Understanding Cannabis Withdrawal: Symptoms and Coping Strategies (2023)

Cannabis, often considered a soft drug, has long been associated with minimal addiction concerns when compared to other substances. However, recent research has shed light on the existence of withdrawal symptoms in regular, long-term users. This article delves into the causes, symptoms, and coping strategies for cannabis withdrawal, aiming to provide a comprehensive understanding of this phenomenon.

Causes of Marijuana Withdrawal

After prolonged and heavy use of marijuana, whether due to addiction, regular patterns, or binges, users may encounter withdrawal symptoms upon abrupt discontinuation. A study conducted at Duke University found that 95.5% of adult marijuana smokers attempting to quit experienced withdrawal symptoms, with daily smokers experiencing the most intense effects.

Symptoms of Cannabis Withdrawal

The experience of marijuana withdrawal can vary from one individual to another, influenced by factors like usage frequency and overall health. Here are some common symptoms:

1. Cravings

Former users often report intense cravings for marijuana during the early days of abstinence. A study found that 75.7% of participants experienced a persistent desire to use the substance. This craving is a hallmark of addiction, similar to other substances or activities like gambling.

2. Irritability

Irritability is another prevalent symptom, with more than half of those trying to quit reporting mood swings, anxiety, and restlessness. The intensity can range from mild annoyance to aggression, indicating the need for support when it persists.

3. Anxiety

Anxiety, both during intoxication and withdrawal, can be distressing. When anxiety continues or worsens after quitting, professional help is advised to differentiate between withdrawal-related and pre-existing anxiety issues.

4. Depression

Depression can surface during cannabis withdrawal, often revealing the emotional consequences of long-term use. These feelings can serve as a catalyst for positive life changes or indicate the need for additional help if they persist.

5. Sleep Problems

Sleep disruption is common, with nearly 47% of former users reporting issues such as insomnia, vivid dreams, and night sweats. Insomnia symptoms may persist for days or even months after quitting.

6. Headaches

Some individuals experience intense headaches, typically peaking within the first few days of quitting. These usually subside within two weeks, but in some cases, may persist for several weeks.

7. Other Physical Symptoms

The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can vary and may include changes in appetite, flu-like symptoms, vomiting, stomach pain, weakness, and weight fluctuations. It's important to note that abrupt cessation of heavy cannabis use doesn't significantly affect blood pressure or heart rate.

Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline

Most withdrawal symptoms occur within 24 to 72 hours of quitting heavy use and may persist for one to two weeks. Physical symptoms tend to be less intense and shorter-lived than psychological ones. Seeking professional help is recommended if symptoms become bothersome or prolonged.

How to Prevent Marijuana Withdrawal

Preventing withdrawal symptoms is possible with a combination treatment that includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and medications like Sativex. Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitors may also help reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Coping With Cannabis Withdrawal

Making lifestyle changes and employing coping strategies can facilitate the withdrawal process. These strategies include staying physically active, seeking support from friends and family, avoiding anxiety-provoking situations, practicing relaxation techniques, and establishing healthy sleep patterns.

When to Seek Help for Marijuana Withdrawal

While withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, they can lead to relapse. Consulting a medical or mental health professional can help manage both physical and psychological symptoms, especially if they persist or are severe. Extended symptoms may indicate post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which can also be effectively treated.

Treatment for Cannabis Withdrawal

In most cases, withdrawal symptoms will subside with time, but professional intervention may be necessary if they persist beyond a few weeks. Mental health professionals can provide non-addictive treatment options for anxiety, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Support for Quitting Marijuana

If you've decided to quit smoking marijuana and anticipate withdrawal symptoms, seek support from healthcare providers or support groups like Marijuana Anonymous. You don't have to go through this process alone.

In conclusion, understanding cannabis withdrawal is essential for those looking to quit the substance. By recognizing the symptoms and seeking appropriate support, individuals can navigate the challenges associated with marijuana withdrawal and work towards a healthier, substance-free life.

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