Cannabis withdrawal symptoms: Self management at home
For someone who has been smoking cannabis heavily for years, cannabis withdrawal symptoms can be extremely unpleasant. High anxiety, low mood and insomnia are just a few signs of cannabis withdrawal.
Fortunately, unlike benzodiazepines and alcohol, cannabis withdrawal is never fatal. This means that you can safely detox from the comfort of your own home.
Cannabis withdrawal symptoms
If you are a heavy cannabis user, when you first quit the drug, the onset of withdrawal symptoms can happen within a few hours. You may begin by feeling restless and anxious, and experience cannabis cravings.
In the following days, symptoms are likely to increase in severity. You may become irritable and depressed. You might have poor quality sleep, little sleep, or even no sleep. Perhaps you may also experience reduced appetite and increased sweating.
Cannabis withdrawal can sometimes make people attempting to quit feel paranoid and may also experience panic attacks. However, these do pass if you can stick with it.
After about a week, cannabis withdrawal symptoms are likely to decrease in strength. The acute stage is over within a couple 1 to 2 weeks of stopping.
Note that if you are also addicted alcohol or to a benzodiazepine like Xanax or Valium, you should seek medical treatment. This is because withdrawal from these substances is much more serious and can cause life threatening complications.
How to decrease cannabis withdrawal symptoms
Getting through cannabis withdrawal can be tough, but there are things that you can do to make it a little easier on yourself.
When you are going through withdrawal from marijuana, exercise is your new friend. It will help you boost your endorphins, which improve your mood and help you sleep better at night. If you can, rigorous exercise like swimming, running, lifting weights or yoga is great, but any physical movement will have you feeling a little better and less anxious.
When you have stopped smoking cannabis, your appetite will probably not be great. You will rarely want to eat, and when you do, it might not taste so good. Your appetite will come back within a few weeks to a few months. In the meantime, make sure that you eat good quality food regularly. This will help your body and mind to heal much quicker.
While people withdrawing from opioid drugs like heroin should rest up for a few days, this can be counterproductive for people stopping cannabis. Too much time on your hands can increase cravings and worsen your mood. Staying active will make time pass quicker.
Take time to unwind
That being said, don’t over-do it! If you start feeling stressed out, it is OK to spend some time decompressing.
People often smoke cannabis to reduce stress in their life. When you stop smoking, you may feel that stress more acutely for a while. Meditation will lower stress while you are doing it, and in the period after. If you keep doing it, your resting stress levels should decrease drastically.
Connect with people
You may feel like isolating when you are giving up weed, due to certain feelings. Connecting can help though. Try to have someone you can call or go for coffee with who has already quit smoking. You can also consider attending a recovery group for people stopping smoking cannabis. Marijuana Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous both welcome people who are quitting cannabis.
Your doctor may be able to prescribe you medication to help with insomnia from stopping smoking cannabis. Note that you should only take this for a very short amount of time, and that you absolutely should not take medication that is not yours. If you do this, you may get hooked on it.
Post acute cannabis withdrawal symptoms
After the acute stage is over, some people begin suffering from post acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). PAWS is a collection of symptoms that is less severe than the acute phase of withdrawal, but still challenging for many people attempting to quit. It typically comes in waves, with signs increasing for a few days before reducing. Symptoms of PAWS from cannabis withdrawal include:
- Body aches
- Poor cognitive functioning
- Brain fog
PAWS from cannabis typically lasts up to 6 months, though it can last as long as two years.
Decrease PAWS from cannabis withdrawal
Fortunately, as with reducing cannabis withdrawal symptoms, PAWS can also be treated. While cannabis withdrawal management is all about making you feel better in the short term, addressing PAWS means looking at short-term and long-term solutions. Here are a few tips on decreasing PAWS and possibly getting over it a little faster.
This works for PAWS symptoms too. Exercising regularly helps neurotransmitters in your brain that were affected by cannabis recover quicker. In the short term, getting moving provides you with endorphins that will get you through difficult days.
Looking at the reasons why you got addicted to cannabis can help you find the keys to reducing the PAWS stage of cannabis withdrawal. You may find that your cannabis use started due to a trauma that you experienced. Working through that trauma with a therapist may help to reduce PAWS symptoms, as stress that you experience from unprocessed trauma is relieved.
Recovery groups for cannabis addiction and withdrawal
Going to groups like Marijuana Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery provides you with support from people who have had similar experiences and goals. These groups also provide you with a framework for recovery, and meetings where you can listen to other people’s wisdom, and share your own experience. These three elements all help reduce stress, which is the main driver of PAWS symptoms.
Alternative healing modalities for trauma
Modalities like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), TRE (Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises) can play a part in PAWS management. The first uses rapid eye movement to process trauma. The second involves a series of stress positions that release the psoas muscle, where a lot of the trauma in our bodies is stored. If you have trauma, having these sessions will reduce PAWS.
Sound healing uses the power of sound waves to reduce stress in your body. You are likely to find some relief after one of these sessions.
Remind yourself why you’re doing it
When the going gets tough during PAWS, cravings can kick in. When these happen, thinking about all the reasons why you are quitting marijuana can help you not to give in.
Why quit smoking cannabis?
Many people consider cannabis to be a benign drug that cannot cause harm. This is unfortunately not true. Long term cannabis use can cause serious damage.
