Detoxing from Marijuana
What is Detoxing?
Detoxing is the way in which your body gets rid of the toxins accumulated from years of using. It happens the first few days or weeks after getting clean and/or sober. It is also the very beginning of getting used to dealing with reality and real feelings with no numbing agent.
Can there be physical effects from quitting marijuana?
In spite of numerous years of being told that there are no physiological effects from marijuana addiction, many of our recovering members have had definite withdrawal symptoms. Whether the causes are physical or psychological, the results are physical.
Others have just had emotional and mental changes as they stop using their drug of choice. There is no way of telling before quitting who will be physically uncomfortable and who will not. Most members have only minor physical discomfort if any at all. This pamphlet is for those who are having trouble and wonder what’s happening to them.
Why do some effects last so long?
Unlike most other drugs, including alcohol, THC (the active chemical in marijuana) is stored in the fat cells and therefore takes longer to fully clear the body than with any other common drug. This means that some parts of the body still retain THC even after a couple of months, rather than just the couple of days or weeks for water soluble drugs.
Can this affect a drug test?
The experiences of some members have shown that if you quit marijuana and expect to take a drug test you should not go on a crash diet at the same time. Fasting, or a crash diet, can release the THC into the bloodstream very rapidly and can give a positive reading. This has happened to several of our members, but each time only with crash diets and major weight loss, not with just eating less than usual.
What are some of the more common symptoms?
By far the most common symptom of withdrawal is insomnia. This can last from a few nights of practically no sleep at all, up to a few months of occasional sleeplessness.
The next most common symptom is depression (that is, if you’re not euphoric), and next are nightmares and vivid dreams. Marijuana use tends to dampen the dreaming mechanism, so that when you do get clean the dreams come back with a crash. They can be vivid color, highly emotional dreams or nightmares, even waking up then coming back to the same dream. The very vivid, every night dreams usually don’t start for a about a week or so. They last for about a month at most and then taper off.
“Using dreams” (dreams involving the use of marijuana) are very common, and although they’re not as vivid or emotional as at first, they last for years and are just considered a normal part of recovery.
The fourth most common symptom is anger. This can range from a slow burning rage to constant irritability to sudden bursts of anger when least expected: anger at the world, anger at loved ones, anger at oneself, anger at being an addict and having to get clean.
Emotional jags are very common, with emotions bouncing back and forth between depression, anger, and euphoria. Occasionally experienced is a feeling of fear or anxiety, a loss of the sense of humor, decreased sex drive, or increased sex drive. Most all of these symptoms fade to normal emotions by three months.
Loss of concentration for the first week or month is also very common and this sometimes affects the ability to learn for a very short while.
What about physical symptoms?
The most common physical symptom is headaches. For those who have them, they can last for a few weeks up to a couple of months, with the first few days being very intense.
The next most common physical symptom is night sweats, sometimes to the point of having to change night clothes. They can last from a few nights to a month or so. Sweating is one of the body’s natural ways of getting rid of toxins.
Hand sweats are very common and are often accompanied by an unpleasant smell from the hands. Body odor is enough in many instances to require extra showers or baths.
Coughing up phlegm is another way the body cleans itself. This can last for a few weeks to well over six months.
One third of the addicts who responded to a questionnaire on detoxing said they had eating problems for the first few days and some for up to six weeks. Their main symptoms were loss of appetite, sometimes enough to lose weight temporarily, digestion problems or cramps after eating, and nausea, occasionally enough to vomit (only for a day or two). Most of the eating problems were totally gone before the end of a month.
The next most common physical symptoms experienced were tremors or shaking and dizziness.
Less frequently experienced were kidney pains, impotency, hormone changes or imbalances, low immunity or chronic fatigue, and some minor eye problems that resolved at around two months.
There have been cases of addicts having more severe detox symptoms, however this is rare. For intense discomfort, see a doctor, preferably one who is experienced with detoxing.
How can I reduce discomfort?
For some of the milder detoxing symptoms, a few home remedies have proven to be useful:
- Hot soaking baths can help the emotions as well as the body.
- Drink plenty of water and clear liquids, just like for the flu.
- Cranberry juice has been used effectively for years by recovery houses to help purify and cleanse the body.
- Really excessive sweating can deplete the body of potassium, a necessary mineral. A few foods high in potassium are melons, bananas, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, and tomatoes.
- Eliminate fat from the diet until digestion is better.
- Greatly reduce or eliminate caffeine until the sleep pattern is more normal or the shakes are gone.
- The old fashioned remedy for insomnia, a glass of warm milk before bedtime, helps some people.
- Exercise not only helps depression and other unpleasant emotions, it helps the body speed up the healing process.
From “How it Works”:
Do not be discouraged, none of us are saints. Our program is not easy, but it is simple. We strive for progress, not perfection. Our experiences, before and after we entered recovery, teach us three important ideas:
- That we are marijuana addicts and cannot manage our own lives;
- That probably no human power can relieve our addiction; and
- That our Higher Power can and will if sought.
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. ]]>