Cannabis withdrawal timeline: What to expect when you quit cannabis for good
There is a remarkably clear cut cannabis withdrawal timeline. This is very useful, as quitting cannabis can be a very good idea and a very positive step in your own development.
There are some good uses for medical cannabis – it is gaining traction in health and wellbeing circles for its use in pain relief and anxiety reduction. However, regular use, especially through cannabis addiction, is incredibly damaging. In cases of heavy use and addiction, quitting the problematic substance is always the first vital step in recovery.
You can expect a few effects as you quit cannabis. Many of them come from early days cannabis withdrawal. These can however be quite unpleasant. As time moves along, more and more positive benefits will start to arise. This timeline is important to know – planning for it, and looking forward to some of the benefits, may be vital for long term success. It can keep you moving forwards if and when things get tough.
Symptoms to expect during your cannabis withdrawal timeline
None of the symptoms you will experience from the initial stages of your cannabis withdrawal timeline will be life threatening. The main concern will be falling off the wagon – relapsing will be your biggest concern.
This isn’t to say that the other symptoms will be pleasant.
Cannabis withdrawal will usually last 1-2 weeks, after which the main symptoms will ease (though temptation to relapse will take longer to go away, if it ever fully does.)
However, some people may experience PAWS, (post-acute withdrawal syndrome, especially prevalent in heavier or longer-term cannabis users). Symptoms may last several weeks or months during PAWS.
During withdrawal, you may experience a few alterations to your mood. It is common to feel on edge, irritable and restless. You may find your appetite changing, one way or the other, and sleep issues can arise. Headaches and digestive complaints can also be common.
The worst of the symptoms will be in the first 24 to 72 hours, when you will likely experience certain common withdrawal symptoms (though, of course, withdrawal can be very different for different people).
These symptoms will typically include the following:
We often don’t think of cannabis as being particularly addictive. It certainly isn’t in the same league as substances like heroin or alcohol. However, it can hit many people with intense cravings as they give it up.
Quitting cannabis is like quitting any other substance or addictive behaviour pattern in this regard, and you will need to be prepared for it. Your cannabis withdrawal timeline will need to make room for it.
Cannabis and anxiety come hand in hand. Many people begin using it to calm down. This can work, in part. However, cannabis can also cause intense anxiety, even growing into full paranoia. This is true both as you use it and as you quit it.
You may find anxiety levels appearing or rising as you go through your cannabis withdrawal timeline. This can be scary – it can be a real stressor, triggering you into relapse. However, it is a completely natural process that should fade within a few days.
In some cases, this anxiety can linger. It may even force you to deal with underlying anxiety if you were using cannabis to treat it in the first place. If you are still feeling anxious after a week or two of quitting cannabis, seek medical advice. Your doctor will be able to provide the help you need to overcome your anxiety and live a positive, healthy life.
Definitely seek out medical help if your anxiety manifests as full-blown paranoia. This can include hallucinatory episodes or delusional thoughts. In this case, you should seek help from a mental health professional.
Irritability is also a common occurrence on your cannabis withdrawal timeline. It can be mild, with slight irritation that is easy to stay on top of. It can be more severe, sometimes turning into aggressive anger. Wherever you fall in this spectrum, know that it is completely normal for those going through cannabis withdrawal.
As with other symptoms, it shouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks. If it lasts more than a week, seek advice from your healthcare provider. If it is especially extreme and you find yourself unable to regulate your anger, talk to your doctor sooner rather than later. Though it is normal, it can be destructive if you don’t get help with it.
You may also experience mood changes and swings. Again, this is normal, and can encompass a great many different emotions – joy and depression, energy and lethargy, irritability and nervousness and calm. You may struggle to concentrate or sit still, which can further contribute to anxiety and irritability.
Depression is also quite common both with cannabis use and on your withdrawal timeline. It can be hard to sort out from the lethargy and sleep problems you might experience (see below). However, if you are finding it hard to complete everyday tasks, to motivate yourself, or to focus on anything, you may be experiencing depression.
This is quite normal. However, if it persists for more than a couple of weeks, or gets particularly bad, you should seek medical help. In particularly bad cases, you might entertain suicidal or nihilistic thoughts, in which case psychiatric intervention will be needed.
Issues with sleep and lethargy
Around half of those going through cannabis withdrawal will experience some form of sleep disruption along their quitting timeline. This can include insomnia, trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, night sweats, and exceptionally vivid dreams. It is common not to dream at all when taking cannabis long term, and so these vivid dreams can be particularly disturbing.
You may also dream that you are smoking or taking cannabis. This is normal. Cannabis will obviously be on your mind and your dreams are your subconscious’ attempt to process and come to terms with your withdrawal.
