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How Long Does Withdrawal From Marijuana Last?

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Cannabis (marijuana) is the most commonly used illicit drug. For many years, marijuana has been considered a soft drug, exempt from the usual concerns about addiction. However, recent research has shown that cannabis withdrawal can and does occur when heavy pot smokers discontinue its use.

As a result, the diagnostic criteria for cannabis withdrawal is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5).  

Overview

If you have been smoking pot heavily for at least a few months—whether as a regular pattern, in binges, or if you have become addicted—you may experience cannabis withdrawal if you abruptly stop using.

A Duke University study of 496 adult marijuana smokers who tried to quit found that 95.5% of them experienced at least one withdrawal symptom while 43.1% experienced more than one symptom. The number of symptoms the participants experienced was significantly linked to how often and how much the subjects smoked prior to trying to quit.

Those who were daily smokers experienced the most symptoms, but even those who reported using marijuana less than once a week experienced some withdrawal symptoms of moderate intensity.

Signs & Symptoms

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening—their main danger is causing someone who really wants or needs to quit cannabis to relapse.

You might feel extra edgy and irritable, have trouble sleeping and eating, and may even get a stomachache or headache. Some people compare it to the feeling you get when you try to quit caffeine.

Although marijuana withdrawal typically lasts one to two weeks, some marijuana users experience several weeks or months of withdrawal symptoms, known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

One person’s experience of cannabis withdrawal might be quite different from another’s, and the severity depends on a whole host of factors, including frequency of use as well as overall health. However, there are certain common withdrawal symptoms that usually occur within 24 to 72 hours of stopping heavy use.

Cravings

Although many regular smokers of marijuana do not believe they are addicted to the drug, many former marijuana users report drug cravings in the early days of abstinence. The experience of cravings will vary from person to person, but tend to include a persistent desire to use the substance.

This is a hallmark of addiction, whether it’s heroin, alcohol, gambling, or sex addiction. In one study, 75.7% of participants trying to quit reported an intense craving for marijuana.

Irritability

Irritability can range from mild and relatively easy to control annoyance to excessive anger and even aggression. This is a normal reaction to withdrawing from marijuana.

If the irritability lasts for more than a week, it is a good idea to seek support from a doctor, drug counselor, or psychologist, as the symptom may be part of another issue that your cannabis use was masking.

More than half of those who try to quit marijuana report mood swings, irritability, or anxiety. Others report aggression, nervousness, restlessness, and a loss of concentration.

Anxiety

Anxiety can be a symptom of both cannabis intoxication and cannabis withdrawal.   The distinctive paranoid feelings that occur when high on marijuana are well known among users,.

It can be worrying when anxiety continues or worsens even after you quit. As with the irritability, it can be helpful to remember that your fears are probably a natural part of drug withdrawal.

If you continue to feel anxious after a week of discontinuing cannabis, see a doctor. Cannabis use can sometimes cause substance-induced anxiety disorders, and there may have been an existing anxiety problem before you started using cannabis.  

If you experience extended paranoia, especially if you also experience hallucinations or delusions, it is very important to be properly assessed by a mental health professional, ideally with expertise in substance issues   such as an American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM)-certified physician or a psychiatrist.

Depression

Depression, characterized by a persistently sad mood accompanied by several other symptoms like decreased interest in daily activities and difficulty concentrating, is another possibility of cannabis withdrawal.

Occasional depressed feelings are natural. It is not unusual for people coming off cannabis to also become more aware of some of the negative consequences of their drug use as well as emotional states the marijuana has been masking.

For example, some people who cease marijuana after using for several years can feel they have wasted a considerable part of their life. These feelings are normal and can often be used to bring about positive changes you want to make in your life.

If the feelings of depression don’t lift after a week or two, are impacting your functioning, or if making changes in your life seems overwhelming, seek help from your doctor or a drug counselor. As with other mood changes, depression can be substance-induced or pre-existing to your cannabis use, and it is treatable.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression and addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Sleep Problems

An estimated 46.9% of former pot smokers report sleep disruption problems, including insomnia (trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep), unusually vivid or disturbing dreams, and night sweats during cannabis withdrawal.

