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Synthetic marijuana withdrawal: if you’ve been smoking regularly, what should you expect when you try to stop?

Well, the 100% honest answer is – no one really knows, because though we use terms like synthetic marijuana to describe these new-wave botanicals, in truth, what you smoke could be a totally different drug from what another user smokes across the state, country or world.

However, we know that many heavy synthetic marijuana users experience a syndrome of withdrawal symptoms and with anecdotal reports we can piece together a list of some commonly experienced symptoms.  

More importantly, you can learn some tried-and-true methods for coping with these withdrawal symptoms to make it past the first tough week, so read on for:

  • A brief explanation of synthetic marijuana withdrawal.
  • A list of common synthetic marijuana withdrawal symptoms.
  • Tips on how to cope with common withdrawal symptoms.
  • Strategies for avoiding temptation and managing cravings.

What Is Synthetic Marijuana Withdrawal?

There hasn’t been much research done on synthetic cannabis withdrawal because:

  • Wide use of synthetics is a relatively new phenomenon and research lags a few years behind the front edge of use.
  • Synthetic marijuana products are typically inert botanicals that are sprayed with one or more psychoactive substances – typically cannibanoid agonist molecules. Because there are so many possible substances in use, because formulations change frequently (in response to law-enforcement prohibition and for other reasons) and because potency rates vary dramatically, it’s difficult to extrapolate from laboratory testing to current real-world experiences.

However, that being said:

  1. We know that most synthetic cannibanoids are stronger (more potent agonists) than natural marijuana’s partial CB1 receptor agonist (THC).
  2. We can see from animal model experiments that synthetic cannibanoids can induce spontaneous withdrawal and behavioral symptoms of withdrawal.
  3. And most importantly, we have a huge number of anecdotal reports from synthetic marijuana users, who describe common withdrawal experiences after prolonged regular use.1

Bottom line – Synthetic marijuana withdrawal symptoms are a real phenomenon.  If you’ve been smoking synthetic marijuana on a daily basis, you may experience a few or more days of withdrawal symptoms.

Typical Synthetic Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

This is a list of possible synthetic marijuana withdrawal symptoms. Since active ingredients can vary by product, and since you have a unique history and health profile, your withdrawal experiences may differ.

Possible Mental Symptoms2 3

  • Strong cravings.
  • Irritability and aggression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Paranoia and panic attacks.
  • Feeling like you’re going to die.
  • Memory and concentration problems.
  • Confusion.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nightmares.
  • Feeling down or depressed.
  • Having suicidal thoughts.
  • Losing touch with reality (psychosis).
  • Feeling very moody or emotional.

Possible Physical Symptoms

  • Breathing problems.
  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss.
  • Chest pains, high blood pressure and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat).
  • Tremors, and in rare cases seizures.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Headaches.
  • Vision problems (blurred vision).
  • Feeling dizzy.
  • Feeling numb or feeling pins and needles in your limbs.

How Long Will Withdrawal Last

According to the New Zealand Drug Foundation, synthetic marijuana withdrawal symptoms are most intense for 3 or 4 days after stoppage, though cravings and other symptoms may persist for a few weeks after quitting.

Coping with Withdrawal Symptoms

Most people can safely ride-out synthetic marijuana withdrawal symptoms at home, though for safety and comfort, it’s wise to talk to your doctor or another health worker about your unique situation.

According to the Canterbury District Health Board of New Zealand, for people dealing with synthetic marijuana dependence and withdrawal issues:4

  • Most people can safely detox at home, under the supervision of a general practitioner.
  • People with more serious addictions and withdrawal symptoms may benefit from a more formal detox program.
  • Medications that a doctor might use to treat common synthetic marijuana withdrawal symptoms include: for diarrhoea  - loperamide, for headaches and cramping - acetaminophen (paracetemol) , for vomiting – Metoclopramide, for cramping and GI distress – Buscopan, for insomnia – promethazine.

