Marijuana withdrawal symptoms

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

People think it is not addictive, that is until they face marijuana withdrawal symptoms.  Weed, THC, and Cannabis can be intoxicating and fun, it can soon lead to addiction as it becomes legally accessible causing withdrawal symptoms in the users. Marijuana use is becoming more prevalent in the United States with use of the drug decriminalized in many parts of the country.

While marijuana use is becoming less stigmatized, there’s still a chance use can progress to compulsive and problematic levels for some people. Long-term marijuana users are also highly likely to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop using the drug. This serves to make the early period of recovery from marijuana dependence especially challenging.

Now, you may think you could stop smoking weed any time you choose, and you may also hold onto the idea that marijuana isn’t addictive like other drugs. This is understandable as there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the addiction potential of this substance.

According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), roughly 30% of people who use marijuana go on to develop either a dependency or a disorder with the drug. Under-18s using marijuana are 4 times more likely to develop a dependence on weed than older users.

Now for the good news…

You can stop smoking marijuana if you have a dedicated mindset and you’re prepared to undergo a little discomfort in pursuit of a weed-free life.

The main question you’ll need to consider before anything else is how you intend to quit.

You could opt to try stopping cold turkey. This approach is challenging, but we’ll give you some pointers to maximize your chances of success.

Arguably a more effective strategy than stopping abruptly, gradually cutting down the amount of weed you smoke can help you to taper away your use of marijuana without experiencing the same sharp side effects.

It doesn’t matter how much weed you smoke, you can stop smoking if you have the right structured support in place. By the end of today, you’ll have several approaches you can try to come out from under that weed cloud and start reclaiming the life you left behind.

Now, before we start exploring the best ways to stop smoking weed, how does this drug affect you?

How Marijuana Use Affects The Brain

Using marijuana frequently brings with it certain risks. Marijuana has been linked to a variety of physical and mental health issues. These problems are becoming inflamed as marijuana becomes more and more potent. Some super-strong strains contain up to 30% THC. This is the active component of marijuana that gets you high.

The THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is a cannabinoid similar in structure to the cannabinoids that occur naturally in your body. This allows THC to bind to your brain’s cannabinoid receptors, disrupting the normal functioning of this system. Resultantly, enhanced levels of dopamine are released, leading to the pleasurable high that users experience.

This cannabinoid affects the areas in your brain controlling thinking, memory, concentration, and mood.

For many users, the effects triggered by cannabis are desirable, including any or all of the following:

  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Sedation
  • Distorted sensory perception
  • Altered sense of time

The way in which THC interferes with the brain’s normal channels of communication can also bring about some less desirable and possibly even distressing side effects like:

  • Diminished coordination
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Impaired reaction time
  • Increased anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Acute psychotic features (delusions, hallucinations)

It’s the long-term effects of chronic marijuana use that prompt many heavy users to rethink their relationship with weed. These commonly include:

  • Financial problems
  • Relationship problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Less success academically or at work
  • Reduced life satisfaction
  • Breathing problems
  • Heightened risk of schizophrenia
  • Increased use of other substances like alcohol and cocaine

Now, if you recognize any of the serious adverse effects outlined above as a result of your marijuana use, it might be a good time to think about moderating your use or stopping completely.

If marijuana is starting to assume a central position in your life, dominating your time and taking a disproportionate amount of your income, you would benefit from quitting.

Here’s the thing: if you’ve been smoking weed heavily for a prolonged period, you’re likely to experience some withdrawal symptoms if you quit cold. These could be so unpleasant that you buckle and call up your pot dealer or pop to the dispensary. These withdrawal symptoms kick in regardless of whether you binge on marijuana or use it habitually.

One Duke University study of almost 500 adult marijuana smokers who attempted to quit showed that 95% experienced at least one withdrawal symptom. Over 40% of the group experienced more than one withdrawal symptom. The number and degree of withdrawal symptoms was linked to how much the subjects smoked, and how often they smoked. Daily weed smokers predictably fared worst, while those who smoked less than once a week experienced only moderate withdrawal symptoms. 