Others who have quit smoking report having “using dreams” in which they dream they smoke marijuana. Frequent, vivid dreams typically begin about a week after quitting and can last for about a month before tapering off. Although some former users have reported having these types of dreams years after they stopped smoking pot.

Insomnia symptoms after you stop using weed can last a few days or a couple of weeks. Some people find that they can experience occasional sleeplessness for a few months after quitting.

Headaches

Not everyone who stops smoking marijuana experiences headaches, but for those who do, the headaches can be very intense, especially during the first few days after quitting.

Headaches, like most other symptoms of withdrawing from marijuana use, will usually begin one to three days after quitting and will peak two to six days after stopping. Symptoms usually fade after two weeks, but some former smokers report continued symptoms for several weeks or even months later.

Other Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of marijuana withdrawal tend to be less intense, peak sooner, and fade more quickly than the psychological symptoms associated with quitting. The frequency and amount of marijuana used prior to stopping affect the severity and length of the withdrawals, which may include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as headache, sweating, shakiness and tremors, fever and chills

Coping & Relief

Making a few healthy lifestyle changes and employing some coping strategies can help you get through this period of withdrawal:

  • Stay physically active to help ease bodily tension.
  • Let friends and family members know when you need support or space.
  • Avoid situations that you find anxiety-provoking, such as loud, crowded parties.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation.
  • Establish sleep rituals and avoid caffeine too close to bedtime.

Warnings

There are no worrisome dangers in quitting marijuana cold-turkey or detoxing on your own. That said, consulting a medical professional can help you better manage the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal and prevent relapse.

Just as people with alcohol use disorder who are trying to quit drinking may pick up a drink to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, marijuana users may be tempted to light up a joint to relieve the discomfort they experience when they try to stop smoking pot.

One study found that 70.4% of users trying to quit smoking marijuana relapsed to relieve the withdrawal symptoms.

Long-Term Treatment

In many cases, the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal will dissipate with time and can be treated without medical attention. However, if your symptoms last for more than a couple of weeks, you should see your doctor or mental health professional.

Make sure you tell your doctor that marijuana withdrawal is playing a role in how you are feeling. If you just say you are depressed or anxious, you may be prescribed medication, like benzodiazepines, that can present its own set of dependence issues.

Fortunately, many non-addictive pharmacologic options exist for anxiety, as well as non-drug treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).  

Resources

If you have decided to quit smoking weed after regular use, chances are you will experience some kind of withdrawal symptoms. Depending on how much and how often you have been smoking, these symptoms could become intense enough to drive you to relapse to find relief.

But you don’t have to do it on your own. Seek help from your healthcare provider to deal with the physical symptoms of withdrawal or seek help from a support group like Marijuana Anonymous to handle the psychological symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal can be unpleasant and may temporarily interfere with performance at work, school, and daily life. While withdrawing from marijuana use can present challenges, remember that what you are going through will pass. Be patient. Making life changes is always challenging, but with the right support, they can be transformative.

Withdrawal from marijuana isn’t always easy, so here is everything you need to know about withdrawal symptoms, the timeline, and how to get help.

Horrible Side Effects of Marijuana That People Never Talk About

The recent boom of the marijuana industry has led to incredible job creation as well as new treatments for terrible chronic diseases. With the legalization of marijuana on the rise, it’s important the public be informed of every positive and negative aspect of using the drug. While it can be useful to treat things like anxiety and even help reduce the side effects of cancer treatments, it can also be the cause of things like irregular heartbeats. Everyone is different and some people may experience numerous side effects while others experience none at all. These are the potential side effects of marijuana use, including two common side effects that can, unfortunately, turn fatal (No. 9 and No. 11).

1. Schizophrenia

Marijuana can increase your chances of developing schizophrenia. | David McNew/Getty Images

  • Marijuana can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, depression, and social anxiety.

Various studies on the effects of marijuana have been done through the years, but NBC recently reported that one potential risk of the drug is a serious one — mental illness. Marijuana can increase one’s risk of developing schizophrenia. This illness causes delusions, hallucinations, and unclear thinking, and greatly affects one’s ability to function properly. The drug can also increase depression and social anxiety, according to the same study. Those who use marijuana heavily are also more likely to be suicidal.