Cannabis use can lead to psychotic disorders
A large body of scientific evidence has shown that regular cannabis smoking can increase your risk of developing a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia. This is especially true if you have a family history of the disorder.
The numbers of people experiencing psychotic disorders due to smoking cannabis has been increasing in the past decade, due to the prevalence of cannabis available containing far higher levels of THC than previously. Smoking high-strength cannabis causes a significantly elevated risk of developing psychosis.
Cannabis use can lead to anxiety and depression
Cannabis smokers are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than those who do not smoke the drug. This is likely because cannabis alters brain chemistry in a way that amplifies negative emotions. Cannabis is also a depressant drug with psychoactive properties.
Once someone quits smoking cannabis, they may go through a period of rebound anxiety and depression. This almost always decreases over time.
Cannabis use can impair cognitive function
Scientists have shown that chronic cannabis use can impair cognitive function, including memory, attention, and executive functioning. This effect is most pronounced in young people, whose brains are still developing.
If you feel like your ability to think has been reducing recently, do not panic. Many symptoms of cognitive decline can be reversed after cannabis use has ceased.
Cannabis use can lead to addiction
If you smoke cannabis regularly you may develop an addiction. This means that you will feel cannabis withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit, and will often continue using despite negative consequences.
Cannabis use can cause respiratory problems
Like tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke contains harmful chemicals that can damage the lungs. This can lead to several respiratory problems, such as bronchitis and lung cancer.
Sometimes, chemicals are sprayed on to cannabis to increase the weight and therefore price to users. These additives may be incredibly harmful, and can resemble THC crystals, making it incredibly difficult to tell the potency and toxicity of the drug being used.
Cannabis use is expensive
People who are addicted to cannabis often spend hundreds of pounds a day on the drug. Over a year, this adds up to many thousands. When you quit smoking, think about buying yourself something from all the money that you saved by not buying cannabis.
Rehab for cannabis withdrawal
If you have had a dependency on cannabis for many years, and you use large amounts of cannabis each day, you may find it difficult to stop by yourself.
The same is true if you use cannabis to medicate mental health problems. Many people who find themselves addicted to cannabis have an underlying mental health issue that they were addressing by using cannabis. Anxiety, depression and PTSD may all be lessened by using cannabis, but only in the short term.
The problem is that when someone wants to quit, these mental health problems still remain. they have not been resolved. You may even find that they have worsened due to being untreated, and because of the detrimental effects that cannabis has on the brain. Attempting to stop smoking cannabis is far more difficult in such cases, as mental health issues should be treated simultaneously with addiction.
In either of the scenarios, inpatient rehab can work really well. At rehab, you will be in the care of professionals who can treat your cannabis withdrawal symptoms with medication. You may also be able to get a diagnosis for a co-occurring disorder, should you need one. Note that you need to be clean at least a few months before someone can give you an accurate diagnosis. Once you have this, you can then receive effective treatment.
Alternatives to cannabis rehab
Not everyone has the time or money to go to rehab. If you have an addiction to cannabis that you cannot break yourself, consider going to a recovery group who can support you while you are getting clean.
If you suspect you may have a co-occuring disorder, you must get a diagnosis from a mental health professional, so your mental health problem can be addressed. You will need to have a period of sobriety before you do this. Again, if you are struggling to stay clean and may have additional mental health problems, support groups are a good choice.
Synthetic cannabis withdrawal
Synthetic cannabinoids are drugs that are designed to mimic the effects of THC. They are often more potent than natural cannabis plants, and their side effects and withdrawal symptoms can be far more severe. Side effects from synthetic cannabinoid use includes severe psychotic episodes, paranoia, hallucinations, confusion, seizures, kidney damage, high blood pressure, heart attacks and death.
There are many different types of synthetic cannabinoid. A packet of synthetic cannabinoids may have one active ingredient (chemical that gets you high), or it may have several. They may even have chemicals in that are not synthetic cannabinoids, and are from a completely different class of psychoactive compound.
Withdrawal symptoms for synthetic cannabis products are usually stronger than from cannabis. They can include:
- Body aches
- Poor cognitive functioning
- Brain fog
You should only go through synthetic cannbinoid withdrawal under the care of a medical professional at a hospital or rehab center. This is due to the dangers inherent in going through withdrawal for these substances by yourself.
Having the assistance of a medical professional means that you will be monitored to make sure that your vital signs are OKAY, and will be administered with medication if you need it.
You can get through cannabis withdrawal
Quitting smoking cannabis is challenging, but there are plenty of approaches that you can implement that will help to make the process much easier. Once acute symptoms are over, use this guide to power your way through PAWS and ease cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
If you have are dependent on synthetic cannabinoids, and are struggling to quit, you should seek professional help. The same is true of cannabis addiction. Nearly every person that suffers with an addiction or mental health problem requires some kind of professional input to help them recover.
Cannabis addiction can seem like a hopeless situation. However, rest assured that many of us have successfully quit weed and embraced the recovery process. We can help show you the way and connect you to like-minded others within our recovery platform.
- Cannabis withdrawal syndrome: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5414724/
- Marijuana withdrawal is real: https://archives.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/marijuana-withdrawal-real
- If cannabis becomes a problem: How to manage cannabis withdrawal https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/if-cannabis-becomes-a-problem-how-to-manage-withdrawal-2020052619922
- Marijuana withdrawal: symptoms, timeline and expectations: https://www.psycom.net/marijauna-withdrawal