Cannabis Withdrawal Prevention and Treatment

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It all depends on you. Your gender, weight, height, age, diet, and more influence any withdrawal you may experience when stopping cannabis use. If you smoke or otherwise use lightly and infrequently, withdrawal is a non-issue. If you use more frequently and prefer stronger strains, you may have some light withdrawal effects. If you are deep into Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD), you may have a bigger problem.

Regardless of your habit, you may experience certain symptoms of stopping cold turkey:

  • Appetite loss
  • Chills
  • Depression
  • Gastric upset
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Unfocused
  • Sweating                    

Your symptoms might be mild or severe and relate to your body type, usage, and preference.

Dependent or addicted?

Arguments continue as to the addictive qualities of cannabis. Cannabis advocates insist it’s not addictive while addiction specialists claim it is. So, let’s try to get this straight.

  1. People do not die from cannabis. There is no evidence that anyone has died from a deliberate or accidental overdose.
  2. Research does not support claims that cannabis fundamentally alters your biochemistry making it very difficult to quite physically and psychologically.
  3. Evidence does report that some people who are predisposed to Disorder may develop Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) making it more difficult to withdraw. So far, CUD has not been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
  4. But there is no addictive symptoms or behaviors like those connected to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, opioids, and other medications.

It’s the THC, you see. If you smoke or use regularly and prefer strains high in THC, you do build up a tolerance for it. THC is the source of the psychoactive effects many users are after in the first place. You can get used to that euphoric uplift that THC triggers. You may even like the edge of paranoia experience.

Once you become accustomed to it, you also must adjust to doing without. It’s a good reason to take a cannabis break occasionally. LiveScience reported on a research study at the University of New South Wales that found, “the effects of withdrawal symptoms were on par with those of people going through nicotine withdrawal.”

If you are a habitual cigarette smoker, you are most likely to become dependent on cannabis use. If you associate cannabis use with alcohol, your chance of dependency increases. And, if you start to use after 25, the likelihood of dependency diminishes.

What to do –

If you’re worried or not very good at sacrifice, you should consult your doctor. If you really can’t hack it, you might seek a counselor. But there are things you can try:

  1. Stop using. If you have been a mild, occasional, social smoker, you shouldn’t have trouble stopping cold.
  2. Taper off. If you give it time and taper off, you should find some relief. You can taper off in two ways. One, you can just use less frequently, or two you might switch to milder cannabis strains. You might smoke fewer joints, start later in the day, or prepare and stick to a schedule.
  3. Wait it out. Withdrawal symptoms may last up to 10 days and drop off steadily thereafter up to a maximum of 20 days.
  4. Drink water. Even light smoking may leave you dry-mouthed and red-eyed, so you should stay hydrated. And, that means drinking more water. Not alcohol, not caffeine, not soda, just water!
  5. Eat smartly. A nutritious diet will offset some of the negative biochemical effects of withdrawal. You don’t get anything out of munchies. But fresh fruits, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, and lean protein will strengthen your systems and counteract any damage.
  6. Exercise regularly. Moderate to heavy exercise always restores your systems. The increased oxygen intake rejuvenates cells and neurons to promote your general health and sense of wellbeing.
  7. Take medicine. Clinical research is underway to test how effective the administration of approved pharmaceuticals bupropion, dronabinol, gabapentin, Nabinol, and Sativex nasal spray. These are synthetic forms of THC that could reduce withdrawal symptoms in the most serious cases of dependency. Mild anti-spastics and anti-depressives may also help.
  • The Lancet Psychiatry Journal found, “for the first time that men with cannabis dependence or cannabis use disorder treated with the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitor 'PF-04457845' used less cannabis and experienced fewer withdrawal symptoms--such as sleep disturbance--at 4-week follow-up compared to those given placebo, and there were no safety concerns.”
  • And, The Journal of Neuroscience reported (2001), “A systemic injection of the mood stabilizer lithium, at serum levels that were clinically relevant, prevented the cannabinoid withdrawal syndrome.”

Unfortunately, many cannabis users are using for reasons other than the pleasure of it. Many are intentionally using for medical relief. If they experience real relief, it may be difficult for them to withdraw. Others are self-medicating issues like stress and anxiety. If using has relieved their problems, they are not likely to want a return to those symptoms, and that makes withdrawal more difficult.

So, it makes sense to forestall or treat the related causes before and while you are withdrawing. You may want to secure some support in friends or fellow cannabis users. It’s hard to find a 12-step program for cannabis smokers, but if you feel that burdened, you can drop in on any anonymous meeting.

Quitting weed is not like quitting meth. Most folks can handle the withdrawal easily. If it’s a little harder for you, you might talk to your doctor. But if it’s more difficult for you, you should consider behavioral therapy or support from trained consultants.