What kind of symptoms are we talking about here?

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms from marijuana are not life-threatening, so you have nothing to worry about however you decide to stop smoking. 

The primary danger of withdrawal symptoms is the chance of relapse preventing someone who truly wants to stop using marijuana from doing so.

Typically, marijuana withdrawal symptoms last for no more than a week or two. In some cases of PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome), symptoms linger for weeks or even months.

Everyone’s experience of cannabis withdrawal is different. Many variables come into play from your size and health to your tolerance and the length of time you’ve been smoking weed.

Here are the most common roadblocks you can expect to encounter in the first 24 to 72 hours after you stop smoking weed: 

  • Cravings for marijuana
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Other physical symptoms
  • Paranoia


Cravings for marijuana

Even though most regular marijuana users don’t believe they are addicted to the drug, the vast bulk of former users report feeling strong cravings for the drug in the early stages of abstinence. Often, it seems like life isn’t worth living without marijuana, but these feelings soon pass. 

The frequency and intensity of cravings vary from person to person, but they feature as a withdrawal symptom for most habitual marijuana users.


Anxiety can occur as a result of both marijuana intoxication and marijuana withdrawal.

Marijuana is well-known for triggering low-level paranoia in users to the extent that even popping to the store can seem problematic.

Sometimes, anxiety can worsen when someone stops smoking marijuana. This is a natural part of withdrawal from the drug, but it doesn’t make it any easier if you’ve found yourself shifting from super-relaxed to edgy and anxious after stopping smoking weed.

If the anxiety persists after a week of discontinuing use, you should speak with your doctor. Occasionally, using marijuana can trigger an anxiety disorder. Alternatively, you may have had an undiagnosed anxiety problem before you started smoking marijuana.


Depression often accompanies cannabis withdrawal. 

Regular and heavy marijuana smokers find that the drug masks emotions to some extent. Even if this is not something you’re aware of while you’re smoking, when you stop using marijuana, you’ll need to tackle these emotions head-on.

 As you detox and your mind starts clearing, you may become acutely aware of how much time and money you’ve wasted on marijuana. As you begin frankly examining what using this drug has cost you, you may become deeply depressed as a result.

Instead of succumbing to these feelings, you should accept them as a normal and healthy part of recovery. Use those wasted opportunities as inspiration to help you bring about the positive changes you want to put into practice.

When feelings of depression linger for more than a couple of weeks, or if they start impacting your daily activities, you should seek help from your healthcare provider. Depression is treatable, but it seldom gets better left alone.


You are quite likely to find yourself feeling irritable when you first stop using marijuana. This is normal when you make any substantial change in life, especially when it involves a psychoactive substance. 

From outbursts of annoyance to excessive anger, and even aggression, this irritability is a normal withdrawal symptom.

Warn anyone you live with that you’re likely to experience mood swings and do what you can to avoid conflict. It’s the last thing you need when you’re trying to quit marijuana.

Sleep problems

Many marijuana smokers come to rely on weed as a nightcap. 

Almost half of those who stop using marijuana report experiencing insomnia, disrupted sleep, vivid dreams, and night sweats during withdrawal from cannabis.

The good news is, once the marijuana has left your system and you start living without THC in your body, you’ll start sleeping more soundly than ever before. Restlessness and even occasional sleeplessness may persist for a few months, but once you’re out the other side, you’ll be sleeping like a baby every night without needing to suck down a bong hit to do so.


Occasionally, headaches can occur for a few days after quitting marijuana. While these headaches can be intense, they’ll typically subside by the end of the first week of detox.

Other Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Other physical symptoms can present, but they are usually less intense. They also peak sooner and fade more rapidly than the above laundry list of psychological side effects. 

