Marijuana or cannabis is largely seen as one of the safest and least tolerance inducing drugs – leading to a rapid acceptance and legalization throughout the United States. However, while relatively harmless in comparison to ‘hard’ drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, marijuana is tolerance inducing.
In fact, studies show that about 9% of users who try marijuana eventually develop a substance use disorder, compared to about 24% for heroin. However, the percentage of people who smoke cannabis is significantly higher than those who use hard drugs. Where about 1.8% of the population uses opioids such as heroin, a 2016 Gallup poll showed that 13% of respondents, or 1 in 8, claim to smoke marijuana and the World Drug Report shows a higher number of 16.2%. As a result, there are typically more people who are dependent on marijuana at any given time than who are dependent on a stronger drug like heroin.
Is Marijuana Really Dependence Inducing?
While many people believe that you cannot become addicted to marijuana, this is far from the truth. However, marijuana use disorder and the long-term side effects tend to be significantly less severe than other drugs. A person who is strongly dependent on marijuana is not likely to involve themselves in criminal activities, behave recklessly, or go to extremes to acquire more of their drug – because the drug does not interfere with function enough to do so. The calming and anti-anxiety properties of cannabidiol (CBD), a substance found in cannabis, also work to combat the side-effects of drug addiction.
Substance dependence is defined as meeting 2 or more of the following criteria:
- Tolerance defined by either a markedly increasing need to achieve the same desired effect or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance
- Withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of the drug
- The user smokes or eats more cannabis than intended, typically over a longer period
- The user attempts to quit or cut down on using but fails
- The user spends a great deal of time and money obtaining cannabis
- The user smokes or eats cannabis when it can interfere with social or work-related activities
- The user continues to smoke despite recognizing that cannabis is causing negative side effects (family problems, paranoia, anxiety, low performance at work, etc.)
Many marijuana users experience 1-4 of these symptoms, which does qualify as dependence. In 2013, about 4 million Americans met the criteria for marijuana use disorder.
What Are Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms Like?
Most studies show that approximately 30% of heavy marijuana users will experience moderate to strong withdrawal symptoms during detox. These symptoms typically manifest in the form of psychological disturbances such as anxiety, insomnia, and nightmares.
Most recovering users experience:
- Depression or low mood
- Nightmares and vivid dreams
- Irritability or anger
These symptoms are typically very bad for the first few days, before beginning to taper off, typically over 1-4 weeks. For example, marijuana can depress dreaming while sleeping. Coming off it often means that those dreams rush back rapidly – causing the appearance of extremely vivid dreams. This goes away as the body adjusts, but can take months. Most users also experience ‘use’ dreams, about smoking or eating cannabis.
Many heavy users also experience the same symptoms as when detoxing from sugar or caffeine. Strong headaches, night sweats, changes in body odor, and stomach problems are very common. A very small percentage of users also experience shakes and tremors; however, this is rare.
While marijuana withdrawal symptoms are mild in comparison to those of harder drugs, many users experience acute discomfort and may return to using to alleviate the symptoms. This can be problematic for someone who is trying to quit, so seeking medical attention and a doctor’s advice or rehab before attempting to quit – so that a medical professional is on hand to treat symptoms – may be essential to quitting successfully.
Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline
Most marijuana withdrawal symptoms begin to set in within 24 hours of quitting the drug. They typically increase for 1-3 days, and then begin to taper off over a period of several weeks.
Day 1 – Most active THC molecules in cannabis are processed within 24 hours, after which detox begins. The body struggles to adjust to the new chemical balance, and users will begin to experience irritability, loss of focus, and anxiety. For the first night, most users report restless sleep and vivid dreams.
Day 2-3 – The second and third day are typically the highest point of marijuana detox. Users experience the most severe withdrawal symptoms and may not sleep at all. Users typically experience strong headaches, cravings, sweating and chills, sleeplessness and vivid dreams, and in some cases, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, or nausea. Many users do not sleep at all during this period.
4-14 Days – After day 3, most symptoms will begin to fade on their own, but may persist for up to two weeks. In some cases, vivid dreams may persist for as long as a year after taking the final dose. Without THC to level the mood, many users also begin to experience mood swings and low moods or depression, as well as irritability or anger. Here, cravings are almost always present but may vary in strength based on the individual and their history of cannabis use.
What Affects Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms
There are many factors that affect marijuana withdrawal symptoms, their severity, and their duration. For example, a user who typically smokes marijuana with tobacco but who does not smoke cigarettes will go through both tobacco and marijuana withdrawal at the same time. Other important factors include the frequency and length of the habit, the volume of cannabis consumed, tolerance level, emotional state, mental health, metabolism, body fat, and more.
Fat Levels – THC is stored in fat, which means that persons with a higher percentage of body fat may experience longer and stronger withdrawal symptoms.
Metabolism – A very fit individual with a high metabolism will likely process the THC and CBD in their body more quickly, leading to fewer withdrawal symptoms.
Mental Health – Persons with comorbid disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, or PTSD may experience very strong withdrawal symptoms. CBD, a cannabidiol present in THC, typically represses some of the symptoms of these disorders, which can worsen after the drug leaves the system.
While marijuana withdrawal symptoms are relatively mild compared to many other drugs, it is not pleasant or easy to do. Strong cravings, combined with discomfort, leads many people to relapse. This is especially true for people who suffer from comorbid conditions making it more difficult for them to quit.
Seeking out a drug addiction treatment program will ensure that you get the support and help needed to recover. Most marijuana use disorder treatment now combines sleeping medication to reduce most of the withdrawal symptoms with therapy including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy to create the best possible outcome.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a possible addiction to Marijuana, or you just have questions, please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available today.