Understanding Cannabis Withdrawal: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment (2023)


In recent years, the perception of cannabis has undergone a significant shift. With the legalization of medicinal and recreational cannabis in many states, the landscape of cannabis use has evolved. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that cannabis withdrawal is a real phenomenon, and its prevalence may surprise you. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the symptoms, causes, and potential treatments for cannabis withdrawal.

How Common is Cannabis Withdrawal?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 3 in 10 cannabis users develop a substance use disorder, emphasizing the need to understand cannabis withdrawal. A 2021 study revealed that nearly one-third of female cannabis users ages 50–64 and one-fifth of those over 65 are using it nearly daily. Among male users, more than one-third of people in all age groups reported using it nearly daily, with over 40% of those over 65.

Moreover, a 2020 study of more than 23,000 participants found that the prevalence of cannabis withdrawal syndrome is about 47%. This data underscores the significance of recognizing and addressing cannabis withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of Cannabis Withdrawal

Cannabis withdrawal can manifest in various ways, affecting both the body and mind. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:

  1. Diminished Appetite: Loss of interest in food.
  2. Mood Changes: Shifts in emotional states, such as increased irritability.
  3. Sleep Difficulties: Insomnia and disruptions in regular sleep patterns.
  4. Headaches: Frequent headaches that may arise during withdrawal.
  5. Loss of Focus: Difficulty concentrating and staying on task.
  6. Cravings for Cannabis: An intense desire to resume cannabis use.
  7. Sweating: Including cold sweats and chills.
  8. Increased Feelings of Depression: A deepening of depressive symptoms.
  9. Stomach Problems: Gastrointestinal discomfort and related issues.

It's essential to note that the severity of these symptoms can vary from person to person. The longer one has used cannabis and the frequency of use are significant factors in determining the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, it may take 1–2 weeks for cannabinoids like delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to completely exit the system, meaning that withdrawal symptoms may not be immediate.

Causes of Cannabis Withdrawal

While cannabis withdrawal symptoms may not be as severe as those from other substances like opioids, alcohol, cocaine, or heroin, they are still a real challenge. The primary reason behind these symptoms is the body's adjustment to the absence of THC, the primary psychoactive component in cannabis.

Regular cannabis use leads to the development of tolerance in the brain. The more frequently cannabis is used, the more the brain relies on a constant supply of THC. When this supply is suddenly cut off, withdrawal symptoms can occur, prompting some individuals to resume cannabis use to alleviate their discomfort.

Can CBD Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

Although cannabidiol (CBD) is not associated with the 'high' effect linked to THC, some researchers and healthcare professionals consider it a psychoactive substance. Limited evidence exists regarding CBD withdrawal symptoms. However, misuse of CBD may be possible, especially after long-term use. Consult with a doctor before discontinuing CBD, particularly if it is used to manage conditions like insomnia or depression.

Is CBD Legal?

The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana at the federal level. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC are still federally illegal. State laws regarding CBD can vary, so always check local regulations, and be cautious of inaccurately labeled products.

Treating and Preventing Cannabis Withdrawal

If you're considering quitting cannabis, it's advisable to consult a doctor or a substance use disorder specialist. They can provide guidance and potential treatments tailored to your specific situation. Depending on your level of cannabis use, different approaches may be appropriate.

Tapering Off: For regular and heavy users, gradually reducing cannabis consumption can ease the transition to a cannabis-free life. Occasional users may be able to stop abruptly.

Medications: While no FDA-approved medications exist for treating cannabis withdrawal, some drugs have shown promise in managing symptoms. These include synthetic THC-like drugs and certain medications for anxiety and sleep disturbances. Always consult with a healthcare professional before considering these options.

Self-Help Strategies: During the initial withdrawal period, self-help measures can be beneficial. Stay hydrated, eat healthily, exercise daily, and seek support from friends, family, or support groups. Surrounding yourself with a supportive community can enhance your chances of success.

Seeking Professional Help: In some cases, seeking professional help through therapy or rehabilitation programs can be essential. Detoxification centers, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, intensive outpatient programs, and one-on-one therapy can address the underlying issues related to cannabis use.


While cannabis withdrawal symptoms may not reach the severity of some other substances, they are real and can pose challenges to those looking to quit. Recognizing these symptoms, their causes, and potential treatments is essential. Whether you're a regular or occasional cannabis user, taking proactive steps toward a cannabis-free life can be facilitated by understanding the withdrawal process and seeking the necessary support. Staying sober becomes more achievable when you have the right guidance and accountability in place.

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