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Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawals are mild, but can cause relapse

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

Compared to withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting alcohol or other drugs, cannabis (marijuana) withdrawal symptoms are relatively mild, but they are uncomfortable enough to cause many who try to quit to relapse to relieve those symptoms.

In other words, marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening—their main danger is causing someone who really wants or needs to quit smoking weed to fail.

Answering these 10 questions may help you determine if your marijuana withdrawal symptoms are severe enough to tempt you to relapse if you try to quit.

Overview

Just as alcoholics who are trying to quit drinking may pick up a drink to relieve the sometimes life-threatening symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, marijuana smokers may light up a joint to relieve the discomfort they experience when they try to stop smoking.

This can be a serious problem for smokers who need to quit to keep their job or who have been court-ordered into treatment. One study found that 70.4% of users trying to quit smoking marijuana relapsed to relieve the withdrawal symptoms.  

Prevalence

A Duke University study of 469 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 cannabis less than weekly experienced some withdrawal symptoms of moderate intensity.

Symptoms

Following is a look at some of the most common symptoms associated with marijuana withdrawal.

Cravings

One of the symptoms most reported by people trying to quit smoking marijuana is a craving for marijuana or an intense desire for more. In one study, 75.7% of participants trying to quit reported an intense craving for marijuana.  

Although many regular smokers of marijuana do not believe they are addicted to the drug, one hallmark of addiction is craving when you try to stop, whether it’s heroin, alcohol, gambling or sex addiction. Craving is the most common symptom reported by former marijuana users in the early days of abstinence.

Mood Swings

The second most common symptom reported by those who have tried to quit smoking marijuana is mood swings. Former users report emotional symptoms of depression, anxiety and irritability. Irritability and anger are common symptoms for anyone who is giving up a drug of choice, especially if they are forced by circumstances to quit.

More than half of those who try to quit marijuana report mood swings.   Typically, these symptoms begin to diminish after two to three weeks but can linger in some up to three months.

Sleep Disruption

Insomnia is one of the most common symptoms of drug withdrawal, whether the drug is marijuana, alcohol or prescription painkillers. Just as someone who is alcohol-dependent or someone who has been addicted to opiates experiences difficulty trying to sleep after they quit, marijuana smokers also find falling to sleep difficult.  

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

But insomnia is not the only sleep disruption problem associated with marijuana withdrawal. Some people who have stopped smoking pot report having nightmares and very vivid dreams that also disrupt their sleep.

These frequent, vivid dreams typically begin about a week after quitting and can last for about a month before tapering off. An estimated 46.9% of former smokers report sleep disruption problems.  

Others who have quit smoking report having “using dreams” in which they dream they smoke marijuana. Some former smokers have reported having these types of dreams years after they stopped using marijuana.

Headaches

One of the most common physical symptoms reported by those who stop smoking is a headache.   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 associated with cannabis withdrawal can last for a few weeks up to a couple of months. 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 Symptoms

Other symptoms reported by researchers include:

  • Appetite change
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Digestion problems
  • Cramps or nausea after eating

Others have reported night sweats, loss of the sense of humor, decreased sex drive, or increased sex drive. Some former users have reported shaking and dizziness.  

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 the smoker used prior to stopping affects the severity and length of the withdrawals.

Resources

If you have decided to quit smoking weed, or you have been forced by circumstances to quit, 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.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or 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.

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.

Symptoms linked to cannabis (marijuana) withdrawal may be milder than those from alcohol and other drugs, but they are intense enough to cause some concern. Here are some symptoms of marijuana withdrawal.

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5 ways to get to sleep without weed

Do you use cannabis when you can t sleep? Here are some alternatives to consider.

One of the biggest worries people have when they decide to quit weed is that they won t be able to sleep. They think weed has helped them fall asleep and stay asleep, and without it, they ll never have a good nights rest again. In fact, sleep and fear of not getting enough, is a major reason cannabis users call our Helpline they know they are suffering some of the unwanted side effects of heavy or regular cannabis use, they want to cut down or quit, but every time they try, they end up having restless nights that seemingly can only be cured by lighting up a joint.

The bad news is, for heavy and/or regular smokers quitting cannabis often brings with it a range of withdrawal symptoms, and one of them is that sleep can be a bit elusive and dreams can be vivid and not so pleasant. The good news is that this stage passes, and many people find once they are completely weed-free they have much better sleep than they did while they were using. The trick is persevering through the withdrawal stages, knowing there s light at the end of the tunnel.

Insomnia: When you can t sleep

Insomnia, or not being able to sleep can be horrible, can t it? You can spend hours tossing and turning, checking the clock and counting sheep or just counting the endless hours until morning finally arrives. The reported causes of insomnia are many and varied too much caffeine, overwhelming worry, lack of exercise, eating too late, or just the way your brain is wired. The list goes on and on. Drugs (such as cannabis) and alcohol can also have a significant impact on the quality of our sleep, as shown by our Helpline calls, despite many people believing a night cap or joint will help them sleep more soundly. So how can you get some sound sleep without lighting up?

Can t sleep? Improve your sleep hygiene and clean out those bad sleep habits!

Sleep hygiene is a tool that actually encompasses a whole raft of sleepy solutions that will have you dreaming up a storm in no time. Here are five proven tips to help you sleep like a baby.

1. Avoid caffeine after noon

Sorry but that includes chocolate particularly the dark variety! Coffee, tea, chocolate, hot chocolate, cocoa, energy drinks they all contain caffeine and are the enemy of getting a decent night s rest. Caffeine is a stimulant and will not do you any favours in trying to beat insomnia. Try to limit your caffeine intake and only consume it before lunchtime.

2. Make your bed as comfy as possible

Have you ever watched a dog before it settles down to sleep? Turning round and round in circles before finally curling up in a ball and drifting off into doggie dream world? What the dog is actually doing is attempting to make its bed as comfortable as possible. In the wild, this motion would have cleared leaves and other vegetation into a nice little hollow to snuggle into for the night. Try making your bed as comfy as possible, get some nice clean cosy sheets and a fluffy doona, make sure your pillows aren t too hard or soft and use nice dim lamps to create a sleepy mood.

3. Exercise

The key here is to exercise daily, but in the morning rather than the evening. Studies have shown that evening exercise isn t the best for sleep, as is no exercise at all.

4. Avoid drugs and alcohol

Despite many people believing a night cap or joint will help them sleep, it has been shown that using drugs such as these will not result in good quality sleep, even though they may make you feel drowsy in the short term.

5. Limit your screen time before bed

Avoiding stimulating activities before bed like playing video games, using your iPhone or laptop and watching TV will help your brain tune down and get ready for sleep. That means no TV in the bedroom or working on the laptop in bed.

If none of these ideas are helping and you re quickly becoming comatose from lack of sleep, try not to reach for a bong or joint. Instead, go see your doctor who might be able to offer some more solutions. Beating your weed addiction is going to help in the long run too so despite worrying that without weed you won t get any sleep, just remember that sometimes the quick fix solution isn t always the most effective or long lasting.

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