Fraser Horton
Fraser Horton
Last Updated on November 2, 2020

Smoking weed may seem like a fun activity at first, whether you enjoy the occasional bongs with your friends, or you enjoy rolling by yourself. Marijuana use has been known to reduce tension, increase dopamine in your system, and relieve pain, while minor side effects could be a bad trip and a case of the munchies.

However, for pot smokers, the problems start to occur when this recreational activity starts causing marijuana addiction as a result of chronic weed use.

But first, let’s start by defining what a stoner is. People that suffer from cannabis addiction are often referred to as stoners or potheads. They are chronic users of cannabis, popularly known as weed, which is a psychotropic substance whose global use is only surpassed by alcohol.

Since cannabis legalization and cannabis use has increased in the United States and all around the world, it’s important that you know the side effects of using too much.

If you have recently tried smoking marijuana for the first time, or you and your friends have been marijuana users for a longer period, read on. In this article, we’ll explore what happens when you stop smoking weed, what factors affect the intensity of the withdrawal syndrome, and what the CWS symptoms are.

What’s Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome (CWS)?

According to the World Drug Report for 2019, around 200 million people worldwide consume weed on an annual level, either for recreation or for the drug’s medicinal properties. Most of these people use this drug without abusing it. This casual and infrequent weed consumption hasn’t been found to cause serious weed dependence. 

However, if chronic weed users decide to stop smoking weed, studies indicate they might suffer from Cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS).  

Recent studies have shown that Cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS) really exists and the diagnostic criteria have been included in the newest fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The syndrome is primarily present in chronic weed smokers, those who smoke marijuana once per day or a couple of times per day for a longer period of time (more than one year). Mild CWS symptoms could occur in infrequent users when they decide to stop smoking

What Are the Chances of You Having CWS?

A study mentioned in the DSM-5 reports that 29% of weed users who smoked cannabis no more than three times per week within the past year experienced two of the commonly associated CWS symptoms when they quit smoking. 

On the other hand, another recent study reported CWS symptoms in only 12% of the participants who were all frequent cannabis users. This attests to the large discrepancies that exist among different Cannabis studies.

What Factors Affect CWS?

The two main compounds of weed are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the primary compound associated with the psychoactive properties of weed. Both THC and CBD belong to the group of cannabinoids which act on our body’s cannabinoid receptors, especially on type 1 (CB1).

The majority of CB1 receptors are concentrated in the brain regions such as the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, amygdala, and cerebellum that perform functions related to memory, cognition, emotional responses, motivation, and motor coordination (Hu & Mackie, 2015). Regular weed consumption affects these functions.

For example, one of the ways in which these receptors react to THC is by releasing more dopamine, which is why people feel euphoric when smoking weed. However, THC produces a significantly lower dopamine level than cocaine or other “hard drugs”. 

Quitting Weed Cold Turkey, Can It Be Done?

When you quit smoking weed abruptly, the body has to restore the balance in THC receptors and loop the production of neurochemicals, which is why you might experience the withdrawal symptoms.

Again, the intensity of the symptoms depends on the frequency of weed consumption and other factors such as THC potency, gender, heritable factors, previous or current medical conditions, physical shape, etc (Bonnet, 2017). 

Some things you can try if you decide to stop smoking pot cold turkey are:

  • Getting rid of your stash;
  • Enrolling in a treatment program;
  • Picking up a new hobby or trying out a new activity;
  • Spending more time with people rather than being alone;
  • Meditation in order to calm down before bed and improve sleep;
  • Spending more time with people that aren’t addicted to/ use pot;
  • Replacing unhealthy habits like smoking with healthier habits like exercise;
  • Talking to a therapist or a loved one if you struggle with anxiety or depression.

CWS Common Symptoms and Side Effects

The medical term Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome may sound alarming, when in reality the symptoms aren’t life-threatening and are far less serious than what heavy drinkers experience when they quit alcohol, for example.

The symptoms cause discomfort and increased irritability while they last, but unless you’re a heavy user, you’ll have no trouble avoiding the relapse moment. 

Just for illustration, some people have compared quitting weed to quitting caffeine. In the DSM-5, caffeine withdrawal is described as causing headaches, irritability, depression, and impairment of cognitive and behavioral performance.

The duration of CWS symptoms ranges from one to two weeks for occasional and frequent users, and up to a month for chronic users. 

These are the most common CWS symptoms:

Irritability

Irritability is one of the first symptoms that typically appears a day or two after quitting. It can range from a mild annoyance and mood swings to anger or even aggression. While this reaction is normal for people experiencing weed withdrawal, we recommend consulting a professional if the aggression lasts longer than a week.

