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When quitting marijuana, what types of withdrawal symptoms can you expect?

Well, withdrawal experiences are pretty hard to foretell – you may experience no significant symptoms or you may have a very tough time, but to give you a sense of what’s normal, take a look at what percentage of marijuana smokers experience the most common withdrawal symptoms.

Read on to learn more about:

  1. A study in Baltimore which collected data on marijuana withdrawal experiences.
  2. How commonly people experience different withdrawal symptoms (and when each of these symptoms peaks in intensity).

The Research Study

Researchers in Baltimore asked 500 non-treatment-seeking marijuana smokers – all of whom had made at least one quit attempt - to describe:1

  1. Any withdrawal symptoms they had experienced while trying to quit.
  2. When these symptoms peaked in intensity.

Who Were the Subjects?

The study subjects were marijuana users who had made at least one quit attempt outside of a formal treatment environment.

  1. The 500 study subjects were recruited from the Baltimore area and all subjects completed a self report questionnaire on their use of marijuana.
  2. The subjects were 58% male and 42% female, with an average age of 29 years. 71.1% reported having used marijuana on more than 1000 previous occasions, 92% met at least 3 lifetime criteria for marijuana dependence and 99% met at least one criterion. (See the APA’s cannabis dependence criteria)
  3. No study subjects had any co-occurring serious mental or medical health problems or co-occurring substance abuse problems.

The Average Marijuana Withdrawal Experience

The percentage of study subjects who experienced different symptoms and the average day of peak symptom intensity.

  • 59% experienced marijuana cravings. This peaked at 4.4 days after quitting.
  • 50.5% experienced sleep difficulties (insomnia and/or vivid dreams). This peaked 3.8 days after quitting.
  • 48.7% experienced insomnia alone. This peaked at 3.8 days after quitting.
  • 45.6% felt angry, aggressive or irritable. This peaked at 3.9 days post quitting.
  • 38.5% felt anxious or nervous. This peaked at 3.6 days post quitting.
  • 34.4% felt sad or depressed. This peaked in intensity at 3.7 days post quitting.
  • 29.4% felt jumpy. This peaked at 3.7 days post quitting.
  • 20.8% experienced increased appetite and 17.4% experienced decreased appetite – at 4 and 3.6 days post quitting respectively.
  • 16.9% experienced headaches. This peaked at 3.4 days post quitting.
  • 14.1% experienced stomach pain, upset stomach or diarrhea. This peaked at 3.3 days post quitting.
  • 10.4% experienced vivid dreams. This peaked at 3.7 days after quitting.
  • 5.5% experienced increased sweating. This peaked at 3.8 days post quitting.

On a positive side note, the researchers noted that 28% of subjects described improved memory as a quitting side effect. Memory improvements became significant at about the 2 weeks of abstinence point.

Withdrawal Symptoms Don’t Predict Relapse

On a less positive note, 91.9% of people who met the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) criteria for cannabis withdrawal syndrome during their withdrawal period, and 85.9% who did not meet the criteria, eventually relapsed back to marijuana use after their quit attempt.

So though people who met the DSM-V criteria for cannabis withdrawal syndrome tended to relapse a little quicker, after an average of 30.8 days, compared to 60.4 days for those who did not meet the DSM-V criteria, virtually all quit attempts ended in failure.

Take Home Message

Whether you have severe withdrawal symptoms or not, the hard part – as with most drugs, isn’t with the quitting, it’s with the staying quit! Withdrawal symptoms can be challenging, but it’s avoiding cravings and temptation over the next weeks and months that takes the harder work.  

Though virtually all subjects in this study wound up relapsing, none of these subjects got outside treatment or support for their quit attempt. Addiction treatment teaches you effective strategies to minimize and manage cravings and, for people who can’t stop on their own, it can greatly increase the odds of a successful outcome.

References
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Page last updated May 30, 2014

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