These can include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Stomach pain
  • Flu-like symptoms


If you find yourself experiencing extended paranoia, particularly if this is accompanied by delusions or hallucinations, it’s vital to seek an assessment from a mental health professional.

OK, you can see now what marijuana does to your mind and body, and you should also have a sound overview of the various withdrawal symptoms that accompany quitting.

How, then, can you put the weed away for good?

3 Approaches to Quitting Weed

There is no single best way to quit weed. What works wonderfully for your friend might be useless for you. 

Sometimes, the trial and error approach to quitting will show you what doesn’t work, leaving you to focus on a method that will.

We’ll present you with three strategies to stop smoking weed so you can see how you feel you would cope:

  • How to Quit Smoking Weed Cold Turkey
  • How to Quit Smoking Weed Gradually
  • How to Quit Smoking Weed if All Else Has Failed

1) How to Stop Smoking Weed Cold Turkey

What can you do if you need to quit smoking weed right now? 

Maybe you have an upcoming drug test at work, or perhaps you have issues with your relationship, job, or schoolwork. You might even be facing legal issues as a result of marijuana.

Alternatively, you may feel that the all-or-nothing approach that led you to become dependent on marijuana would work when trying to discontinue use.

While the phrase “cold turkey” has negative connotations and associations with addiction to hard drugs, all it means is to abruptly stop using a substance.

Now, this strategy is likely to generate rapid results, but it’s also liable to trigger withdrawal symptoms. Given the inevitability of these side effects, you need a strategy in place to cope with cravings and to mitigate those withdrawal symptoms.

You might feel mentally prepared and ready to put down your joint and never look back. Is your body also ready for the changes it’s about to undergo, though? Even though THC can stay in your system for up to a month – this is what makes marijuana so problematic with workplace drug tests – this won’t be enough to stave off cravings if you’ve developed a tolerance for THC.

Prepare for cravings

In order to better prepare yourself for a weed-free life, ask yourself what role marijuana is filling in your life. From here, establish some alternatives to plug that void.

If, for example, you use marijuana as a sleep aid, you could try the following instead:

  • Relaxing before bed with a warm bath and some gentle stretching or yoga
  • Creating a soothing sleeping environment with blackout shades
  • Eat less before sleeping to minimize issues with digestion
  • Stay away from the blue light emitted by electronic devices before bedtime
  • Keep the temperature of your bedroom between 60 and 67F. Make sure, too, that it’s well-ventilated
  • Listen to some relaxing music
  • Experiment with listening to white noise or binaural beats at bedtime
  • Exercise for 30 minutes before 5pm daily so you’ll feel more tired

If you find you’re using marijuana to help you cope with stress at work, brainstorm using the same principle of finding superior and healthier coping strategies.

By thinking about these issues in advance, you’ll give yourself more chance of successfully navigating cravings for marijuana during those early and challenging days of recovery.


Remove the substance from your life along with all the paraphernalia

With your initial preparation in place, you should get rid of any marijuana in your possession, and you should commit to not buying any more. 

If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, or you hang out with lots of people who use the drug, you’ll need iron resolve.

Delete your weed dealer’s number from your phone and consider blocking it. If you’re reluctant to do this, perhaps you’re not yet ready to quit cold.

With the substance gone, you should also drive out all the accessories and paraphernalia you accumulated as a smoker. From weed grinders and bongs to lighters and pipes, get rid of anything that will induce cravings or tempt you to return to your old ways. Do not underestimate the importance of this step. You’re making a statement to yourself that you’re about to embrace a weed-free life. Don’t allow anything to hold you back.

Make yourself accountable for marijuana withdrawal symptoms

If you’re looking to quite weed, make full use of your friends and family if you feel this will strengthen your chances of success.