Next: Marijuana users are 26% more likely to suffer one terrifying medical event.

2. Heart and stroke risk

Marijuana can have health benefits, but people with heart problems need to be extra careful | iStock/Getty Images

  • Those who use marijuana were 26 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who do not use marijuana.

While it’s easy to picture a marijuana user mellowing out as they wish, marijuana can increase your heart rate by 20% to 100% shortly after smoking, and the effect can last up to 3 hours, according to Live Science and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This may raise the risk of heart attack.

“A 2017 study by the Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia found that those who used marijuana were 26 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who did not use marijuana,” explains Live Science. “Those studied were also 10 percent more likely to have developed heart failure.”

Next: Is marijuana really a safer alternative to cigarettes?

3. Respiratory problems

Marijuana smoke can irritate your lungs. | Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

  • Regular marijuana use can cause a prolonged cough, airway inflammation, and wheezing.

There is no conclusive evidence that marijuana causes lung cancer, but it does create a series of respiratory problems for frequent users, such as a prolonged cough, airway inflammation, and wheezing. According to the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, marijuana smoke contains harmful chemicals that are in similar range to those in tobacco smoke. Since marijuana requires a deeper inhalation than cigarettes, it leaves about five times the carbon monoxide concentration and three times the tar in the respiratory tract compared to cigarettes.

Next: Male users are at serious risk of two major side effects.

4. Low testosterone levels

Marijuana can lower your testosterone levels. | Mark Piscotty/Getty Images

  • Chronic marijuana use could lower testosterone and potentially lead to gynecomastia.

Some studies have shown that chronic cannabis use can result in lower testosterone levels, and even a lower sperm count. Doctors have agreed that it’s very plausible that chronic marijuana use can lower testosterone. However, researchers cannot draw a completely factual conclusion until they complete several more studies. Low levels can also result in something called gynecomastia, which is increased breast tissue caused by a hormone imbalance between testosterone and estrogen levels in men.

Next: Your stomach might turn at the thought of doing this.

5. Loss of appetite while sober

This hamburger is missing something | iStock.com

  • Some frequent users lose their appetite when sober.

Everyone knows marijuana can trigger a case of the munchies, but some users complain they find their appetite disappears when they aren’t using the drug.

“I find that I don’t have much of an appetite any more unless I am stoned,” wrote Reddit user oz24. “[T]hinking about eating sober gave me nausea. [Probably] the worst part of all the side effects,” echoed user newmilwaukee.

Scientists who study the relationship between marijuana and appetite have discovered that a component of the drug appears to activate hormones that produce hunger, but it’s not clear what effect that might have on a person’s desire to eat when they aren’t high. A separate study found that people who smoked weed at least three times per week were skinnier than people who didn’t use marijuana, but why that was the case wasn’t clear.

Next: This debilitating side effect could appear by middle age.

6. Memory loss

Your mind may not be so sharp after a few smoke sessions. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • Those who practice long-term daily marijuana use can see memory loss by middle age.

In 2016, JAMA Internal Medicine published a study confirming that those who practiced long-term, daily marijuana use had poorer verbal memory in their middle age compared to those who didn’t smoke. The study considered “long term” to mean five years or more. The researchers examined 3,400 people’s habits over a 25-year period. Everyone in the group took a cognitive skills test at the end of the study period, which determined the results.

Next: A terrifying side effect that could mean you’ve had too much.

7. Hallucinations

Hallucinations could be a sign you’ve overindulged. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

  • Temporary hallucinations could indicate a marijuana overdose.

Too much marijuana can make you hallucinate. This is different from schizophrenia because the effects are not permanent and it happens most often when the potency is stronger than the smoker expected. With a hallucination, the marijuana user might perceive something that is not actually present. Temporary delusions are also possible during a high.

Next: Don’t believe everything you hear

8. Addiction

Marijuana can become addictive. | iStock.com/Pe3check

  • One in 11 young adults who smoke weed will develop an addiction.

Many people praise marijuana for its non-addictive qualities. However, physicians would strongly disagree with such a statement. “There’s no question at all that marijuana is addictive,” Dr. Sharon Levy, the director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told Boston Globe. Right now, only one in 11 young adults who smoke weed will develop an addiction. However, with more potent products beginning to enter the market, the addiction rates will increase.

