This Page was last reviewed and changed on June 2nd 2021
If you’ve recently stopped taking cannabis and are now feeling depressed, anxious or irritable, don’t panic. This is perfectly normal.
Just like all drugs, cannabis contains addictive properties which can cause physical and emotional dependence. And when you stop taking the drug, it causes withdrawal symptoms as your body has become used to the high.
This page will explain everything you need to know about cannabis withdrawal, including psychological and physical side effects, alleviating symptoms, and detox.
According to reports, cannabis is the most widely abused substance in the UK. It affects the senses by producing euphoric feelings, which can cause short-term impairment. The substance is mainly consumed recreationally, but its main ingredient – Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – is often used for medical purposes to treat symptoms of neurological disorders, like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
Cannabis has a high potential for abuse, despite it being a relatively less addictive substance. Using this drug over long periods can lead to tolerance, dependence and eventually, addiction. Amongst addicts, one of the most difficult barriers to breaking free from cannabis addiction is the onset of withdrawal symptoms, which manifest when attempting to quit.
The body naturally attempts to expunge remnants of the drug from your system, during a phase known as ‘detox’; this is accompanied by withdrawal symptoms which can be extremely uncomfortable. However, with adequate medical assistance, you can safely negotiate detox and manage any withdrawal symptoms accordingly.
Generally, withdrawal occurs when an addict stops taking a drug which they’ve abused over a long period of time or when they drastically reduce their intake. Over time, if you abuse cannabis in large quantities, your body will become used to elevated levels of THC in the bloodstream.
This will cause your brain and body to adapt and adjust its normal function, coming to depend on the presence of the drug. When you stop use or reduce your intake significantly, withdrawal symptoms will surface, which could cause you to use cannabis again.
Over the years, experts have debated whether quitting cannabis brings about withdrawal symptoms or not. However, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association came to a consensus that cannabis withdrawal should be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms of cannabis withdrawal vary from person to person. The onset, severity and duration of withdrawal will also depend on certain factors, such as the amount of cannabis consumed; for how long the drug was consumed; whether it was consumed alongside other illicit drugs; and the presence of any pre-existing health issues.
Withdrawal symptoms can include the opposite effects of the drug, as well as enhanced symptoms of any pre-existing health issues – especially mental health conditions. Symptoms typically affect the physical and psychological state of the addict, while they can serve as formidable deterrents whenever a person makes the decision to quit cannabis.
Causes of Cannabis Withdrawal
Cannabis is a psychoactive substance, which causes alterations in brain function. The main active ingredient responsible for these alterations is THC. When you smoke cannabis, THC travels through the bloodstream to the brain, after being absorbed from the lungs. In the brain, it acts on cannabinoid receptors, setting off a series of reactions that lead to the sensations of pleasure, relaxation and euphoria associated with the drug.
When you continue to consume cannabis repeatedly, your brain will become used to it and before long, will become reliant on the drug to maintain normal function. When you choose to cease usage altogether – or at least cut-down your consumption – this will initiate withdrawal symptoms.
Common Psychological Effects of Withdrawal
Due to the reactions in the brain caused by THC, many neurological functions are altered. THC typically reacts with cannabinoid receptors in the brain; these are mainly concentrated in the regions of the brain that deal with time and sensory perception, thoughts, pleasure, memory, and concentration.
This explains the psychological effects experienced by cannabis users. If you are addicted or have become dependent on the drug, there will likely be psychological withdrawal symptoms that flare up when you attempt to quit, signalling your brain’s urgent need to consume cannabis. These psychological effects include:
Common Physical Effects of Withdrawal
If you or a loved one abuse cannabis over a period of time and attempt to abruptly quit, there are also physical withdrawal symptoms that occur alongside the psychological effects of withdrawal. While these symptoms are rarely fatal or severe, they can cause significant discomfort that could result in a relapse. Physical difficulties you could experience during withdrawal include:
Alleviating Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal can be an unpleasant experience, which can cause you to relapse if proper care isn’t taken to reduce the severity of the symptoms. If you’re worried about this and want to detox without such discomfort, undergoing medical detox with the help of addiction experts can prove to be the turning point in your recovery journey.
Certain medications have been clinically trialled to determine which are more effective in reducing the impact of withdrawal; these include anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, anti-seizure drugs, sleep aids, THC replacements, and mood stabilisers.
The most promising results amongst these were the anti-anxiety prescription drug, Buspirone; the sleep aid medication, Zolpidem (Ambien); and the anticonvulsant, Gabapentin. You shouldn’t take these drugs without medical supervision, however, as most of them are also highly addictive.
Cannabis Detox: Is it Necessary?
Detox is the process that involves the body flushing out all remnants of cannabis metabolites from your system. This occurs after a period of abstinence but is accompanied by a number of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms – the reason for which is your body letting go of a substance it has grown used to and become dependent on for normal function.
You may even want to fast-track the detox process a little – for example, if you had a pending job interview, an upcoming drugs test at work or a legal drug test ordered by a court / local authority. Apart from these necessities, it’s important that you expel any THC toxins from your body in order to ease withdrawal and recover smoothly.
While there will likely be more THC stored in your system if you’ve consumed cannabis chronically, but you can expel these chemicals quickly with the aid of a medical professional. In fact, there are numerous techniques and activities you can undergo to aid this process.
Medication isn’t the only component involved in a successful detoxification programme. Cannabis addiction interferes with your mental state, as well as your physical health; this is why the problem should be tackled on both fronts. While common knowledge tends to reserve psychological for treatment in rehab, psychotherapy can also play a valuable role during detox.
Although toxic remnants of THC will still present in your body several days after taking cannabis, the psychological effects of the drug might also linger, especially in people who are severely addicted; for instance, negative thought patterns that accompany drug use will also need to be evicted from your psyche. A psychologist can help you with this form of detox.
