If you’ve ever smoked marijuana, you probably have a pretty good idea of its euphoric effects on your brain and body. But what happens when we quit? Does quitting weed cause withdrawal symptoms?
Most people who try cannabis will eventually stop using it because they don’t enjoy its side effects or cannot get high anymore. However, when that time comes around, many former pot smokers wonder how they’ll generally function without their daily dose of THC.
While some might experience mild feelings of anxiety and depression, others may feel nothing different at all. Some people even say they felt fine after smoking more than one joint in one sitting! Unfortunately, the truth is that there’s no natural way to know until you’re actually through with your last hit.
We spoke with several medical experts about whether marijuana withdrawals exist and what causes them. Because so much depends upon individual tolerance levels, the severity of any given symptom can vary wildly from person to person — but rest assured that if you did indeed smoke too much weed, you’d eventually deal with these issues.
While most won’t need medication assistance, it does help to understand why this occurs before trying to combat them yourself. Here’s what we found out.
How Marijuana Works
Before getting into the details of why marijuana withdrawal exists, let’s discuss precisely what it means to “get stoned.” For those unfamiliar with the concept, here’s an explanation. Cannabis works by causing chemicals called cannabinoids to interact with receptors inside cells throughout our bodies.
These cannabinoid molecules (called endocannabinoids) activate particular cell proteins that trigger changes within said cells’ membranes. In other words, smoking weed alters our perception of reality, which usually manifests as increased relaxation, altered moods, etc.
The reason marijuana feels so good is due to two things: firstly, the active ingredient, delta-nine tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), binds tightly to receptor sites known as CB1. Most THC is converted into inactive compounds rather than directly affecting the mind.
Secondly, CBD also activates CB1, although not nearly as strongly. This explains why it takes such a high dosage of CBD-rich weed strains to produce noticeable effects compared to regular old buds.
This is why you often hear terms like “head-high” used to describe the feeling of being under the influence of cannabis. It doesn’t mean that you’re seeing double but instead refers to how weed affects your overall sense of awareness.
If anything, your head becomes slightly fuzzy, making everything seem less clear-cut. As far as physical pain goes, though, according to Dr. Carl Hart, director of Columbia University Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry, there isn’t evidence that marijuana use produces chronic pain syndromes. However, he says that acute pain could potentially worsen over long periods.
So now that you know what makes up the bulk of the effect of consuming cannabis, it’s easier to see why someone would want to quit. After all, life seems much better when you’re buzzed, right? But, unfortunately, there’s always something else lurking beneath the surface of every high — namely, the possibility of suffering from debilitating bouts of paranoia, fatigue, headaches, nausea, muscle spasms, dry mouth, insomnia, and just about anything else you can think of.
Of course, each person reacts differently to various edibles, meaning the list above could apply only partially to you, depending on the strain ingested. That’s where withdrawal symptoms come into play.
Why You Can’t Smoke Weed Forever
Dr. Hart points out that, unlike alcohol, tobacco, opiates, cocaine, or amphetamines, marijuana never leaves the user’s system thoroughly once consumed. Instead, it stays somewhere between 60% and 80%, regardless of the frequency of consumption.
Because of this, the typical recreational smoker rarely experiences severe adverse reactions to cannabis use. For example, he says very few cases of psychosis or addiction result from casual pot usage, despite widespread beliefs otherwise.
However, occasional users occasionally develop certain conditions that make them wish to quit. Most commonly cited reasons include psychological ones, such as boredom, financial problems, lack of motivation, peer pressure, health concerns, or legal troubles.
Others miss the social aspect of smoking, especially in places where doing so carries the risk of arrest. So why make matters worse by further adding new stresses to your plate? Whatever the case, dealing with withdrawal symptoms sucks enough already.
In short, yes, marijuana withdrawal does occur, and it’s relatively common among heavy consumers. However, depending on how frequently you partook, the time you were actively using, and the type of plant and formulation taken, the discomfort experienced during the process varies greatly.
However, what’s important is that most sufferers recover fully within weeks to months. Although it sounds scary, these symptoms aren’t caused by permanent brain or nervous system damage. Instead, they reflect temporary fluctuations in hormone regulation brought on by abrupt cessation from frequent marijuana use, coupled with the usual disorientation associated with sudden shifts in standard functioning patterns.
What Are Withdrawl Symptoms Like?
As mentioned earlier, everyone responds differently to drugs, including marijuana. Many individuals may suffer from true drug addictions, but most people who take marijuana recreationally will experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms and emotional disturbances.
They typically begin from 24 hours to three days after stopping use and peak intensity for roughly four weeks following the final hit. Fortunately, most of these symptoms dissipate within six months.
While it may sound counterintuitive, withdrawing from marijuana helps regulate your appetite. In addition, since it remains present longer in your bloodstream than alcohol, it keeps your blood sugar level steady and reduces cravings. Plus, it prevents dehydration by keeping you hydrated.
Another potential benefit of quitting weed is that it gives your lungs a chance to heal from years of abuse. Smoking cigarettes leads to lung cancer and heart disease, whereas marijuana damages the lungs relatively little. Also, it improves sleep quality by reducing stress hormones and increasing melatonin production.
When Will I Get Better?
It’s hard to pinpoint specific dates, but expect to start recovering from your marijuana habit within five weeks to six months post-last-hit. During this period, your general state of mind should improve significantly, and your ability to concentrate, focus and remember things. However, your memory and cognitive functions should return to normal sooner than that, mainly if you take THC pills regularly before quitting.
To ease your transition back into society, try meditating, exercising, eating healthier, and sticking to a strict routine. Getting plenty of sunlight and fresh air should also aid recovery. Remember, you shouldn’t drive, operate machinery or engage in strenuous activity until 48 hours after finishing your last cigarette, a glass of wine, or blunt. Also, avoid using benzodiazepines or prescription sedatives, as they can interfere with your attempts to kick the habit altogether.
Afterward, slowly reintroduce substances containing THC and CBD back into your lifestyle. Again, start light, gradually building up to higher doses over time. Don’t worry, though, since you’ll likely notice positive results immediately.
Within a week, you should see decreased hunger pangs, enhanced mental acuity, improved energy levels, and reduced irritability. Once you reach 30 days clean, stick strictly to non-psychoactive alternatives such as hemp seeds, oils, tinctures, and topicals.
Treatment For Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms
Unfortunately, there’s no easy treatment plan for overcoming marijuana withdrawal symptoms. Unlike nicotine dependency, withdrawal from cannabis is self-limiting. Therefore, patients must allow themselves sufficient time to recuperate naturally.
Doctors prescribe anti-depressants, anxiolytics, sleeping aids, and psychotherapy to lessen the burden of prolonged substance dependence. Still, none of these solutions work effectively unless combined with traditional methods such as meditation, exercise, and healthy diet regimens.
For best results, seek professional counseling services. Treatment centers offer a safe environment conducive to sobriety, allowing patients to share personal stories and gain support from peers facing similar challenges. In addition to group therapy sessions, clients undergo educational classes covering topics ranging from coping mechanisms to proper nutrition choices.