Cannabis withdrawal Syndrome: How to ease the symptoms

Many countries have changed their cannabis legislation in recent years, legalising the use of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes. Because of this change in attitude, many people have the misconception that marijuana is not addictive.

However, once people decide to quit using marijuana, they soon realise withdrawal symptoms starting to present themselves, solidifying the fact that cannabis is in fact an addictive substance. Increased cravings for cannabis, a loss of focus, irritability, and other symptoms might seem challenging for regular and long-term cannabis consumers. These tough conditions can make it easy for users to simply return to consuming cannabis, continuing the cycle of wanting to quit and feeling helpless after withdrawal symptoms start to emerge.

This is why it is important to know what to expect when you quit cannabis and why your body needs to undergo the process of withdrawal to become cannabis-free. Knowing how to ease and treat  withdrawal symptoms can help those who want to quit, as they have an idea of what they will go through and make it more likely for them to complete the process of quitting.

What are the common marijuana withdrawal symptoms

Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms of marijuana include:

  • Irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Changes in mood
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • Chills/cold sweats
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Stomach issues
  • Depressive episodes
  • Cravings for marijuana

Some individuals may only experience some of these symptoms, while others can feel the effect of most symptoms. The effects can also range from mild to severe depending on the person, and those who have used marijuana for a longer period of time are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. Although these symptoms may not be dangerous, they can definitely be unpleasant.

Why does marijuana cause withdrawal symptoms

Marijuana can cause withdrawal symptoms just like any other addictive substance. Alcohol, opioids, heroin, and cocaine can produce severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms, but luckily the withdrawal symptoms of marijuana are not dangerous or fatal. There are, however, still physical and psychological symptoms that may present themselves when quitting cannabis use.

The primary psychoactive ingredient within cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). As you consume this compound regularly, your body adjusts to get used to this new supply of THC and becomes dependent on it. The frequency of smoking influences how dependent you become on the chemical. 

When you choose to stop using marijuana, your brain needs to adjust to its absence. This can result in unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as your body starts craving what used to be the norm.

Timeline of withdrawal

The idea of experiencing withdrawal symptoms can discourage many from quitting addictive substances. However, it is important to know that these symptoms will not last forever and once you get through the first week, you will notice significant improvements. 

PeriodPotential symptoms experienced
Day 1Anxiousness and irritability increases.A person may experience restlessness and have trouble sleeping.
Day 2-3Withdrawal symptoms start to pique.Cravings for marijuana increase.The person may experience sweating and chills.
Day 4-10Symptoms may vary in intensity during this period (easier to manage one day while being more intense on others).Depression starts to kick in.Cravings for marijuana become intense and might tempt the person to use again.A mixture of anxiousness and lethargy may cause emotional confusion.This is a critical period for those who are quitting cannabis, as the withdrawal symptoms are the most intense during this period.
Day 11-20A steady decline in withdrawal symptoms occurs.
Day 21 & onwardsDuring this period, most of the withdrawal symptoms start to subside.Faint and less intense symptoms may linger for a bit, but should disappear with time and be much more bearable.People who reach this stage of the quitting process are much more likely to keep up with sobriety, so once you have reached this point, it is important not to fall back on old habits.

The actual severity and duration of symptoms depends on the frequency of prior marijuana use and the amount of marijuana consumed. If you use marijuana during the withdrawal period, your withdrawal symptoms will ease, but this will also establish old habits much quicker than before and make the withdrawal process harder each time.

The process is not life-threatening, but some mental issues might cause the person to become a risk to themselves. Poor judgement, accidents, and suicidal thoughts may occur due to the distress caused by withdrawal, so it is always a good idea to seek professional help in extreme cases. For most people, the process can be challenging but manageable.

Tips on how to ease and treat cannabis withdrawal symptoms

If you are quitting marijuana, you will likely experience some of the withdrawal symptoms that come along with the process. This might dishearten many from going through this journey, but it is important to remember that the withdrawal symptoms are only temporary. Some practices that can help to ease the withdrawal process include:

  • Manage your pace – If you were an occasional marijuana user, it could be easy for you to simply stop consuming marijuana without gradually lowering your dose. However, it is not recommended for regular users to quit cold turkey, as the withdrawal effects can be more intense. Rather, reduce your cannabis consumption periodically until you are ready to stop. This will ease the process and gradually make you used to living a marijuana-free lifestyle.
  • Stay hydrated – Caffeinated and sugary beverages can increase your anxiety and may worsen withdrawal symptoms. Drink lots of water, as this will prevent dehydration, which can be produced by side effects like cold sweats. This will also help your body detoxify and get rid of excess traces of cannabis in the body. 
  • Eat healthy meals – Junk food can elevate the lethargic and irritable side effects of marijuana withdrawal. Make sure to eat mainly fruits, vegetables, and lean meat as this will energise your body and reduce the severity of your side effects.
  • Exercise regularly – Exercising for simply 30 minutes every day can naturally boost your mood and help you to get through the withdrawal process. It will also assist your body in removing toxins through sweat – speeding the process along.
  • Get a support system – Friends, family, doctors, and even mentors can help you through both the emotional and physical symptoms you might experience from cannabis withdrawal. It is good to have someone who will motivate you to keep going through tough times and knowing that you have someone by your side during this journey can definitely help your mood and keep you on track. Accountability is a big part of quitting any substance, and having others assist you through your journey will remind you of your responsibility.
  • Medication – Some medications can ease withdrawal symptoms when taking the recommended dosage in the recommended period.
    • Ambien and Neurontin – can assist with sleep difficulties
    • Buspirone – can ease withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and anxiety
    • FAAH inhibitors – can assist in breaking down cannabis ingredients within the system (some users might experience other unpleasant side effects, so it is best to monitor your reactions)
    • Allosteric modulators – can ease cravings for cannabis

It is best to consult a medical professional before using any medication to determine which is the best for you to yield effective results. Medical professionals can also suggest alternative products that might fit your needs more.

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