Marijuana has been decriminalized in most States, with many people seeing it as a harmless substance. Although smoking weed can be an acceptable way of treating pain, relieving stress, and unwinding, it is not entirely without risk, especially when used from a young age.

While marijuana may be less habit-forming than other substances, such as cocaine, approximately 30% of people that use marijuana develop some kind of dependency. When a person wants to quit smoking weed, it helps to understand how it affects the brain and body.

How Does Weed Affect People?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Responsible for stimulating the part of the brain that responds to pleasure, THC releases dopamine, providing a feeling of relaxation and joy.

However, not everyone experiences these positive sensations. Smoking marijuana causes some people to feel anxious, paranoid, and even depressed. This is particularly true when those under 18 start smoking weed.

Is Marijuana Addictive? 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists marijuana as an addictive drug. When regularly smoked, marijuana use can lead to a marijuana use disorder and marijuana addiction.

In the United States, around four million people meet the criteria for marijuana dependence, with rates much higher in young people. Those who start smoking weed before 18 are up to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder. Over time, people who develop such a disorder may produce fewer endocannabinoid neurotransmitters, which are naturally produced by the brain.

When this happens, quitting marijuana can result in withdrawal symptoms. Those who experience withdrawal symptoms often feel irritable, have difficulty sleeping, encounter mood swings, and face various forms of physical discomfort within the first two weeks of quitting.

How To Quit Smoking Weed

Like other addictions, when it comes to quitting weed, professional help is advised. When an individual wants to quit smoking marijuana, either due to circumstance or because they think they may have a drug addiction or cannabis use disorder, it is essential to consider how best to do so. The two most common methods to quit smoking weed are tapering off use and quitting cold turkey.

Tapering Marijuana Use

Tapering means steadily reducing marijuana use by lessening the amount consumed over a set timeframe. This particular method is often used when addiction treatment is sought via a healthcare provider.

Through tapering marijuana use, the aim is for the body to gradually become accustomed to lower levels of weed while minimizing the withdrawal symptoms. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) favors this approach to lessen severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Quitting Cold Turkey 

Quitting cold turkey means stopping marijuana use altogether. Although withdrawal symptoms can be more intense for those who quit weed cold turkey, it can prove helpful for people who don’t have the confidence in themselves to steadily consume less. 

Whatever method is used when quitting marijuana, it is vital to create a plan. This could mean setting a date to stop altogether or working out how much to reduce consumption over a specified timeframe. This might include consuming less potent marijuana, smoking fewer joints per day, or smoking less in weight per week.

For those who decide to quit cold turkey, it’s important to ensure that they are adequately prepared for the common withdrawal symptoms and even cravings that might be experienced. Removing all marijuana from the home and refraining from socializing with people that smoke weed can be two effective methods of countering cravings.

Withdrawal Symptoms

For most people, withdrawal symptoms usually last around two weeks. However, these symptoms vary based on several factors, such as how much a person smokes, the age they started, and the intensity of the marijuana addiction.

People who smoke weed daily typically experience a more significant number of symptoms. However, even those who smoke less than once per week experience some side effects. As drug abuse and alcohol abuse results in varied withdrawal symptoms, it is impossible to determine which symptoms a person will encounter. Yet, compared to other drugs, marijuana withdrawal is seen as relatively mild with much less harmful consequences.

Unlike some drugs, marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, but they are uncomfortable enough to cause a person to relapse. Although withdrawal can be completed without medical supervision, it is always important to explore treatment options and speak to an addiction specialist, especially if an individual has previously attempted to overcome a weed addiction and has relapsed.

Typically, a combination of psychological and physical symptoms are associated with withdrawal. Common psychological symptoms include:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Changes in appetite, such as a decreased appetite
  • Cravings

Common physical symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Stomach pain after eating

Cravings 

Cravings are one of the most common cannabis withdrawal symptoms reported by those trying to quit smoking weed. Generally more intense during the first few days of withdrawal, cravings include a desire to smoke weed and are experienced by about 80% of people. To reduce cravings, it is ideal to remove all marijuana-related paraphernalia from the home and ensure a strong support network is in place.

Mood Swings

Experienced by more than half of those trying to quit smoking weed, mood swings are the second most frequently reported symptom during cannabis withdrawal. Marijuana users often report emotional symptoms of depression, anxiety, and irritability. Generally, they only last for two or three weeks, but in some cases can last for up to three months. Eating a healthy diet and managing sugar and caffeine consumption is one way of alleviating this common symptom.

Sleep Disruption

Lasting for a few weeks upon quitting marijuana, insomnia is one of the most common symptoms of drug detox and withdrawal. Some people even report occasional sleeplessness for two months after quitting weed. 

Vivid dreams and nightmares are other problems associated with marijuana withdrawal that impact a person’s life, such as work and relationships. Dreams can even intensify cravings.

These vivid disruptive dreams generally start a week after quitting weed and last up to a month. It is important to seek professional treatment and speak to a healthcare provider if these symptoms become overwhelming, as they may provide treatment options to reduce them.

Physical Symptoms

When overcoming substance use disorders, unpleasant physical symptoms, such as body aches, headaches, weight loss, and extreme cases of fever, may be encountered. However, these symptoms are generally less intense than emotional symptoms.

Though this is true, as noted above, symptoms vary depending on the frequency and amount of weed a person smokes. A heavy marijuana user, for example, who has developed a marijuana dependency may experience more symptoms than others and, in turn, require addiction treatment and support from professionals who can prescribe medications to reduce symptoms. For others, eating healthy, exercising, resting, and practicing deep breathing can help deal with withdrawal when quitting marijuana.

After Withdrawal

Marijuana addiction and drug abuse can cause long-term mental disorders that require professional support. Considering this, those who experience substance abuse issues and mental health issues must seek help from a mental health professional. In some instances, additional treatment, such as substance abuse treatment and motivational enhancement therapy, may be needed.

Smoking cannabis is becoming more common due to being legalized, making the drug much more accessible. Quitting marijuana addiction and addiction recovery is a lifelong journey. However, recovery efforts can be maximized with appropriate addiction treatment and support.

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