This can last for about a month after quitting cannabis, though these timescales can vary significantly. If insomnia becomes a big problem and starts to impact your life, seek out healthy ways of combatting it. If exercise, healthy eating and meditation do not help, it may be time to speak to your doctor.
Partly as a result of these disturbed sleeping habits, lethargy is common whilst quitting cannabis. It can go hand in hand with depression, as we have seen, or it can come independently of it. Again, it shouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks before tapering off.
Physical symptoms of cannabis withdrawal
There are some additional, physical symptoms of cannabis withdrawal to watch out for.
These kinds of physical symptoms of quitting cannabis tend not to be too intense overall. They are usually nowhere near as bad as the mental health side of it. They tend to peak and fade far more quickly than many of the psychological symptoms.
Headaches can occur as you quit cannabis. Quitting cannabis doesn’t always lead to them – plenty of people don’t experience headaches through withdrawal. However, bad headaches can be quite common in some cases.
These headaches can begin from a few days after quitting cannabis and can last for a couple of weeks. They will typically be at their worst around 2-6 days after quitting, though this can vary significantly. They should begin to disappear after a couple of weeks or will at least fade in intensity.
Regular painkillers should be able to get rid of the worst of the pain. However, if the headaches become debilitating, or go on for more than a few weeks, seek medical advice.
You might also experience stomach pains alongside a change in appetite. This will all affect your weight, with fluctuations in weight being quite common – you may find yourself losing or gaining weight. As long as these fluctuations don’t take you into a dangerous BMI score, they shouldn’t be too concerning. You can always put weight on later, or lose it; the important thing is quitting cannabis.
Flu like symptoms may also occur as you go through withdrawal. This can include headaches and muscle aches, excess sweating, shakiness, tremors, and fevers.
Physical symptoms tend to be influenced by the duration and severity of your cannabis use. The more you took it, and/or the longer you took it for, the worse they can be.
Your cannabis withdrawal timeline
We’ve mentioned timescales in passing, looking at how each symptom presents itself, when, and for how long. I really want to lay out a roadmap for your recovery whilst quitting cannabis, however. Here we can see exactly what you should expect to happen to your mind and body at every stage of the process.
First three days after quitting cannabis
Your withdrawal symptoms will begin within the first 24-72 hours. This may include irritability, anxiety, and sleeplessness. At the same time, however, your lungs will begin to heal (if you smoked cannabis and have given up smoking altogether). This healing process will continue for several years. You may never fully recover. However, in as little as 24 hours your lungs will begin to mend.
The first week of cannabis withdrawal timeline
From the second to the seventh day after quitting cannabis, you may find that mood swings and irritability spike. This can happen at any time in this period. Depression may begin to sink in towards the end of that first week.
You will also begin to dream vividly, or perhaps dream for the first time since you began using cannabis, during this time. Night sweats and sleep disturbances may begin.
However, your brain will be healing through this period. Its receptors responsible for neurological processes like motivation, pleasure, fine motor control, learning, memory, and so on will begin to return to normal function.
The second week
Your marijuana withdrawal symptoms should begin to subside towards the end of the second week, though this isn’t always the case. Sleep disturbances may also linger after this period, including insomnia and vivid dreams.
After the first month
After the first four weeks, your brain receptors should be pretty much normalised. This will affect your memory, mental acuity, cognition, proprioception, attention span and working memory, improving all. In chronic cases, these may never return to full natural functioning. However, they will be healed to their fullest capacity in this time.
Most of the withdrawal symptoms should ease after this. However, some people can experience withdrawal symptoms for a year or so after quitting cannabis. This can be especially true of insomnia and anxiety.
If you’ve simultaneously given up smoking, your body will continue to repair itself for years to come, we have articles covering this within our knowledge hub.
Cravings can continue, especially those caused by habit, especially if you’re around triggering people, places, or situations. Try to avoid these, as that temptation will never really go away. The best thing to do is shield yourself from it.
Cannabis addiction and how it affects the withdrawal timeline
Cannabis addiction is a whole other ball game, when it comes to heavy use of cannabis. Quitting cannabis will only be the very start of your recovery. Staying away from Cannabis and rebuilding your life will take coping strategies, support from like minded others and a programme of recovery. Some people require counselling and trauma therapy also.
Recovery from cannabis addiction is an ongoing process of uncovering, discovering, healing and growth.
If you or a loved one suffer from an addiction tweed, you have come to the right place. Here, we offer a safe space for you to connect with like-minded others who have also overcome an addiction, as well as access to meetings and sources for improved wellbeing.