Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms, Detox, and Addiction Treatment Programs
Marijuana (cannabis, weed, grass, hashish) is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 8.4% of all Americans over the age of 12 (22.2 million people) had used marijuana in the past month, which is higher than the percentage of marijuana users reported in any of the previous 12 years.1
Although attitudes to and laws about marijuana use in some U.S. states have become more permissive, this drug does have the potential to cause harm. There are many negative side effects of marijuana use, including anxiety, increased heart rate, learning problems, sleep disturbances, and even addiction.2
A recent study has found that up to 30% of people who use marijuana will develop a marijuana use disorder, a medical term that includes marijuana abuse, dependence, and addiction.3 A person’s risk of developing problems depends partly on their age. People who begin using marijuana as teenagers are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop marijuana use disorders than those who start using the drug as adults.4
Quitting marijuana can free users from the negative side effects of the drug. In 2014 alone, 138,000 people in the U.S. voluntarily entered treatment to recover from marijuana abuse.2 New research shows that one of the biggest hurdles standing in the way of ending marijuana use is withdrawal.5
What Is Marijuana Withdrawal?
Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person who is dependent on a drug suddenly stops taking it. People who repeatedly use certain drugs often experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit because their brains and bodies adapt, or “get used to” having the drug. If the drug is suddenly removed, the user may experience withdrawal symptoms until the brain and body have time to re-adjust to the new, drug-free state—a process that normally will take place over several days or weeks.
Withdrawal symptoms are different depending on which drug is involved. It has been debated for several years whether or not marijuana can cause withdrawal symptoms in heavy users who stop taking the drug.5 However, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association definitively included cannabis withdrawal in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook used by U.S. healthcare professionals that lists all medically recognized mental disorders.
Is Marijuana Withdrawal Dangerous?
Marijuana withdrawal usually does not cause severe physical symptoms, unlike withdrawal from drugs like alcohol and opioids. Instead, the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are more often psychological.2,5 It is important to know that even though marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not usually dangerous, they still pose risks to abusers who attempt to withdraw on their own.
Heavy marijuana abusers who experience withdrawal when they stop using the drug will often experience feelings of anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that people with depression are more likely to use marijuana and to be dependent on the drug than those who are not.6 In these individuals, marijuana withdrawal might make their depression worse, and they may turn back to using in order to relieve the feelings.
Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal
Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are more subtle than those of other drugs, but they can still be very unpleasant. How much marijuana a person uses and how long for affects the type and intensity of the withdrawal symptoms they endure. The experience of acute marijuana withdrawal is different for everyone, and it lasts for about 5 days, on average.7
Physical Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms
Common physical symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:8
- Stomach discomfort.
- Fever and chills.
Psychological Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal for heavy marijuana users most often involves psychological symptoms that include:8
- Diminished appetite.
How Long Do Weed Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
Marijuana withdrawal may last longer than that of most other drugs because the main chemical that produces marijuana’s effects, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), stays in the body for several weeks, instead of several hours. Therefore, certain symptoms of marijuana withdrawal can last for weeks or even months.9
For example, a review of 19 different studies showed that former marijuana users had sleep difficulties and strange dreams for at least 45 days after last using marijuana.7 Symptoms such as these may be part of what is known as a post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
Such long-lasting withdrawal symptoms may make quitting marijuana more challenging. A recent study showed that heavy users who try to quit and who go through withdrawal symptoms are less likely to remain abstinent than users who do not experience withdrawal.10 The researchers of this study suggest that starting treatment as soon as possible makes it more likely that a person in recovery will be successful in remaining abstinent from marijuana.
Can Medications Help With Marijuana Withdrawal?
There are currently no medicines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat marijuana dependence.
There have been clinical trials of several drugs to find out if they can relieve weed withdrawal symptoms, including anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, sleep aids, anti-seizure drugs, mood stabilizers, and THC replacements.11 Of these, the most promising results have come from the sleep aid zolpidem (Ambien), the anti-anxiety medication buspirone (BuSpar), and the anti-convulsant drug gabapentin (Neurontin).2 These drugs relieve the insomnia and anxiety associated with marijuana withdrawal and—in the case of gabapentin—can also help to improve former users’ ability to think clearly during withdrawal.9 These treatments are still being researched for use in the treatment of cannabis withdrawal.
Marijuana Detox Programs
While users detoxing from marijuana may do so from home, some prefer to do so with the help of a detoxification (detox) facility. The addiction professionals working in these programs can help patients recovering from marijuana dependence stay safe and comfortable during the withdrawal process. Professional detox can also keep patients from relapsing during this critical time.
Ongoing Addiction Treatment Types
Treatment doesn’t end with detox—rather, it starts after detox is successfully completed. Once your body is free of marijuana, you can move into recovery from a stable starting point. Engaging in ongoing treatment improves your chances of recovering successfully. Research has shown that people who seek help with marijuana addiction have used the drug daily for an average of 10 years and have attempted to quit 6 times, on average.2 These numbers show how truly difficult it can be to quit on your own.
Because there are no medications approved to specifically manage marijuana dependence or addiction, it is usually treated with behavioral therapies. Three therapies that have been successful are:2
- Contingency management. This approach uses tangible rewards, like reward vouchers or prizes, to encourage healthy behavior, such as remaining abstinent from drugs.
- Motivational enhancement therapy. This behavioral treatment helps people in recovery set concrete personal goals that they will be motivated to achieve. Counselors then help the individual formulate a plan to meet these goals.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This treatment uses counseling and education to help people in recovery recognize dangerous behaviors and counteract them with healthier choices.
Whichever treatment method is chosen, individuals recovering from marijuana dependence will be more likely to succeed with help than by simply trying to quit on their own. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted rehab programs across the country. If you need help finding a treatment program, please call us free at any time—day or night—at .
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