Anxiety

You’re likely to experience some form of anxiety during the first days of your withdrawal. If you’ve dealt with anxiety in the past, quitting weed can intensify this condition, while some people even say they experience panic attacks. This can affect your overall mental health or pre-existing mental health issues, although you have to remember that this is a temporary condition. 

During this period, it’s important to keep reminding yourself that you’re feeling anxious or paranoid as a side effect because you’ve quit smoking. If you experience drastic changes and are unable to cope with them yourself, you should maybe try talking to a friend, family, or a licensed therapist.

Depression

The third CWS symptom is feelings of depression or/and sadness which can be weed-induced or pre-existing. A lot of people who’ve quit smoking reported they were showing less interest in daily activities and had trouble concentrating on those tasks. 

Remember that these feelings are natural because when you stop smoking (especially if you’ve been using weed for years), you might feel like that time has been lost and wasted in vain. This is a period when emotional states that you might have repressed tend to resurface.  

But this is also a chance for you to reflect and bring some positive changes to your life. If the task proves too challenging and burdensome, it’s a great idea to talk to a professional such as a psychotherapist. 

Sleep Difficulty

One of the reasons why people smoke weed is because it helps them sleep better. This self-formed habit is why people quitting weed have trouble falling asleep or have really vivid dreams.

In an interview for VICE, neurologist and sleep expert Dr. Hans Hamburger, explained that weed shortens the REM phase of a person’s sleep and interferes with a person’s ability to obtain REM sleep, the period associated with dream vividity.

“If you’ve been taking a drug that suppresses a certain phenomenon for a while, then that phenomenon will come back stronger when you stop using that drug. That’s what we call ‘the rebound effect’.”

Sleep difficulty tends to disappear after a week, although there have been cases where insomnia lasted for a month after quitting. 

Somatic Symptoms

Somatic or physical CWS symptoms can include stomach pain, appetite changes, weight loss (or gain), headaches, sweating, fever, and shakiness. They appear during the first couple of days but are characterized by less intensity and short duration.

Coping With Marijuana Withdrawal and Treatment

When a person decides to stop smoking weed, the best way to deal with withdrawal symptoms is to include as many healthy changes and habits in their everyday life as possible. If you’ve been dealing with substance abuse and decide to quit, there are a few steps that can help you cope.

You might want to try working on both your physical and mental health by working out, spending more time in nature, eating more healthily, reflecting on your experiences (e.g. starting a diary), avoiding confrontations and stressful environments, meditating, etc.

Drug abuse can seriously harm your general physical and mental health, so it’s important to keep this in mind if you are using marijuana.

Chronic users with severe withdrawal symptoms that are not feeling better after two weeks should seek medical attention and treatment. Rehab is often suggested for people who are quitting marijuana but have been heavy users before that, in order for them to have a safe environment where their bodies and mind can detox.

Can You Actually Quit Smoking Weed?

To sum up, studies have shown that both chronic and occasional marijuana smokers can experience some or all of the symptoms associated with Cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS). That depends on the smoking frequency, THC potency, and other factors. 

These symptoms are not life-threatening and tend to dissipate within two weeks or up to a month, although the first week is the hardest. The most common ones include feelings of irritability, anxiety, depression, trouble concentrating on daily tasks, insomnia, vivid dreams, loss of appetite, and some mild physical symptoms. 

You can tackle these symptoms by taking time for yourself and bringing healthy habits to your life. However, if your symptoms last longer than a week or two, it’s always best to talk to a professional.

Conclusion

To sum up, studies have shown that both chronic and occasional weed users can experience some or all of the symptoms associated with the Cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS) depending on the smoking frequency, THC potency, and other factors. 

These symptoms are not life-threatening and tend to dissipate within two weeks. The most common ones include feelings of irritability, anxiety, depression, trouble concentrating on daily tasks, insomnia, vivid dreams, loss of appetite, and some mild physical symptoms. 

You can tackle these symptoms by taking time for yourself and bringing healthy habits to your life. However, if your symptoms last longer than a week or two, it’s always best to talk to a professional. 

Additional Sources

Bonnet U, Preuss UW. 2017. The cannabis withdrawal syndrome: current insights. Subst Abuse Rehabil. doi:10.2147/SAR.S109576

Hu SS, Mackie K (2015). Distribution of the endocannabinoid system in the central nervous system. In: Pertwee RG, editor. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology. New York (NY): Springer

Disclaimer

The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.