Tips for Coping with Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Hot showers and hot baths can work wonders – try soaking in the tub to relieve irritability and anxiety.
  • If nausea is an issue, avoid heavy meals and try to eat in a well ventilated room (or outside). If food smells cause you problems, ask someone else to prepare your meals for you and eat food cold or at room temperature. Also, avoid drinking liquids while you eat and don’t lie down for a while after you finish eating.
  • Drink lots of light colored liquids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.5
  • Get lots of exercise – even though you might not feel like it. Exercise is an effective anxiety, irritability and stress reliever and it can get you physically tired which helps when trying to sleep at night. So if you feel too terrible to exercise, you’re actually feeling too terrible to not exercise.
  • Try relaxation exercises, like progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises or meditation. These exercises can ease headaches and relieve stress and irritability. If you’re already in withdrawal and the idea of learning to meditate today sounds unrealistic, try this very easy deep breathing exercise. To do it, just breathe in deeply for a slow count of five; try to fill your lungs with air so your belly expands out at the end of your inhale. Take a brief pause and then slowly release the air over another slow count of five. Repeat this for 5 or 10 cycles over a minute or two and you should feel some immediate stress and tension relief.

Making It Through the First Week

The combination of strong cravings, insomnia and symptoms like headache or nausea can make synthetic marijuana withdrawal tough to get past.

Fortunately, getting educated helps a lot – once you know what to expect and know that you should feel much better within a few days of quitting, it becomes easier to power through a few days of mild to moderate discomfort.

To get through the first few days:

  • Give or throw away any synthetic marijuana you have left.  If you’re serious about stopping, there is no sense in holding onto it.
  • Tell a few people you can trust about your decision to stop using. It’s a lot easier to give-in to cravings when no one else knows you’ve quit.
  • If you can, plan in advance to reduce your work/school and familial responsibilities for a week or so you can focus on taking care of yourself.
  • When you feel low, remind yourself that the discomfort is only temporary – it’s a symptom of brain healing – and it will probably go away in a few days.
  • Avoid exposure to people, places and things that remind you of smoking. You probably can’t avoid all triggers, but the less temptation you face, the better your odds of success – especially during the first few days. Spending time in places and with people where smoking is impossible will help reduce your cravings and also help to pass the time during the first difficult week.
  • Plan a variety of brief activities and outings for the first couple of weeks. Choose enjoyable activities that you don’t associate with marijuana. Anything that gets you out in nature works really well.6
  • Write out a list of reasons outlining why you want to quit. When you feel tempted to give-in, make sure to read over your list before you do.
  • Distract yourself from your discomfort and cravings. When you feel badly – call up a friend, go for a walk, play the piano – whatever! A few minutes of distraction can get you over a rough patch and it gets you a few minutes closer to eventually feeling better.
  • Learn about cravings. Though when you’re in the midst of one a craving feels like it will go one forever, in reality, even the strongest of cravings dissipate within about 20 minutes – and the more often you resist your cravings, the weaker they get.

Learn more about how people quit marijuana by learning about the characteristics of successful quit attempts.

Get Help If You Need It

For most people, it’s staying quit that’s the real challenge.

If you can’t maintain lasting abstinence (and this is your goal), and you’ve had repeated quit attempts end in failure, you should consider addiction treatment.

There is nothing magical about treatment, it basically just teaches you helpful techniques to get past the roadblocks to lasting recovery, such as:

  • Learning how to ride-out cravings.
  • Learning ways to handle difficult emotions without resorting to drugs or alcohol.
  • Learning problem-solving skills (to ease stress.)
  • Learning new ways to have fun (without needing to get high.)
  • And many more…

Though marijuana addiction treatment can mean rehab, most people in most situations will benefit from a simple evening outpatient program, or even a once a week meeting with an addictions counselor - as a general rule of treatment, the least intensive and intrusive treatment that gets results is the best one for you.

References
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Page last updated Jun 23, 2014

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