use. In this case, it’s necessary to get professional help in order to successfully quit use.
Key Facts About Marijuana Withdrawal
- Some marijuana research, including research used for the meta-withdrawal mentioned earlier, comes from times when marijuana was even more heavily politicized than it is now. Many frequently cited studies contain flaws that may have skewed their results.
- Experts often recommend thinking about medical cannabis and recreational cannabis as two separate substances for the purposes of talking about withdrawal and dependence. Medical cannabis may be less psychoactive while also containing more CBD.
- Problematic marijuana withdrawal can usually be handled through outpatient care, although an individual who is particularly struggling might still benefit from inpatient detox.
- An estimated 3 in 10 people who use marijuana are believed to have marijuana use disorder.
- Levels of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, have climbed steadily over time and are now about three times the concentration they were 25 years ago.
What Are the Causes of Marijuana Withdrawal?
Marijuana withdrawal is the result of the body becoming physically dependent on marijuana. With repeated use, the brain adapts to the presence of the drug in the system.
It reduces the production of and its sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters, the same substance marijuana introduces to the brain that causes many of the effects we most associate with it.
Dependence and addiction are interrelated, although it’s important to note dependence is not the same thing as addiction. Physical dependence just means that the body and brain have adapted to the drug use, and you will likely experience some level of withdrawal if you stop taking that drug. Addiction means a person repeatedly uses a drug despite obvious negative consequences and is unable to stop despite those consequences.
What Are the Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal?
Marijuana withdrawal isn’t typically as intense as withdrawal associated with other recreational drugs. Symptoms can include the following:
- Abdominal pain
In severe cases, marijuana withdrawal has been linked to anorexia.
How Long Does Marijuana Withdrawal Last?
Most marijuana withdrawal symptoms occur within the first week of abstaining from marijuana and related products. These symptoms will then usually resolve after a few weeks.
Generally speaking, the more marijuana a person uses and the longer they’ve used it, the more intense their withdrawal and the longer it will last. Even then, many long-time users of marijuana quit with little or no withdrawal.
Factors That Affect Marijuana Withdrawal
As a general rule, withdrawal is made easier with the support of addiction treatment professionals. These professionals can help make a person more comfortable. They sometimes prescribe medications to treat symptoms of withdrawal, such as anti-nausea medication.
Discussed in more detail later, research is being done on whether medications can help lessen the impact of marijuana withdrawal more directly. At least some of this research has been promising, and it seems likely to produce a treatment option in the future.
There are elements to marijuana withdrawal we don’t yet fully understand. As noted earlier, even very heavy users sometimes quit marijuana without experiencing significant withdrawal. The more we understand marijuana withdrawal over time, the more treatments can be customized to a person’s individual needs.
What Is Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome?
Cannabis withdrawal syndrome is a criterion of cannabis use disorders, and it refers to the collection of symptoms that result from a person becoming dependent on cannabis enough that they go through withdrawal when they stop taking it.
Most people will just refer to this as cannabis withdrawal or marijuana withdrawal.
If a person is experiencing marijuana withdrawal, they may be able to get through it without treatment if their symptoms are not severe. However, this does increase the chance that they might relapse and will continue to use marijuana even when they want to quit.
It’s best to talk to an addiction treatment professional about outpatient treatment. This is when an individual goes to a treatment provider for treatment during part of the day but returns home (or goes to do other activities) after receiving treatment.
This setup allows people to be more comfortable and get through withdrawal without significantly impacting their ability to do important activities like work or go to school.
No medication has yet been approved to treat marijuana withdrawal, but some have shown promise. In a laboratory setting, a single dose of 10 mg/day oral synthetic THC (dronabinol) has been shown to suppress withdrawal symptoms. There is also some evidence that this type of treatment may be more effective when combined with an α-adrenergic agonist, such as the drug lofexidine.
The drug buspirone has also shown some promise. A few trials have shown entacapone, dronabinol, and lithium warrant further study, although definitive statements about these drugs are harder to make at this time.
Support Resources for Marijuana Misuse
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a free, confidential hotline set up for people seeking treatment for problems with substance abuse or mental health. This national helpline, available in English and Spanish, can be reached at 1-800-662-4357 and is available 24/7. This number is designed to connect people with treatment resources relevant to their needs, including referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
You can also check out this self-help guide from the University of Notre Dame, which is intended to help individuals quit marijuana use in 30 days. The idea is that one follows the provided links every day of their 30-day journey, slowly working toward sobriety. While this may not be the best approach for everyone, it’s free and worth checking out if you’re considering your options.
The best step is to reach out to an addiction treatment professional. They can assess your individual situation and make recommendations that will best help you to stop using marijuana for good. They will also provide assistance and support during the marijuana withdrawal process.
- If Cannabis Becomes a Problem: How to Manage Withdrawal. (May 2020). Harvard Health Publishing.
- Addiction (Marijuana or Cannabis Use Disorder). (October 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Know the Risks of Marijuana. (September 2022). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Is Marijuana Addictive? (July 2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Pharmacological Treatment of Cannabis Dependence. (2011). Current Pharmaceutical Design.
- The Connection Between Anorexia, Bulimia, and Marijuana. (April 2012). Psychology Today.
- The Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome: Current Insights. (April 2017). Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation.
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Quitting Marijuana: A 30 Day Self Help Guide. University of Notre Dame.