Cannabis (marijuana) is the most commonly used illicit drug. For many years, it has been considered a soft drug and, therefore, exempt from the concerns of addiction that often exist with other categories of drugs.
However, recent research has shown that weed withdrawal symptoms can and do occur when regular, long-term users discontinue its use. As a result, diagnostic criteria for cannabis withdrawal are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Causes of Marijuana Withdrawal
After smoking pot heavily for a few months or longer—whether as a regular pattern, in binges, or due to addiction—you may experience withdrawal symptoms when abruptly stopping its use.
A Duke University study found that 95.5%of 496 adultmarijuana smokerswho tried to quit experienced at least one withdrawal symptom, with 43.1% experiencing two symptoms or more. The number of symptoms experienced by participants was significantly linked to how often and how much marijuana they smoked.
Daily smokers experienced the most cannabis withdrawal symptoms. But even those who reported using marijuana less than once a week experienced weed withdrawal symptoms of moderate intensity.
Symptoms of Cannabis Withdrawal
One person's experience with marijuana withdrawal can be quite different from another's. However, there are some cannabis withdrawal symptoms that are more common, the severity of which depends on a host of factors, including frequency of use and overall health.
Many former users report having drug cravingsin the early daysof cannabis abstinence. In one study, 75.7% of participants reported an intense craving for marijuana when trying to quit. These cravings can vary from person to person but tend to include a persistent desire to use the substance.
Although regular marijuana smokers may not believe that they're addicted to the drug, experiencing cravings is a hallmark of addiction. This is true whether the addiction is to other substances such as heroin or alcohol, or to activities like gambling, shopping, orsex.
Feeling irritable is another common symptom of marijuana withdrawal. More than half of those trying to stop cannabis use report experiencing mood swings, irritability, or anxiety. Others report feelings of aggression, nervousness, restlessness, and a loss of concentration.
The irritability experienced during cannabis withdrawal can range from being a mild and relatively easy-to-control annoyance to feeling more like excessive anger and even aggression. If it lasts for more than a week, seek support from a healthcare provider, substance abuse counselor, or psychologist as this symptom may be part of another issue that was masked by cannabis use.
Anxiety can be a sign of cannabis intoxication, but it is also a symptom of cannabis withdrawal. It can be worrying when anxiety continues or worsens after you quit. As with irritability, it can be helpful to remember that your worries and fears are common weed withdrawal symptoms.
If you continue to feel anxious after a week of discontinuing use, seek professional help. Cannabis use can sometimes cause a substance-induced anxiety disorder. Another consideration is that there may have been an existing anxiety issue before you started using cannabis.
Effects and Risks of Using THC for Anxiety
Depression is another marijuana withdrawal symptom. It's not unusual for people coming off cannabis to become aware of the negative consequences of their drug use or the emotional states it was masking. For example, some people who cease marijuana use after several years feel that they've wasted a considerable part of their life.
These feelings can often be used to bring about the positive changes you want to make in your life. They can also be signs that additional help may be needed to ease or resolve your depressive symptoms.
If depression doesn't lift after a week or two, is impacting functioning, or seems overwhelming, seek help from a healthcare provider or substance abuse counselor. As with other mood changes, depression can be substance-induced or pre-existing to cannabis use. Either way, 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.
An estimated 46.9%of former pot smokers report sleep disruption issues during cannabis withdrawal. Sleep-related weed withdrawal symptoms include experiencing insomnia (trouble getting or staying asleep), unusually vivid or disturbing dreams, and night sweats.
Some who've quit smoking report having "using dreams" in which they dream that they smoke marijuana. Frequent, vivid dreams typically begin about a week after quitting and can last for a month before tapering off. Although some former users report having these types of dreams years after they stopsmoking 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.
Not everyone who stops smoking marijuana experiences headaches. But for those who do, these headaches can be very intense, especially during the first few days after quitting.
Headaches,like most other symptomsof withdrawingfrom marijuana use, will usually begin one to three days after quitting and peak two to six days after stopping. This marijuana withdrawal symptom usually fades after two weeks, but some former smokers report continued symptoms for several weeks or even months.
Other Physical Symptoms
The frequency andamount of marijuana used prior to stopping affect the severity and length of withdrawal and may appear in the form of physical symptoms such as:
- Changes in appetite
- Flu-like symptoms (headache, sweating, shakiness, tremors, fever, and chills)
- Puking or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Weakness or tiredness
- Weight loss or gain
While some worry that weed withdrawal can result in physical symptoms involving the heart, research indicates that abruptly stopping heavy cannabis use does not cause major changes in blood pressure or heart rate.
Bottom Line on Weed Withdrawal Symptoms
When withdrawing from marijuana, 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 trying to quit caffeine.
Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline
Many of these weed withdrawal symptoms occur within 24 to 72 hours of stopping heavy use. Although, some users experience them a bit longer, feeling symptoms for one to two weeks. Physical weed withdrawal symptoms tend to be less intense, peak sooner, and fade more quickly than psychological symptoms.
If any of your symptoms are bothersome or seem to be lingering, seek professional treatment. A healthcare provider or mental health professional can help determine the symptom's root cause and provide options for easing its effects.
How to Prevent Marijuana Withdrawal
If a concern of having marijuana withdrawal symptoms is stopping you or someone you know from quitting its use, there are a few things you can do to help prevent these effects. One study found that a combination treatment helped decrease cannabis use without increasing withdrawal, with treatment consisting of:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Motivational enhancement therapy
- Sativex, which is a drug that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)
Another piece of research suggests that drugs categorized as fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitors may also help through their impact on endocannabinoid signaling. In this case, subjects taking a FAAH inhibitor had reduced cannabis withdrawal symptoms when compared to those who took a placebo.
Coping With Cannabis Withdrawal
Making a few healthy lifestyle changes and employing some coping strategies can help you get through marijuana withdrawal. Options to try include:
- 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.
When to Seek Help for Marijuana Withdrawal
Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening. Their main danger is causing relapse in someone who really wants (or needs) to quit cannabis, with one study finding that 70.4% of users trying to quit smoking marijuana relapsed to relievethe withdrawal symptoms.
Just as people who are trying to quit drinking may pick up a drink to relieve thesymptomsof alcohol withdrawal, marijuana users may be tempted to light up a joint to relieve the discomfort they experience when trying to stop smoking pot.
There are also no life-or-death 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 weed withdrawal and prevent relapse.
It is also very important to be properly assessed by a mental health professional if you experience extended paranoia—especially if you have hallucinations or delusions. Ideally, this professional should have expertise in substance issues, such as an American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM)-certified physician or a psychiatrist.
In some cases, marijuana users have experienced several weeks or months of withdrawal symptoms. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) and can also be effectively treated with professional intervention.
Treatment for Cannabis Withdrawal
In many cases, the symptoms of weed 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 healthcare provider or mental health professional.
Be sure to tell them that marijuana withdrawal is playing a role in how you are feeling. If you say you are depressed or anxious without mentioning you're going through weed withdrawal, you may be prescribed medication 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).
Support for Quitting Marijuana
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 likeMarijuana Anonymousto help you better handle the psychological symptoms.
A Word From Verywell
Experiencing weed withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant. 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.