Cbd oil for marijuana withdrawal symptoms

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.

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Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Cannabis (marijuana) withdrawal symptoms are relatively mild when compared to the withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting alcohol or other drugs. But they can also be uncomfortable enough to cause someone who is trying to stop using marijuana to relapse in an effort to relieve the challenging symptoms and discomfort.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening; their main danger is causing a person who really wants or needs to quit to return to using the drug to ease these symptoms.

What Is Marijuana Withdrawal?

Research suggests that marijuana withdrawal symptoms may occur due to this drug’s effects on the body’s cannabinoid receptors. With regular marijuana use, cannabinoid 1 receptors are desensitized and downregulated. Once the drug is stopped, they start to repair and it is during this time of repair that withdrawal is typically experienced.

After quitting marijuana for one to two days, or significantly reducing its consumption, you may notice symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms tend to peak within two to six days, while people with higher levels of use can potentially experience marijuana withdrawal for several weeks.

Just as people who are trying to quit drinking may pick up a drink to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, people who are trying to stop using marijuana may light up a joint to relieve the discomfort they experience due to cannabis withdrawal.

This can be a serious problem for people who need to quit marijuana to keep their job or who have been court-ordered into treatment. It also makes it harder for people choosing to quit, whatever their reasons.

Marijuana Withdrawal Prevalence

One study estimates that 40% of people who use cannabis recreationally experience withdrawal symptoms when quitting this drug. Other research indicates that this rate may be much higher for people diagnosed with cannabis dependence, putting it closer to 90% for this population.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) now lists cannabis withdrawal syndrome as a criterion for diagnosing cannabis use disorder or dependence.

Whether or not you experience marijuana withdrawal symptoms can depend on a variety of factors. Among them are how often you use marijuana and if you also use other substances, such as tobacco or other drugs, as this can increase your likelihood of withdrawal.

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

The following are some of the most common symptoms associated with marijuana withdrawal.

Cravings

One of the symptoms most reported by people trying to quit marijuana—or most any substance, including cocaine, heroin, and opioids—is a craving or intense urge for more. And the severity of these cravings can help predict subsequent drug use.

Withdrawal cravings can range from “I would really enjoy using right now” to “I feel like I need marijuana so badly that I can’t think of anything else.” Learning how to manage these cravings is an important part of preventing marijuana use relapse.

Mood Swings

Another common symptom reported by those trying to quit marijuana is mood swings. In a 2019 study of 1,527 people who regularly use this drug, 76.3% experienced nervousness or anxiety when stopping its use, 71.9% felt feelings of hostility, and 58.9% had a depressed mood.

Irritability and anger are common symptoms for anyone who is giving up a drug of choice, especially if they feel forced by their circumstances to quit. Psychological withdrawal symptoms may also be more prevalent in females versus males.

Sleep Disruption

In a 2022 study involving 905 people, almost half (47%) reported sleep difficulties when stopping marijuana use. Previous studies have suggested that this number might be even higher, just above 68%.

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After you stop using cannabis, insomnia can last a few days or a couple of weeks. Some people may find that they experience occasional sleeplessness for several months after quitting.

But insomnia is not the only sleep disruption associated with marijuana withdrawal. Some people who have stopped using marijuana report having nightmares or very vivid dreams that also disrupt their sleep.

Sometimes they have “using dreams,” which are dreams that you are using marijuana. This occurs in roughly one-third of people in recovery and generally decreases over time.

Decreased Appetite

One of the top physical marijuana withdrawal symptoms reported in one piece of research was decreased appetite. This may occur, at least in part, because marijuana typically increases appetite. Take it away, and the desire to eat would naturally go down.

This marijuana withdrawal symptom often appears soon after quitting and it usually goes away just as quickly, enabling your appetite to return to normal within a fairly short period of time.

Headaches

Not everyone who stops using marijuana experiences headaches, but for those who do, the pain can be very intense—especially during the first few days after quitting. In some cases, stopping marijuana use can lead to migraines.

One explanation for this is that cannabinoids have been shown to increase kynurenic acid (KYNA) levels in the body by reducing enzyme inhibition. Once these cannabinoids are taken away, the level of KYNA decreases, leading to more frequent migraine attacks.

