The risks and benefits of marijuana use have been hotly debated for at least three-quarters of a century. In recent years, official research into the drug’s medical value, increased popularity of cannabidiol (CBD), and full marijuana legalization in many states have again brought the debate to the forefront of public attention. One frequently argued question: is marijuana truly addictive?
Addicted to Marijuana
There is still considerable debate on what defines “marijuana addiction” and how many users have it. (The CDC estimates that one in ten of regular users will become addicted—one in six of those who begin using before age 18—but other research suggests that addiction may affect close to one in three marijuana users.) However, medical experts agree that marijuana use disorder (also called cannabis use disorder) is real, and a real problem for many people. Over 300,000 Americans seek professional help each year to quit marijuana, often after six or more attempts to stop on their own.
You may have the disorder if:
- You regularly spend more money on marijuana than you budgeted
- You use marijuana in situations where you know it’s illegal or otherwise banned
- Your marijuana use is interfering with work, relationships, or daily routines
- You’ve ever gotten high enough to cause an accident or injury
- You go on binges—smoking excessive amounts until you become fully detached from reality
- You’re developing “brain fog” problems (poor memory, lack of self-control, or difficulty concentrating)
- You have withdrawal symptoms when you go without marijuana for longer-than-usual periods.
Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal
Mild withdrawal is not necessarily proof of all-out addiction: virtually everyone experiences some perceptible discomfort when trying to quit any ingrained habit. Even people who use marijuana for purely medical reasons have withdrawal symptoms. (Important note: if you take any marijuana-derived prescription, get your doctor’s advice before discontinuing it—and if you experience any unusual symptoms while or after taking a prescription, do not jump to the conclusion that your old problem is coming back and the best response is to resume or increase marijuana doses.)
Withdrawal from marijuana usually takes 1–2 weeks (though it can take as long as four weeks for the brain to fully adjust to the new normal). Symptoms, typically at their worst between the first and third days, may include:
- Lack of appetite
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Heavy perspiration, chills, or (occasionally) fever
- Muscle tremors
- Severe headaches
- Difficulty concentrating
- Vivid dreams or (occasionally) waking hallucinations
- Irritability or short temper
- Restlessness or anxiety
- Desperate cravings to return to marijuana use
Some people also experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms for several weeks or months.
Getting Through Marijuana Withdrawal
The good news is that marijuana withdrawal is not particularly dangerous as addiction withdrawals go: closer to the classic discomforts of nicotine withdrawal (“quitting smoking”) than to the agonies of opiate withdrawal or the potentially life-threatening effects of alcohol withdrawal. Many people have succeeded in quitting marijuana by pure willpower or by tapering off, without experiencing major problems.
That said, many people do need help to quit marijuana, and even after quitting, relapse is always a potential risk. Long-term therapy and peer support (there’s a Marijuana Anonymous just as there is an Alcoholics Anonymous) are recommended for everyone. Anyone who has been using marijuana daily for years, uses additional drugs, or has co-occurring mental health disorders is at risk for particularly severe symptoms and should seek direct medical supervision during withdrawal.
Whatever level of treatment you choose for your own marijuana use problem, you can do a lot personally to ease withdrawal symptoms:
- Consult a doctor before you begin voluntary withdrawal.
- Eat healthy and drink plenty of water. Avoid sugar, caffeine, processed foods, and anything with stomach-irritating potential.
- Get all the sleep and rest you can.
- Exercise daily to release endorphins and help calm jittery emotions.
- Have a circle of supportive loved ones stay on hand to encourage you.
- And remember, this too shall pass, and soon you’ll feel much better for the short and the long term.
If You Need Professional Help with Marijuana Withdrawal
While not everyone with marijuana use disorder needs medical supervision to quit, many people find professional help invaluable. Hope by the Sea can help you make it through withdrawal from marijuana (or far more dangerous withdrawals from other addictions) and learn to live a rewarding, drug-free life. Contact us to request admission or a consultation. Hope Starts Here!