Does Cannabis Use Lead to Withdrawal Symptoms?

Cannabis is becoming an increasingly accepted medicine for conditions such as chronic pain, insomnia, and epilepsy. But can cannabis use lead to withdrawal symptoms?

Medical cannabis is now legal in 30 countries, including 35 states across the U.S. for a wide array of conditions ranging from Autism to Wasting Syndrome, with a growing body of research and anecdotal evidence piling up to support its use.

Moreover, recreational cannabis is becoming more widely accepted, and is now legal in 15 states in the U.S., across Canada, Uruguay and soon, likely Israel and Mexico.

Not only is the stigma finally wearing off from cannabis, but cannabis use is rising too – at least, during COVID-19. As more people are kept indoors and isolated, they are becoming increasingly likely to turn to substances such as alcohol or cannabis as a form of recreation.

Assuming that these cannabis usage rates decline after COVID-19, or perhaps after a cancer patient ceases using medical cannabis to treat pain once their cancer is in remission, will this result in a spike of withdrawal symptoms?

Let's take a look at the capacity for cannabis to induce withdrawal.

Does Cannabis Use Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

The short answer is yes, cannabis can lead to withdrawal symptoms. However, the withdrawal symptoms from cannabis use mightn't look like those that come from opioid or alcohol use.

While opioid and alcohol withdrawals can be agonizing and in some cases fatal, the withdrawal symptoms from cannabis are relatively minor by comparison, and much less common.

The withdrawal symptoms for cannabis can include mood swings or irritability, a diminished appetite, a lack of sleep, loss of focus, cold sweats, depression, and headaches.

You will have difficulty sleeping for up to 10 days, and when you do get any shut-eye, your dreams will be vivid and nightmarish. Marijuana use effectively shuts off our dreaming mechanism, storing a backlog of dreams to return to you upon your sobriety. This means that when quitting cannabis after long-term use, your dreams will be extremely intense and often scary.

Along with this, you'll experience mood swings of depression and anger, and excessive sweating as your body flushes out the toxins of the drug.

If you want to minimize the withdrawal effects, you can slowly reduce your cannabis use over time, instead of going cold turkey and facing all the effects of stopping at once. However, in some cases, going cold turkey is the best option.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms may not be as severe as withdrawal symptoms from other substances. Opioids, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin can produce severe, even dangerous, withdrawal issues. Still, many people who stop using marijuana do experience physical and psychological symptoms.

Why Do Some People Get Withdrawals From Cannabis?

Not everyone will experience cannabis withdrawal symptoms, and ultimately this comes down to the issue of dependence.

One study claimed that 9 percent of people who try marijuana develop some level of dependence on the drug, while a study from NIDA (National Institute of Drug Addiction) places the number much higher, at 30%.

Dependence upon cannabis occurs when your brain has developed a tolerance for the active compound in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the plant's psychoactive effects.

In essence, if you consume THC regularly enough, your brain acclimatizes to it, and if you abruptly stop consuming cannabis, your brain has to begin a process of getting used to no longer having it.

This is similar to most drug dependencies and is a reason why a lot of people end up relapsing, as this process can be quite discomforting and many return to using the drug in order to alleviate the struggles involved with withdrawal.

How to Get Through Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms

Cannabis withdrawal symptoms are minor when compared to other drugs, but are nonetheless difficult to get through and it may take some people several attempts to quit cannabis before successfully ceasing their use of it.

Firstly, it's important to keep in mind why you're attempting to quit cannabis, whether it be due to costs that drug use is having on your personal or professional life, financial costs, or simply because you feel dependent upon it.

These issues are unlikely to change if you continue using cannabis, so users attempting to quit the drug must bear this in mind while they endure the sleepless nights of cannabis withdrawals.

Once you've made the commitment to quit using cannabis, it's important to exercise and stay hydrated to tire yourself out so that you have the best chance of sleeping through the night and making the process easier for yourself.

Try to eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables as opposed to sugary snacks and high carb foods that are likely to make you feel lethargic and make the process worse.

Lastly, ensure you speak to people about what you're going through, so that they can help you through it and understand if you go through mood swings or irritability, or just so that they can provide some support.

Get the Latest Marijuana News &
Content in your Inbox!

All your support helps The Green Fund keep writing content for all you
marijuana enthusiasts and potential pot stock investors

Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.