Cannabis Withdrawal

Anthony Pellegrino
August 6, 2021

The information is provided for informational purposes only and does not relieve readers of their obligation to obtain qualified medical, legal or other professional advice.

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At this point, it's no secret that many people find medical benefits from cannabis use. The continuous wave of marijuana legalization across the US is allowing millions of Americans to try cannabis for the first time. With this new wave of use, however, a common misconception has spread. Many users believe that marijuana isn't an addictive substance at all. While not as addictive as cigarettes, alcohol or opioids, cannabis can be habit-forming or addictive to some users. Marijuana withdrawal, while not common, does happen occasionally.

Is it possible to suffer from cannabis withdrawal?

According to data from the CDC, 1 in 10 Americans who regularly consume marijuana will develop an addiction. If you're thinking about trying cannabis for the first time, you may have several questions about dependence and cannabis withdrawal. That is why we wrote this article! It's our hope that both recreational and medical marijuana users will make an informed decision about cannabis consumption that considers the risks as well as potential benefits.


Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

The latest research and anecdotal reports increasingly indicate that it's possible to suffer marijuana withdrawal symptoms if a user has developed physical dependence. Nevertheless, cannabis withdrawal symptoms are nowhere near as severe or debilitating as withdrawals from other substances such as alcohol or opioids. Nor are there any known cases of cannabis withdrawal syndrome causing life-threatening complications, as is the case with benzodiazepines, heroin, alcohol or opiates. 

Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal can include reduced appetite, anxiety and headaches.

Weed withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person in both their scope and severity. Several factors influence the severity of symptoms, including the typical amount you consume, frequency of use, age, gender, genetics, and general health. 

There's a general assortment of symptoms that most people suffering withdrawal from marijuana may feel. These include: 

  • Reduced appetite
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Cannabis cravings
  • Cold sweats
  • Chills
  • Feelings of depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea


What Causes Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome?

The cannabis flower contains numerous cannabinoids and chemicals. However, not all of them are capable of causing physical dependence. CBD, according to the World Health Organization, is “not associated with abuse potential.” So, it's safe to say CBD is not the cannabinoid responsible for marijuana addiction. 

It's possible that cannabis withdrawal is caused by an imbalance in dopamine.

The current consensus is that the effects of THC are responsible for the potentially addictive effects of cannabis. When used in large quantities over long periods, the brain begins to reduce its production of naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors. The brain's sensitivity to endocannabinoids can also decrease with excessive THC consumption, causing the user to need a higher dose to feel the same effect. This is called tolerance. The more frequent the cannabis use, the more likely the person is to develop a tolerance. 


Avoiding Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms

The only guaranteed way to avoid cannabis withdrawal symptoms is to avoid using it in the first place. With so many potential benefits, many find it worth the risk, especially since cannabis withdrawal typically only effects long-term, heavy users.

The next best option is to regulate consumption of THC. If you're concerned about cannabis addiction, you should consult your physician to determine whether cannabis is appropriate for you.

Patients worried about cannabis withdrawal should weigh the risks and benefits before trying it.

What does a person do if they've already developed physical dependence? Most try to reduce their use at a slow and steady pace. Those who choose to cease all marijuana use at once (cold turkey), could experience withdrawal symptoms. This reaction can be mitigated, if not circumvented entirely, for those who reduce intake correctly. It's a good idea to ask an understanding doctor for assistance and advice. It's also a good idea for patients to discuss any significant changes in use with a physician ahead of time.

Here are a few practical marijuana withdrawal tips that might help lesson the irritability:

  • Stay well hydrated
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Find healthy ways to occupy yourself, as cannabis dependence is associated with psychological symptoms that make it harder to reduce cannabis use. 


How Long Does Cannabis Withdrawal Last?

According to a 2017 study, the effects of cannabis withdrawal start to reverse in the first 2 days: “Regular cannabis intake is related to a desensitization and downregulation of human brain cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors. This starts to reverse within the first 2 days of abstinence and the receptors return to normal functioning within 4 weeks of abstinence, which could constitute a neurobiological time frame for the duration of CWS, not taking into account cellular and synaptic long-term neuroplasticity elicited by long-term cannabis use before cessation, for example, is possibly responsible for cannabis craving.”

“The CWS severity is dependent on the amount of cannabis used pre-cessation, gender, and heritable and several environmental factors. Therefore, the naturalistic severity of CWS highly varies. Women reported a stronger CWS than men including physical symptoms, such as nausea and stomach pain.”


Treatment For Cannabis Withdrawal

Although cannabis can be addictive for some people, that's not to say it's comparable to other addictive substances. Professional help is usually unnecessary to cease cannabis use. However, help is always available for those who need it.

For those who feel their dependence is severe enough to warrant professional help, assistance can be found at: 

  • detoxification centers,
  • inpatient rehabilitation centers,
  • intensive outpatient programs,
  • support groups, and 
  • private therapy.

Never hesitate to contact an addiction specialist or your primary care doctor if you're unsure of the best course of action. This is especially true for those using cannabis to treat seizures, cachexia, chronic pain, or other serious conditions. 

Support groups can be helpful for those suffering from any type of addiction.

Can You Get Addicted to CBD?

No, as previously mentioned, the World Health Organization asserts that CBD is “not associated with abuse potential.” So addiction to CBD is highly unlikely. Addictions are based in the pleasure centers of the brain that release dopamine. Dopamine is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter, and pleasure is felt when it is released. 

CBD doesn't trigger dopamine in the same way that THC does. In other words, CBD doesn't get you high. That doesn't mean that CBD doesn't produce pleasurable effects like relaxation, it just doesn't trigger a significant dopamine release like THC. Addiction, by definition, would require an imbalance of dopamine in the brain, so CBD is unlikely to cause addiction. 


Does CBD Have Withdrawal Symptoms?

CBD is not thought to be an addictive substance because it doesn't produce withdrawal symptoms. In fact, scientists are conducting studies to determine whether CBD might help alleviate addiction symptoms. Some of these studies suggest that CBD can help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with cannabis withdrawal:

  • CBD can decrease the euphoric experience that comes with THC intoxication.
  • CBD's effects, such as relaxation, can lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
  • CBD's effects might also help people avoid relapse after withdrawal symptoms resolve. 

If you'd like to learn more about cannabis and how it may fit into your treatment plan, NuggMD is always happy to help. Their state-licensed medical marijuana doctors are available from 8am to 10pm daily, including weekends! Just head over to NuggMD.com and sign up today!



Anthony Pellegrino
Anthony Pellegrino is a freelance journalist, writer, and content marketing strategist. He is currently studying to get his B.A. in philosophy at Fort Hays State University. He is a content creator for several marketing agencies, brands, and tech startups. His writing is focused on content marketing, technology, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, politics, career planning, and of course, cannabis. Academically, Anthony is focused on A.I., Consciousness, Social Sciences, and Philosophy.

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