Other Symptoms

Although less common, other marijuana withdrawal symptoms reported by researchers include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Reduced appetite
  • Shakiness
  • Stomach pain

Physical symptoms of marijuana withdrawal tend to be less intense, peak sooner, and fade more quickly than the psychological symptoms associated with quitting. The frequency and amount of marijuana used prior to stopping can affect the severity and length of the withdrawals.

The reason you use marijuana may determine how many symptoms you experience. For example, in a study of people who use this drug to help ease their pain, more than half reported having multiple withdrawal symptoms.

Coping With Marijuana Withdrawal

If you or a loved one are trying to quit marijuana and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, there are a few things you can do to help ease the discomfort:

  • Get physically active. Engaging in moderate-intensity aerobic activity can help improve sleep-related issues when going through marijuana withdrawal. Go for a bicycle ride, take a hike, or take a class at a gym. Get your heart rate up during the day so you can sleep better at night.
  • Rely on your social network. When you feel withdrawal symptoms building up, reach out to a family member, friend, or someone else that you trust who can provide social support. Talk to them about how you feel and use their strength to help you get through the discomfort.
  • Consider a nicotine patch. Research has found that using a nicotine patch appears to help reduce withdrawal symptoms in people who have used cannabis at least five times per week for a year or longer, even if they didn’t also use tobacco products. These patches do have potential side effects, so talk to a healthcare provider to learn whether this is the right choice for you.

When to Consult a Healthcare Professional

If you are trying to stop or reduce your marijuana use and are finding it difficult to abstain long-term, you don’t have to go through this alone. A healthcare provider can provide options for reducing the symptoms of withdrawal. Some medications have been found helpful for this purpose, for instance, and with few adverse side effects.

A mental health professional can also help with the psychological effects of marijuana withdrawal. Motivational enhancement therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are known to help treat cannabis use disorder. At a minimum, a therapist can teach you some tools to help you better cope with withdrawal and the symptoms you are experiencing.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

Marijuana Withdrawal: What To Expect And How To Cope

Rufus Tony Spann is a nationally certified school psychologist and licensed professional counselor based in Washington, D.C.

Commissions we earn from partner links on this page do not affect our opinions or evaluations. Our editorial content is based on thorough research and guidance from the Forbes Health Advisory Board.

Table of Contents

  • What Is Marijuana Withdrawal?
  • Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal
  • Who Is Most Likely to Experience Marijuana Withdrawal?
  • 4 Expert Tips for Coping With Marijuana Withdrawal
  • Can CBD Help With Marijuana Withdrawal?
  • When to Seek Help

As the debate rages on about whether marijuana is an addictive substance, one thing is clear: Some habitual and long-term users experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop consuming it.

In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) includes diagnostic criteria for cannabis withdrawal syndrome. And it may be more common than you think—a 2020 meta-analysis of studies found 47% of people who regularly used or felt dependent on cannabis experienced cannabis withdrawal syndrome when they stopped consuming the substance [1] Bahji A, Stephenson C, Tyo R, Hawken E, Seitz D. Prevalence of Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome Among People With Regular or Dependent Use of Cannabinoids. JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(4):e202370. .

What Is Marijuana Withdrawal?

Unpleasant psychological and physiological symptoms can occur when a long-term, regular consumer of marijuana suddenly quits. “The more you use, the higher your tolerance becomes and the more severe your symptoms of withdrawal [can be],” says Michael Weaver, M.D., a psychiatry professor and medical director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Research on Addiction at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. While the effects are usually short-lived, they can be highly uncomfortable.

“The [body’s] endocannabinoid system has receptors on cells like satellite dishes,” explains Jordan Tishler, M.D., a Harvard Medical School faculty member, the president of the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists and the CEO/CMO of inhaleMD, a clinical practice led by cannabinoid specialist physicians. “When the system is flooded with cannabis [and then the person abruptly stops consuming it], problematic symptoms can occur,” he says. The way to avoid withdrawal symptoms, he adds, is “to turn down the volume by curbing intake or lowering the dose gradually.”

Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal

To meet the criteria for cannabis withdrawal syndrome, a person must exhibit at least three of the following symptoms within about a week of abrupt cannabis use cessation, according to the DSM-5:

  • Irritability
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Decreased appetite or weight loss
  • Depressed mood
  • Physical symptoms, such as abdominal pain, shakiness or tremors, sweating, fever, chills or headache

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The severity and duration of these symptoms can vary widely from person to person and may be influenced by their former amount of marijuana consumption, personality traits, the presence of other psychiatric or physical health conditions, the amount of stress in their lives and other factors.

While the typical effects of marijuana consumption can include feeling mellow or relaxed or getting the “munchies,” cannabis withdrawal symptoms tend to reside on the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of feeling relaxed, the person tends to feel restless or irritable; instead of craving sweet or fatty foods, the person can lose their appetite; instead of feeling sleepy, the person can experience rebound insomnia.

“It’s really about neuroadaptation,” says Patrick Fehling, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist with the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. “The withdrawal experience is the opposite of the experience of taking the substance.”

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Who Is Most Likely to Experience Marijuana Withdrawal?

Marijuana withdrawal can happen to recreational users, as well as people who use cannabis for medicinal purposes. Heavy, long-term users are most at risk, says Dr. Tishler. “It’s very much dose-dependent.”

There may be some gender differences as well. In a 2015 study in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, researchers found women seeking treatment for cannabis use disorders had higher and more severe withdrawal symptoms than men. More specifically, women had higher scores on measures of irritability, restlessness, increased anger, violent outbursts and gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and stomach pain [2] Herrmann E, Weerts E, Vandrey R. Sex differences in cannabis withdrawal symptoms among treatment-seeking cannabis users. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. December 2015;23(6): 415-421. .

4 Expert Tips for Coping With Marijuana Withdrawal

The best way to cope with marijuana withdrawal is to “recognize that it will get better—it will end,” says Dr. Weaver. The symptoms may be unpleasant and uncomfortable for a few days, but then they usually get progressively better. In the meantime, here are several expert-backed tips for easing the discomfort.

1. Exercise

The famous “runner’s high” is associated with the endocannabinoid system (which regulates neurotransmitters throughout the body), too, says Dr. Tishler. So doing a moderate-to-vigorous aerobic workout might help boost your mood and distract you from your uncomfortable symptoms. What’s more, a 2021 study in the Journal of Sleep Research found doing a 35-minute cycling workout every day for six days helped cannabis-dependent people fall asleep more easily and sleep longer than those who did a stretching workout [3] McCartney D, Isik A, Rooney K, Arnold J, Bartlett D, Murnion B, Richards E, Arkell T, Lintzeris N, McGregor I. The effect of daily aerobic cycling exercise on sleep quality during inpatient cannabis withdrawal: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Sleep Research. June 2021;30(3):e13211. .

2. Use Remedies to Treat Specific Symptoms

If you have nausea, you could treat it with Pepto Bismol, suggests Dr. Weaver. Or if you’re struggling with insomnia or other sleep disturbances, you could ask your doctor about medication solutions or try a sleep meditation app, says Dr. Fehling. The latter approach is likely to give you “the best bang for the buck,” he adds, because it can help relieve restlessness and set the stage for better sleep.

3. Consume Healthy Foods

“Take an inventory of your diet, including your snacking and consumption of processed food or fast food,” says Dr. Fehling. These choices can make you feel worse. Instead, stick with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein—and stay well hydrated.

4. Seek Support From Friends and Family

These relationships can help you stay motivated to get through this difficult transition without relapsing—and help you “occupy yourself with other things that will take your attention away from not feeling so good,” says Dr. Weaver.

Can CBD Help With Marijuana Withdrawal?

The jury is still out on whether CBD can help with marijuana withdrawal. Some experts, including Dr. Tishler and Dr. Weaver, say using cannabidiol (CBD) is unlikely to help with cannabis withdrawal symptoms because it’s less psychoactive than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and THC is what causes the desired effects (as well as the withdrawal symptoms) of marijuana. But a 2018 review of 10 studies on the subject concluded that cannabinoids like CBD may help treat cannabis withdrawal symptoms. What’s more, they may “decrease the rate of relapse in the treatment of cannabis dependence due to withdrawal symptoms.” [4] Werneck M, Kortas G, de Andrade A, Castaldelli-Maia J. A Systematic Review of the Efficacy of Cannabinoid Agonist Replacement Therapy for Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms. CNS Drugs. December 2018;32(12):1113-1129.

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