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Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawals Are Mild, But Can Cause Relapse

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Updated June 20, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A man smokes marijuana at his home August 8, 2001 in the Dalston section of East London.
Sion Touhig/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Compared to withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting alcohol or other drugs, marijuana withdrawal symptoms are relatively mild, but they are uncomfortable enough to cause many who try to quit to relapse to relieve those symptoms.

In other words, the marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening -- their main danger is causing someone who really wants or needs to quit smoking weed to fail.

Significance of Marijuana Withdrawal

Marijuana withdrawal is not listed as a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) mainly due to doubts in 1994 about its clinical significance. But research conducted since the DSM IV was published has shown that cannabis withdrawal should be a target of clinical treatment because it can drive people to relapse.

Just as alcoholics who are trying to quit drinking may pick up a drink to relieve the sometimes life-threatening symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, marijuana smokers may light up a joint to relieve the discomfort they experience when they try to stop smoking. This can be a serious problem for smokers who need to quit to keep their job or who have been court-ordered into treatment.

One study found that 70.4% of users trying to quit smoking marijuana relapsed to relieve the withdrawal symptoms.

Marijuana Withdrawal Is Common

A Duke University study of 496 adult marijuana smokers who tried to quit found that 95.5% of them experienced at least one withdrawal symptom while 43.1% experienced more than one symptom. The number of symptoms the participants experienced was significantly linked to how often and how much the subjects smoked prior to trying to quit.

Those who were daily smokers experienced the most symptoms, but even those who reported using marijuana less than weekly experienced some withdrawal symptoms of moderate intensity.

Following is a look at some of the most common symptoms associated with marijuana withdrawal:

Craving for Marijuana

One of the symptoms most reported by people trying to quit smoking marijuana is a craving for marijuana, or an intense desire for more. In one study, 75.7% of participants trying to quit reported intense craving for marijuana.

Although many regular smokers of marijuana do not believe they are addicted to the drug, one hallmark of addiction is craving when you try to stop, whether it's heroin, alcohol, gambling or sex addiction. Craving is the most common symptom reported by former marijuana users in the early days of abstinence.

Mood Swings

The second most common symptom reported by those who have tried to quit smoking marijuana is mood swings. Former users report emotional swings from depression, anger and euphoria and back again. Irritability and anger are common symptoms for anyone who is giving up a drug of choice, especially if they are forced by circumstances to quit.

More than half (50.1%) of those who try to quit marijuana report mood swings, irritability or anxiety. Others report aggression, nervousness, restlessness and a loss of concentration. Typically, these symptoms begin to diminish after two to three weeks, but can linger in some up to three months.

Sleep Disruption

Insomnia is one of the most common symptoms of drug withdrawal, whether the drug is marijuana, alcohol or prescription pain killers. Just as someone who is alcohol-dependent or someone who has been addicted to opiates experiences difficulty trying to sleep after they quit, marijuana smokers also find falling to sleep difficult.

Insomnia symptoms after you stop smoking weed can last a few days or a couple of weeks. Some smokers find that they can experience occasional sleeplessness for a few months after quitting.

But insomnia is not the only sleep disruption problem associated with marijuana withdrawal. Some people who have stopped smoking pot report having nightmares and very vivid dreams that also disrupt their sleep. These frequent, vivid dreams typically begin about a week after quitting and can last for about a month before tapering off. An estimated 46.9% of former smokers report sleep disruption problems.

Others who have quit smoking report having "using dreams" in which they dream they smoke marijuana. Some former smokers have reported having these types of dreams years after they stopped using marijuana.

Headaches

One of the most common physical symptoms reported by those who stop smoking are headaches. Not everyone who stops smoking marijuana experiences headaches, but for those who do, the headaches can be very intense, especially during the first few days after quitting.

Headaches associated with marijuana withdrawal can last for a few weeks up to a couple of months. Headaches, like most other symptoms of withdrawing from marijuana use, will usually begin 1-3 days after quitting and will peak 2 to 6 days after stopping. Symptoms usually fade after two weeks, but some former smokers report continued symptoms for several weeks or even months later.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms reported by researchers include appetite change, weight loss, weight gain, digestion problems, cramps or nausea after eating. Others have reported night sweats, loss of the sense of humor, decreased sex drive, or increased sex drive. Some former users have reported shaking and dizziness.

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 the smoker used prior to stopping affects the severity and length of the withdrawals.

Do you experience withdrawals when you quit smoking weed? Take the Marijuana Withdrawal Symptom Quiz.

Get Help for Symptoms

If you have decided to quit smoking weed, or you have been forced by circumstances to quit, chances are you will experience some kind of withdrawal symptoms. Depending on how much and how often you have been smoking, these symptoms could become intense enough to drive you to relapse to find relief.

You don't have to do it on your own. Seek help from your healthcare provider to deal with the physical symptoms of withdrawal or seek help from a support group like Marijuana Anonymous to handle the psychological symptoms.

Sources:

Levin, KH, et al. "Cannabis withdrawal symptoms in non-treatment-seeking adult cannabis smokers." Drug and Alcohol Dependence April 2010.

Marijuana Anonymous World Services. "Detoxing from Marijuana." Accessed June 2012.

Vandrey, R., et al. "Cannabis withdrawal in adolescent treatment seekers." Drug and Alcohol Dependence, January 2008

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