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.
Rev. James E. McDonald, C.S.C., Center for Student Well-Being
Making the Decision and Managing Cravings
Making the decision to stop using can be a challenge. People smoke marijuana for different reasons: habit, social pressures, and/or psychological or physical dependence. Quitting is a very personal experience and the same methods don’t work for everyone. Maybe you have quit before and have slipped back. This program is designed to support your choice to quit. The following are some issues to consider as you make your decision. From here, the program will continue with support and suggestions to assist you through the next 30 days. As you begin you will click on the day to the Left.
- Evaluate the risks and benefits of continued marijuana use. Are you ready to sacrifice immediate gratification for more long-term benefits and goals?
- Overcome stubbornness. You need to be willing to admit that marijuana use is causing problems for you or you will keep yourself stuck.
- Get rid of any paraphernalia for smoking marijuana that you currently possess.
- Make a commitment to quitting. Make your decision public with people who will support and respect you and your confidentiality.
- Drop any identity that you maintained for yourself as a marijuana user. The more you value yourself, the less likely you are to make excuses for using marijuana.
- Avoid the people, places, and playthings; that might trigger your use. If you find yourself in a risky environment, be prepared to respond assertively, don’t make excuses and be willing to leave immediately if necessary.
- Have confidence that you can deal effectively with the situations you face and that you can accomplish the goals that you pursue.
Make a list of the reasons you might want to continue use and why you want to quit. – Weigh both sides.
|Why I Might Want to Continue||Why I Want to Quit|
Hopefully your list has helped you to make your decision and stick to it. Your “Why I Want to Quit” list can act as a motivator through some of the withdrawal symptoms and cravings you could experience. Keep in mind it does get easier.
It is important to be aware of situations, including certain people that might trigger use. Take the time to consider those activities or situations and make a plan for yourself to stay on track should you find yourself in those situations.
Situations or Activities When I am Likely to get High
You may experience withdrawal and cravings. This is your body’s sign of recovering. Take it one day at a time and it will pass.
The symptoms will be gone when the THC is out of your system. Depending on number of years and frequency of use, this will be different for different people. Remember THC attaches to fatty tissues in your body and breaks off slowly. You may not feel all the benefits of quitting for at least 30 days.
Withdrawal/Physical Symptoms of Quitting
|Perspiration (sweating)||Irritability||Disrupted sleep cycle|
|Weight loss (decreased appetite)||Aggression (in different degrees)|
|Increased body temperature||Loss of motivation|
Dealing with Cravings
To prevent cravings:
- Throw away your paraphernalia. Hide, give away or throw away lighters, matches, roach clips, bongs and containers. Don’t forget places you might have roaches or seeds, such as in purses, pockets or drawers.
• Spend more time in places and activities where it is impossible to get high.
• Try to avoid people you got high with.
• Do more things in your home and after class that are not connected with getting high.
Change Your Daily Patterns:
- Change morning patterns. (Get up at a different time. Change the order of events like showering, brushing your teeth, walking the dog, eating breakfast, and reading the newspaper. Turn on a different radio station.)
- Change school and work patterns. (Change where you sit in class, where you hang your coat, organizing your desk, opening mail, making calls, watering plants.)
- Change driving patterns. (Take a new route to work or class, try a different radio station, and change the radio volume, open or close windows.)
- Change study patterns. (Study in the library)
Avoid Getting Hungry or Tired:
- Get at least your normal amount of sleep.
- Eat three meals a day. (Don’t cut down to one or two meals.) Have a few nutritional snacks throughout the day.
Stay Busy. Fill time to help change thinking patterns.
• Visit a friend who doesn’t use.
• Fix something around your dorm, house, or apartment.
• Clean your room.
• Start a hobby.
• Take a course that is fun, like Latin dance or an art class.
• Go to a movie.
• Wrap yourself in a good book.
• Knit or sew.
• Work on a crossword or jigsaw puzzle.
• Play a video game.
• Study more!
Seven Practical Tips for Managing Urges:
- Leave the scene of an urge. When possible, get away from a situation that triggers an urge. A short walk or change of scenery can do wonders. Remember to reduce your temptation before you become overwhelmed.
- Use deep breathing. Take a deep breath through your mouth. Hold the air in your lungs for five to seven seconds. Breathe out slowly through puckered lips. Repeat until the urge passes.
- Put something in your mouth. Try sugarless gum, sugarless candy, diet beverage, toothpicks, pen or pencil, coffee stirrers or straw.
- Water out urges. Shower or bathe twice daily. Drink a glass of water. Drown the urge and flush toxins out.
- Get active. Try brisk walking or sports that speed up your breathing and heart rates.
- Relax. When you’re feeling frustrated, worried or anxious, think calming thoughts, or use a relaxation CD.
- Avoid Boredom. You may be used to getting high to pass the time. Plan your day or activities to cut down on idle time. Stay active through different physical activities and keep your hands busy.
Social events can be very risky. Try to leave parties early or avoid them for the first few weeks while you are trying to quit. Avoid drinking alcohol and seek out other non users. Mentally prepare yourself for social situations and review your reasons for quitting and the benefits you will reap.
Managing your Triggers
There are three basic ways to manage your triggers:
- Avoid the situation
- Change the situation
- Substitution (It is not suggested that alcohol be used to substitute.) Find other activities, water, gum, Gatorade.
Identify situations that will be difficult for you (triggers) and solutions for dealing with them.*
|Trigger:||Strategy for Coping|
*My Commitment to Stop Using
I hereby commit to, and accept responsibility for achieving the goals that I have initialed below. These goals are designed to prepare me to stop getting high. In addition, they show my motivation, confidence, and commitment to the quitting process. I understand that a slip can occur and I must not use it as an excuse to return to use.
- I will follow the helpful hints and keep in mind what I am experiencing is normal.
- I will begin to increase my physical activities.
I commit to: ____________________________________________________________________
- I will throw away all of my paraphernalia. (No holding on to anything for old time sake).
- I will avoid places where there are temptations to get high, such as bars and time with friends who get high.
- I will drink an extra two glasses of water each day.
- I will reward myself for accomplishing these goals by:
MY QUIT DATE IS: _________________________________
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