Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment
Opinions about marijuana use vary—with a range of perceptions regarding its social acceptability, risks, and benefits, use of it as a recreational drug, and whether it can be helpful in treating medical conditions.1,2
Regardless, using marijuana, especially for a prolonged period of time, can result in problematic use and marijuana use disorder.1 In fact, individuals who begin using marijuana before age 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.3
For individuals who use marijuana frequently and regularly and then attempt to quit withdrawal symptoms may surface. The cannabis withdrawal syndrome can make it more difficult to stop using marijuana, but recovery is achievable.5,6 Continue reading to better understand marijuana withdrawal—including the symptoms and duration—and how treatment may be able to help you successfully stop marijuana use.
What is Marijuana Withdrawal?
Individuals who use marijuana—also known as cannabis, pot, weed, grass, bud, herb, Mary Jane, and ganja, among other names—may take it to experience the sense of relaxation, euphoria, and enhanced sensory perception often associated with the drug.7,8 However, using marijuana regularly—such as on a daily basis or several times each week—and heavily means that when an individual attempts to drastically reduce their intake or stop using weed altogether, withdrawal symptoms may occur.6,9
A meta-analysis of studies, which involved more than 23,000 individuals, found that 47% of the participants who used marijuana regularly experienced cannabis withdrawal syndrome.5
While cannabis withdrawal syndrome does not carry a high risk of severe adverse effects, withdrawal may impede abstinence and lead to relapse since the reintroduction of marijuana immediately relieves unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.10
Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline
For individuals trying to significantly reduce their marijuana use or stop completely after heavy, regular use, acute withdrawal symptoms may surface relatively quickly:10
- Within 1-2 days, the onset of most symptoms of withdrawal usually begins.
- Within 2-6 days, symptoms peak in severity.
- Within 3 weeks, most acute symptoms resolve.
Some studies indicate that certain psychological symptoms of withdrawal may last for up to 5 weeks after quitting marijuana use.11
Sleep problems tend to be the most troublesome for individuals in the first days of abstinence from marijuana—and the reason why many relapse back to marijuana use.6,12 These sleep disturbances, including insomnia and experiencing strange dreams, may persist for 30-45 days after stopping marijuana use.12,13
Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal
Cannabis withdrawal syndrome, an official diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5.), may be experienced by individuals who stop using cannabis after heavy, long-term use.11,12 Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal may include:5,6,14
- Anger, irritability, and aggression.
- Feelings of nervousness and anxiety.
- Decreased appetite or weight.
- Experiencing strange or unsettling dreams.
- Headaches, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and abdominal pain.
The presence of 3 or more of these symptoms within one week of lowered marijuana use indicates cannabis withdrawal syndrome.14
Causes of Marijuana Withdrawal
Marijuana withdrawal can vary from person to person.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), withdrawal from marijuana is generally more common and severe among adults who use the drug than among adolescents who use it. This is likely because adults tend to use marijuana more frequently and in greater amounts than adolescents.12
Polysubstance use (using multiple substances) may also play a role in marijuana withdrawal. Studies show that concurrent use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances with marijuana may make it more likely for withdrawal symptoms to arise. On the other hand, individuals dependent on opioids, who also use marijuana, are less likely to experience cannabis withdrawal syndrome.5,6
Marijuana withdrawal symptoms may be more severe for individuals who use more potent marijuana. Research indicates that individuals who engage in “dabbing,” a process where marijuana with very high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is vaporized and inhaled through a vape pen, reported more intense withdrawal symptoms.6,15 For reference, these concentrates are 20%-80% THC; typical THC content is 2%-6%.6
Additionally, individuals with mood, anxiety, and personality disorders, and those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than those without these mental health disorders.12
Furthermore, the severity of withdrawal symptoms may correlate with the risk of relapse.10 For instance, adolescents meeting the diagnostic criteria for cannabis use withdrawal are more likely to relapse sooner than those who do not meet the criteria.10
Cannabis withdrawal rarely requires medical intervention. However, inpatient detoxification may be beneficial for some individuals, including:6,12,16
- Those who suffer from co-occurring marijuana use and mental health disorders.
- Those with additional physical health problems.
- Those who have been diagnosed with severe cannabis use disorder.
- Those who misuse multiple substances, including opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines in addition to marijuana. Medical detox may be necessary as the withdrawal syndromes associated with these substances can be dangerous, even lethal.
Beyond medically managed detox, these individuals typically benefit from a comprehensive treatment plan, which may entail staying in a residential inpatient program or enrolling in an intensive outpatient program. In either setting, individuals participate in individual and group counseling and behavioral therapy sessions, which may include:16
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT, a type of psychotherapy, helps people become aware of and ameliorate distressing behaviors for the purpose of increasing self-control, stopping substance use or misuse, and working to heal the many associated challenges.
- Contingency management (CM). CM utilizes regular monitoring of a certain behavior and gives or takes away positive, tangible rewards as a result of the target behavior occurring or not occurring.
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET). MET, a therapeutic intervention intended to produce fast and internally motivated change in a person, utilizes internal resources for healing and engagement in therapy.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications specifically for the treatment of marijuana use disorder or for the prevention of relapse. Studies suggest that the psychosocial behavioral interventions explained above can be effective in treating marijuana use disorder and in preventing relapse.10
Working with a provider that has experience effectively treating cannabis withdrawal and cannabis use disorder, like American Addiction Centers, can help you improve your chances of avoiding relapse. Call
Let one of our compassionate and experienced Admissions Navigators answer your questions, explain your options, and help you get started on your journey to recovery.