Next: This side effect can last longer than most people think.

9. Slowed reaction time

Driving while high is not a good idea. | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

  • Marijuana use can impair visual perception and motor speed for up to 28 days.

Driving while high may seem like an obvious no, but impaired reaction time can last much longer than the high. “Visual perception and motor speed may be impaired not only while you smoke, but for up to 28 days afterward,” Marina Goldman, an addiction expert from University of Pennsylvania’s Addiction Treatment Center, told Philadelphia magazine. Slowed reaction time means that an oncoming vehicle can pose a greater danger; there could be a delay in perception time and appropriate reaction time.

Next: Science says the relationship between marijuana use and this mental condition isn’t a myth.

10. Paranoia

Marijuana plants | ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

  • People are more likely to experience paranoid thoughts after ingesting THC.

Tales of pot-induced paranoia aren’t unusual and science says the relationship between marijuana use and paranoia isn’t a myth. A 121-person study conducted at the University of Oxford found that people were more likely to experience paranoid thoughts after ingesting THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, than those who took a placebo. The drug also triggered negative thoughts about the self and lowered mood.

“There’s certainly evidence that if you use cannabis — particularly when you’re young — and you use it a lot, that this can put you at risk for later problems,” professor Daniel Freeman, who led the study, told WebMD.

Next: No risk of overdosing can lead to a different fatal side effect.

11. Potentially fatal choices

Take it slow with marijuana use, especially edibles| Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

  • Marijuana has never caused a fatal overdose but does lead to potentially deadly choices.

While marijuana isn’t the only substance to enable bad decision making, it highlights the importance of self-control and responsibility.

Medical experts and the Drug Enforcement Agency agree that marijuana has never caused a fatal, toxic overdose. However, there have been a few reports of excessive marijuana use leading to other fatal decisions, as was the case in March 2014 when a 19-year-old college student jumped off of a balcony after ingesting five times the recommended amount of marijuana.

Next: Smoking weed may not make you as ‘chill’ as you’d think

12. Mood swings

Angry driver shouting | Chris Ryan/iStock/Getty Images

  • Having different personalities while high and sober could hinder relationship building.

It is extremely common for marijuana users to act drastically different when they are high than when they are sober. These mood swings can make it more difficult to develop interpersonal relationships because of a lack of balanced behavior. The drug can also cause de-personalization, which can make it harder to develop a relationship with someone

Next: This next potential side effect may make your heart skip a beat.

13. Decreased heart health

A woman grabs her chest. | SIphotography/iStock/Getty Images

  • Marijuana use can increase your risk of developing an irregularheartbeat, which can increase the risk of stroke or cardiac arrest.

Marijuana can have a few different effects on your overall heart health. Dr. Shereif Rezkalla, a cardiologist who studies marijuana, says “clinical evidence also suggests the potential for serious cardiovascular risks,” Live Science reports. These risks include developing irregular heartbeats, which can increase the risk of stroke or cardiac arrest, according to Everyday Health.

In addition to the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, CNN reported smoking pot regularly can weaken the heart muscles, especially in younger men according to a 2016 study. The heart condition is known as stress cardiomyopathy and it causes your heart muscles to weaken temporarily, which prevents the heart from properly pumping. The lead investigator of the study found marijuana usage has been linked to at least two cases of this syndrome.

Next: There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

14. Exposure to dangerous potencies

Marijuana in edible form is very potent. | Alejandro Pagni/Getty Images

  • Marijuana has been increasing in potency — an edible tends to have a potency 10 times higher than a joint.

Today, marijuana products are much stronger than they used to be. Edible products tend to have a potency that is up to 10 times higher than that of a traditional joint, according to Steven Wright, a pain and addiction medicine specialist in Denver. Wright told USA Today that since edibles’ effects take up to an hour to set in — unlike joints, which reach the brain in just seconds — people end up consuming far more than they intended, which can cause more harm than the drug in its traditional form.

With many states legalizing the drug, it's important to pay attention to its life-altering side effects. Here's what you need to know. ]]>