A day without weed
I can’t believe it — I passed the 90-day mark. 90 days without smoking weed, after 20-plus years of smoking every day. I’m finally free. I say free because now I’m out of the golden cage.
I definitely loved the whole experience of getting high — breaking up the buds, the lift-off as it goes into your lungs, the cotton mouth and the light-headed feeling as you float on a cloud unbothered by anything in the world. Once you’re in the cloud you don’t have problems, you just lay back and relax. Some of us need that, especially as Black people living in a world of stress and anxiety that daily debases and devalues us. I fully respect the desire to smoke in order to keep on keepin’ on. But some of us — me, definitely — take it too far, allowing it to become too big a part of our lives, the discovering that we can’t stop. There were times I knew I should quit, or at least cut back and smoke less often. Instead of helping me recover from the world, smoking weed became one of my biggest problems. Yet I felt powerless, as it shaped too many of my choices.
I declined parties because I’d rather stay home alone, smoke and zone out. I saw any hole in my day as a chance to smoke. I saw any emotion as a reason to smoke. If I was happy, I smoked to make me happier. If I was upset, I smoked to alleviate the pain. I say “I,” but what I really mean is “The Voice.” The Voice was the sound of the addiction, editing every plan I made by saying, “First, let’s smoke.” To The Voice, everything was a reason to smoke: if I had to write, it said let’s smoke to be more creative. If I had to do the dishes, it said let’s smoke to make the task less boring. The Voice knew how to justify anything. It was insidious, smart, chameleonic and in control, because the reward it was offering, the joy of being high, was so delicious.
By comparison, The Other Voice — call it the voice of maturity, or the voice of resistance — was quiet, feebly mustering up logic by saying, “You smoke too much, you’d write faster if your mind was clearer.” But that voice was drowned out by the bacchanalian, bully dictator whose prompt to every moment was “First, let’s smoke.” The Voice knew just what buttons to push, and it was selling a killer experience. My addiction had a lobbyist inside my mind, who was constantly pushing me to smoke more, buy more, and ignore the voice that was saying I was hooked.
Make no mistake: I was addicted. I couldn’t stop. I tried several times. I went to Marijuana Anonymous meetings, I tried to institute rules for myself. But after the kids left for school, or went to bed, The Voice said, “Let’s go,” and off I went to the window with my tin to get high. Several people might now be saying, “But you can’t get addicted to weed” and produce some scientific “fact” that “proves” this. Well, I’m here to tell you that I was compelled to smoke even when I recognized it wasn’t that much fun anymore, and knew I would be better off without it. It was so deeply ingrained in me that I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t say no. I have no problem not drinking alcohol or stopping myself from having more than two drinks, that’s my limit, but weed was beyond my ability to grapple with. I was in it’s grip.
Then one day, three months ago, I said, “I feel like I’m kind of a spectator in my life. I’m spending too much time floating above myself in the weed cloud, while avoiding emotions, decisions, and reality. It’s time to do better. and participate more fully in my life.” In my umpteenth effort to quit, I wasn’t simply removing something — I was embracing sobriety, I wanted to move to a new tribe. I felt like I’d stayed too long at the party, and that now, in this chapter of my life, being sober would be more interesting.
The clarity of mind that came from not smoking was more calming than being in the cloud. Getting off the roller coaster — going up and down, into the high and then washing out — seemed more relaxing. I would deal with my stress and anxiety without running away. Suddenly I had a strong feeling that I was improving myself. I could be a better writer, dad, husband, and athlete (serious tennis player) if I just didn’t smoke. When I was armed with a desire to be clear, The Voice grew weaker, and the Other Voice stronger. When I was stoned or craving the high, I was weakened and The Voice could defeat my maturity and resistance quite easily. But once I had a week away from weed and my mind was calm, the Other Voice stepped up with a logic that silenced the desires to overindulge. The Voice was now unmasked as a frat boy leading me astray, while the voice of resistance and maturity was the adult leading me to the more refined pleasure of inner peace.
I am not saying everyone should quit. Most people can integrate weed into their life and aren’t controlled by it. Good for them. I also am definitely in favor of legalization, because people shouldn’t be criminalized for what they put in their bodies. Weed is not inherently bad. But for those who suspect or know that they’re relying on it too much, know that you’re not alone. I don’t know who exactly needs to hear this but you know if it’s you. You don’t need to smoke to deal with life. Things could be better without it. You could be happier without it. You have the power to quit. I know because I did it. There are Marijuana Anonymous meetings that might help you. They didn’t help me, but you can’t quit until you are ready. And if you can find a strong reason outside of yourself, that makes it easier. If you can avoid not only weed, but also the friends who you get high with — that too can help. Or tell those friends hours before you get together, before The Voice kicks in, that you’re trying to quit. Real friends will respect the request, and not make your effort harder. Recognize that The Voice goading you on, and that this voice isn’t you — it’s the addiction trying to stay alive. You can take control of you and be happier. Weed is not the source of your happiness. You are.
I am still tempted. I can still hear The Voice saying, “Hey, let’s smoke!” But now I have the strength to swat it away. Over the first 30 days I had to be more conscious about shutting down The Voice, but now it’s becoming easier. I expect to have this internal battle going on inside me forever, but where it was once a massive conflict I was losing, now it’s more of a skirmish with a weakened enemy that I am winning. I’m still taking it day by day though.
After a lifetime of listening to the "Let's Get High!" voice, Toure writes that it is possible to move on.
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).
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.
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 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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.