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Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline

Medically Reviewed By: Benjamin Caleb Williams RN, BA, CEN

Written By: Phillippe Greenough

Article Updated: 01/25/2021

Number of References: 14 Sources

Marijuana use has been on the rise in America over the last 20 years. Even though use rates are increasing, there is still widespread doubt and ignorance as to the existence of marijuana withdrawal. Also known as cannabis, it was only recently that the American (2013 via the DSM-V) and international (2015 via the ICD-10) medical communities recognized cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS) as a legitimate medical condition. Withdrawal from marijuana can be a long process, sometimes taking several weeks. Symptoms can include headaches, nausea, depression, anxiety, and sometimes psychosis. In this guide, we will look at the specifics of marijuana withdrawal such as the symptoms, the expected timeline, and the psychological and physical ramifications.

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Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Marijuana withdrawal is usually a drawn-out process compared to withdrawal from other drugs that, on average, takes around 28 days to complete. While 4 weeks is the average withdrawal duration, there is great variability in this timeline between individuals, ranging from 3 days for physical symptoms to 5 weeks for post-acute symptoms. The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal typically peak at around 4 days since the last use and decline gradually over the next several weeks.

While marijuana withdrawal does produce minor physical symptoms, the majority of the symptoms are psychological in nature. These symptoms do not fit neatly into the typical categories of acute or post-acute withdrawal symptoms, as the entire experience of marijuana withdrawal is quite mild compared to withdrawal from other drugs. That being said, it is by no means “easy” to undergo withdrawal from marijuana. The very fact that these symptoms are so protracted can make the experience exhausting and extremely stressful.

A general overview of the marijuana withdrawal timeline may look like this:

Week 1

Excessive sweating and insomnia are usually the first symptoms to appear. The first 4 days are commonly the most difficult with the severity of other symptoms increasing during this time. Anxiety, restlessness, and cravings are the most severe symptoms which will appear suddenly and rapidly escalate. Anger and irritability may become more pronounced during this time as well. All of the above symptoms will escalate over the first few days, and begin decreasing gradually during or after the fourth day. Depression may appear but typically remains fairly stable and mild during the first week. Nausea and stomach pain may begin and increase gradually in the first few days, plateau on the fourth day, then begin a slow resolution. Appetite may be nonexistent for the first few days, and then begin to normalize very slowly.

Some marijuana withdrawal symptoms that may be expected during the first week could include:

  • Intense Cravings for Marijuana
  • Diaphoresis (excessive sweating)
  • Irritability and Increased Aggression
  • Insomnia (with vivid dreams or nightmares when sleep is achieved)
  • Increased Anxiety and Restlessness
  • Mild Depression
  • Clouded or Disorganized Thinking
  • Headaches
  • Decreased Appetite
  • Stomach Cramps or Pain
  • Nausea
  • Shakiness or Mild Tremor
  • Psychosis (very rare)

Week 2

The second week will be much less intense, with a significant reduction in symptoms between the middle of the first week and the beginning of the second week. Insomnia, excessive sweating, vivid dreams or nightmares, and reduced appetite will be slightly reduced, but are usually still present. Cravings, anxiety, and restlessness will remain but should be greatly reduced. Anger, irritability, and depression will typically resolve along a similar trajectory to each other, reducing over the course of the second week.

Some common symptoms that may be experienced during the second week of marijuana withdrawal can include:

  • Intense Cravings for Marijuana
  • Diaphoresis (excessive sweating)
  • Irritability and Increased Aggression
  • Insomnia (with vivid dreams or nightmares when sleep is achieved)
  • Increased Anxiety and Restlessness
  • Mild Depression
  • Clouded or Disorganized Thinking
  • Headaches
  • Decreased Appetite
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Nausea

Weeks 3 & 4

The third and fourth weeks will follow a common trend of symptom reduction. The worst of the symptoms during this time may be excessive sweating, insomnia, and vivid dreams. Cravings and anxiety may remain in some capacity until the end of the fourth week, but continue to decrease in severity during this time. Appetite may take some time to fully return to normal but should be well on its way by this time. By the end of the first month of marijuana withdrawal, the physical symptoms should be fully resolved, and there is usually a substantial improvement in the psychological symptoms as well.