You may like the idea of quitting abruptly and then announcing it as a done deal. You may also try this approach and fail. Don’t be disheartened and don’t feel you need to go it alone. One important provision here, though: you can draw strength from others when you’re trying to make a change like quitting weed, but you’ll ultimately need to do this for yourself not for the benefit of others. By removing marijuana from your life if it’s reached the stage of dependence, others will naturally benefit when you become weed-free once more.

If you feel your willpower slipping, check in with your accountability buddy and they could means the difference between another weed-free day and slipping away from your well-intentioned plan.


Create plenty of distractions

If you’ve been spending hours on end getting high, you are likely to find yourself with what seems like masses of time on your hands when you quit.

Whether you take up an old neglected hobby or you start something new, you should strive to fill your life with activities you enjoy to minimize cravings and to start re-establishing a healthier and more productive lifestyle than spending your days clouded by marijuana.

2) How to Quit Smoking Weed Gradually

Now, stopping abruptly, even with the proper planning, is not effective for all marijuana users. An alternative is to take a more gradual and tapered approach to quitting. 

We’ll walk you through a less extreme way of moderating your usage and then stopping completely, if that’s your end goal.

How much weed do you smoke?

You’ll need an accurate idea of how much weed you’re currently using. 

Perhaps you smoke a gram of weed on weekdays and 2 grams daily on the weekend. Write this down.

While it’s the quantity you’re interested in here, you should also consider writing down the amount you’re spending on weed. Calculate how much you spend weekly, monthly, and yearly on weed along with all related expenses. Sometimes, this alone is enough to inspire you to put down the pipe for good.

Now you have a solid idea of how much you’re smoking, it’s time to think about reducing your consumption gradually.


How much do you plan to cut down?

You should be realistic when you’re deciding how much you can reduce your consumption. 

If you opt to slash the amount you smoke in half, be prepared for withdrawal symptoms in the form of strong cravings.

Instead, be methodical and realistic. Draw up a workable plan and stick to it.

Set a quit day

Now’s the time to decide when your tapering will be complete and you’ll be ready to start living weed-free. 

You should create milestones every 3 to 5 days when you’re reducing the amount of weed you smoke. Without these markers, it’s too easy to backslide.

Resist the temptation to set this quit day too far in the future or you might struggle to stay motivated.

Be flexible

When you’re deciding how much to cut down your consumption, you may find you’ve been too ambitious. Don’t lose heart, but instead adjust your plan and react accordingly. Adapt to the major changes you’re going through rather than relapsing at the first sign of discomfort.

Focus on food and hydration

If you’ve been smoking weed heavily, you may find that your diet has suffered.

You could also find that when you stop smoking weed, your appetite seems to have diminished. If you find this is happening, eat mechanically for a while. By this, we mean simply eating at regular times (breakfast, lunch, dinner) so you can reintroduce a balanced diet even if you don’t really feel like food. Start with small portions and your body will soon normalize.

Drink at least 2 liters of water daily to flush your system of all the toxins.

Learn from your mistakes and be prepared to try again

If you try the above and fail, try again. When you do so, learn from what went wrong and adjust your plan to suit. 

How about if you really feel unable to stop smoking weed, either gradually or abruptly?

Well, don’t lose hope, there is still a way to quit…


3) How to Quit Smoking Weed If All Else Has Failed

For many habitual weed smokers, quitting seems easy on paper. 

If you feel you’ve exhausted all your options for quitting weed, have you considered speaking to a professional? 

While there’s still much debate over whether marijuana is addictive, there’s no doubt that many users become dependent to the extent quitting with outside help seems unmanageable.

Luckily, that help is at hand here at Renaissance Recovery.

You could take advantage of virtual outpatient programs if you need some structure and external assistance to stop smoking marijuana.

Regular outpatient programs for addiction can also be tailored to help you quit weed.

If all else fails, residential rehab could help you to get back on track. Through a combination of counseling and talk therapy like CBT, you could rediscover life without weed quicker than you imagined. Call us today at 866.330.9449 if you can’t do this alone.866.330.9449

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“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country