Some of the symptoms that may accompany the third and fourth weeks of marijuana withdrawal can include:

  • Cravings for Marijuana
  • Irritability
  • Vivid Dreams or Nightmares
  • Anxiety and Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Clouded or Disorganized Thinking
  • Headaches
  • Decreased Appetite

Post-Acute Withdrawal

Post-acute marijuana withdrawal can be a very drawn-out process, sometimes taking months or years to fully resolve. The unique properties of THC play a role, but there is also substantial variability among different people with regard to the symptom intensity and duration during post-acute withdrawal.

Some of the symptoms common during post-acute marijuana withdrawal may include:

  • Cravings for Marijuana
  • Irritability
  • Vivid Dreams or Nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Clouded or Disorganized Thinking

The fact that THC is highly fat-soluble is partially responsible for the extended duration of marijuana withdrawal. While most other drugs are water-soluble, THC must undergo extensive metabolism to produce water-soluble metabolites which can then be excreted in urine and feces. This results in THC remaining in someone’s body for much longer than other drugs and may subsequently extend the withdrawal process over a longer timeline than most other illicit drugs. It should be noted that the process of withdrawal is the brain restoring neurotransmitter function and balance to the levels prior to marijuana use. This process cannot begin in earnest until the levels of THC, CBD, and the various other cannabinoids in marijuana have dropped below the average limit that the brain adapted to through downregulation. This may begin within hours or days of the last use but can take quite some time to complete.

What Factors Influence The Intensity of Withdrawal?

While the severity of symptoms from marijuana withdrawal can differ quite a lot between people, there are several contributing factors that play a role. Some of these are influenced by someone’s marijuana use habits, while others are genetic and are completely out of someone’s ability to influence. Some people seem to recover quickly in just a week or two while others may experience symptoms for many months. Additionally, some people will only experience mild symptoms while others can experience severe psychological issues for an extended time.

Some of the factors which contribute to the intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Amounts of marijuana someone used
  • Length of time someone used marijuana
  • A genetic predisposition for addiction
  • Co-occurring mental health issues (schizophrenia in particular)
  • Someone’s body fat percentage

Clearly, the amounts of marijuana someone used play a large role in the withdrawal symptom severity. This is due to the fact that the more marijuana someone uses, the greater the degree of downregulation which the brain performs. This means that if someone uses a lot of marijuana, their brain has higher consistent levels of dopamine and to a lesser degree serotonin, thus the brain will make greater changes to bring those higher levels within safe limits.

Additionally, the length of time that someone uses marijuana will affect this process. The longer someone is using marijuana consistently, the more long term these downregulated neurotransmitter levels become. This means that during marijuana withdrawal, the brain will be slower to complete the upregulation and recovery process, since there is more downregulation to undo, resulting in longer and possibly more intense withdrawal symptoms.

The previously mentioned factors are influenced by a marijuana user’s behaviors, but genetic predisposition has been decided long before someone was even born. Genetics play a large role in the ease and speed with which someone may become an addict. The exact manner and amount of influence that this effect has is still unclear, but it certainly has many repercussions. This may mean that someone with addiction on both sides of their family may become more addicted more quickly than someone who has no family history of addiction. This may result in someone with a genetic predisposition experiencing worse withdrawal symptoms than someone without a predisposition, even if they have used the exact same amounts of marijuana for the exact same length of time. A more serious impact of genetics may have more to do with the chances of someone achieving lasting recovery, as a genetic predisposition to addiction makes it more challenging and difficult to remain sober.

Previous mental health conditions may play a role not only in the intensity of withdrawal symptoms but also in the range of symptoms that someone may experience. It is known that marijuana use can worsen or accelerate the onset of certain psychological conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar spectrum disorders. The mechanisms of action for these effects are unclear at present, but there is a wealth of research and documentation that marijuana may increase the risks and/or accelerate the progression of these conditions.

Marijuana is unique among illicit drugs in the sense that it, and its metabolites, are lipophilic and thus highly soluble in fats. This lipophilicity, along with the particulars of marijuana metabolism means that the active ingredients of marijuana (particularly THC) may remain in body fat for many weeks after the last use. The higher a percentage of body fat someone has, the more THC will be stored in their fat cells.

More About Marijuana Addiction

To get a more comprehensive picture of the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal, it will be helpful to understand a little more about exactly how marijuana works. Marijuana has a very complicated and multifaceted mechanism of action that affects a wide range of neurological systems. Some of these systems include the brain’s endocannabinoid system, the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and indirectly on the opioid system.

The endocannabinoid system is used, in part, to moderate the function of other neurotransmitters and plays a role in consciousness and cognition, pain management, memory, motor functions, appetite, and moderating immune responses. The 2 major natural cannabinoids that are produced by the body are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). While there are over 60 cannabinoid compounds in the marijuana plant, the most well-understood ones are delta-6-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These compounds will mimic the endocannabinoids and stimulate the endocannabinoid system in a much stronger way than the brain and body are used to.

The main way that THC utilizes the cannabinoid system is through interactions at the CB1 receptors. CB1 receptors are found all throughout the brain, with the highest concentrations located in the hippocampus, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and cerebral cortex. These areas of the brain have a wide range of functions which include memory formation, emotional regulation, motor control, and regulating higher consciousness. Stimulation of the CB1 receptor also produces, through mechanisms unknown, stimulation of the natural opioid system of the brain, particularly at the μ-opioid receptor. This may be partially responsible for the euphoria, pain reduction, and pleasure produced through marijuana use.

The main euphoric and addictive properties of marijuana use are produced through THC induced dopamine release. Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that produces feelings of pleasure, reward, and can reinforce the behaviors which led to these feelings. Through chronic marijuana use, the brain will reduce sensitivity to dopamine to compensate for the chronically elevated levels in an attempt to reduce the risk of neurotoxicity. This process is known as downregulation.

CBD, while being less psychologically active than THC, may be able to increase the brain’s sensitivity to serotonin. Serotonin is a mood regulator in the brain and increased sensitivity can produce a mood-elevating and antidepressant effect. Additionally, CBD induced increases in serotonin receptor sensitivity can result in the body downregulating its normal responses to serotonin. CBD also has a somewhat mysterious mechanism of action that interacts with the way THC activates the endocannabinoid system. It appears to modify the way that THC interacts with the CB1 receptors, and may provide neuroprotective effects that reduce the psychotropic effects of THC. Finally, CBD may also be a mild painkiller although this is produced through anti-inflammatory means rather than the natural opioid system of the brain.

Through the chronic use of marijuana, the brain will begin to adapt to the changes that marijuana produces. This can result in the downregulation of a variety of neurotransmitters but is particularly strong regarding dopamine, serotonin, and possibly the opioid system. This is the brain’s attempt to maintain balance and efficient function, but will quickly lead to marijuana tolerance and eventually dependence. Once these changes have occurred, someone will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms when they do not use marijuana. These symptoms will worsen the longer marijuana is used, as these changes become more difficult to reverse.

The Importance of Detox

Entering a marijuana detox can make the withdrawal experience much less unpleasant and also reduce the risks, which are commonly low to begin with. Through medications, medical supervision, and psychiatric care most of the withdrawal symptoms can be reduced and managed. Additionally, any co-occurring mental health issues someone may be struggling with can be addressed and treated through one of these detox programs.

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Related Guides

There are several other depressant drugs that can produce uncomfortable or even dangerous withdrawal symptoms. We have more in-depth withdrawal guides for drugs such as:

Phenibut Withdrawal Timeline

Gabapentin Withdrawal Timeline

Lyrica Withdrawal Timeline

GHB Withdrawal Timeline

Spice Withdrawal Timeline

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