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What to Expect During Detoxification?
Detox is a phase that you must undergo if you’re to quit using cannabis for good. This is because your body cannot return to a state of normalcy if traces of the drug are still present in your system. This explains why your body has to dispel these foreign substances to regain its chemical balance.
While this is prudent, the detox phase can be turbulent, as your body won’t let go of the drug too easily. There are also withdrawal symptoms that accompany detox, which may cause you to relapse if you aren’t properly motivated or assisted by an expert. Detox is even more difficult for those who have smoked cannabis for a long time or abused it in conjunction with alcohol or other harmful substances.
The first few hours to a couple of days can be the most turbulent of the detox phase, as this is when the withdrawal symptoms are at their peak. After several days, the effects will begin to wane, but psychological withdrawal symptoms (like cravings and depression) may still be present. However, for people with mild cases of addiction, withdrawal may not be severe and might last only a day or two.
Medically Assisted Detox and Withdrawal
Medically assisted detox and withdrawal involves help from addiction therapists to fast-track the detox process and manage your withdrawal symptoms, so that you can successfully expel all cannabis toxins from your body, in the most bearable manner possible. Medical detox is typically undertaken in addiction treatment centres, where you’ll be closely monitored under the supervision of medical experts.
Alongside other therapies, medication will be applied to help you through the worst of withdrawal and stay on track. It’s better to undergo an inpatient treatment programme, whereby you will receive 24-hour support and monitoring during detox. A medically assisted detox programme is known to be the best way to rid cannabis from your system and also set you on the path to recovery.
What Causes Cannabis Withdrawal?
Withdrawal is bound to occur when you decide to quit using an addictive substance like cannabis, following a spell of addiction to the drug. If you’ve abused it chronically and have since become tolerant, reducing your intake can also trigger withdrawal.
How to Treat Cannabis Withdrawal?
There are no definite methods via which to completely avert withdrawal symptoms when you initiate abstinence. However, with adequate professional help, your symptoms can be significantly reduced, allowing you to get through this phase fairly comfortably. If your case of addiction is severe, doctors could choose to gradually taper you off the drug.
How Long Does Cannabis Detox Take?
The duration of detox largely depends on the various factors surrounding your particular case of addiction to cannabis. These include how long you’ve abused the substance, how much of it you’ve consumed, and whether you need to be tapered off the drug or not. While this could take a week for some people, it might be longer for others.
How to Naturally Detox from Cannabis?
You can naturally expel cannabis from your system if you stop taking it entirely, work out regularly, hydrate properly, and stay away from certain foods like red meat. While natural methods can effectively expunge cannabis from your system, they can take a while to complete the detox process.
Effects of Cannabis Detox
Though detoxing from Cannabis isn’t as severe as doing so from other substances such as cocaine or alcohol, it can still be accompanied by unpleasant side effects, depending on your level of addiction. Some known side effects of cannabis detox include:
NHS Cannabis Detox
There are NHS drug and alcohol services in virtually every county in the UK, via which cannabis detox can be undertaken by residents free of charge. However, these programmes are mostly outpatient based; contact your local GP to locate the relevant services in your community. You can also get a referral if necessary.
How to Get Cannabis Out of Your System?
If you’re looking to beat your addiction to cannabis, you’ll need to cleanse your body of all toxins. The best way to successfully detox is undergoing medical detox under the supervision of an addiction expert – preferably in an inpatient facility.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How quickly does cannabis leave the body?
The body metabolises cannabis rapidly, but traces of metabolites can linger. The amount of time it takes to break down cannabis products (and other active ingredients) depends on the amount consumed and how often the user does so. Though you might experience the effects of cannabis for a while longer, any traces can be detected via the appropriate tests. Certain THC metabolites can be found in the body after 20 hours, though some can be stored in body fat for as long as 13 days.
How long will cannabis show up on drug tests?
Blood tests can sometimes be unreliable for detecting the presence of cannabis in the body because the substance leaves the bloodstream very quickly. Most experts have found that cannabis can be detected after 13 days of consumption via a urine test. However, urine tests can only show how recently someone has used the drug, rather than the level of intoxication (unlike blood tests).
Why is detoxing at home potentially harmful?
Undergoing medical detox without the guidance of an addiction expert can be harmful, due to the accompanying withdrawal symptoms. In cases where you’ve abused cannabis alongside other substances such as tobacco, cocaine, alcohol and other harmful drugs, health complications could arise that require professional help to tackle. Therefore, always ensure you check in with a medical expert whenever you want to undergo detox.
Are there any cannabis detox methods that don’t work?
There is a lot of information circulating about detox ‘shortcuts’ for cannabis, which bear promises that can evict every trace of THC from your system in a very short amount of time. These methods are mere hoaxes and will leave you disappointed if pinning all your hopes on them. They include:
Excessive water consumption: consuming large amounts of water days prior to your drug test will do you little good, as water doesn’t have any effect on the accumulated THC in fat cells.
Cranberry Juice: being a diuretic, cranberry juice only makes you urinate more, without having any effect on cannabis residues in your body.
Vinegar: this can only help in the long-term, but isn’t a quick fix by any means. Taking vinegar over a long period of time is also risky, as it comes with a number of health issues.
Niacin detox: it’s possible for Niacin to work as a detox measure, but it isn’t a quick miracle solution as it’s sometimes touted to be. It could work for 10 days or more; however, there are many contributing factors that are complex to pinpoint.
Is detoxing from cannabis dangerous?
Detox can be dangerous if you attempt it on your own and if you have a chronic case of addiction. Abusing other harmful substances alongside cannabis can also put you at risk if you don’t have expert help.
How long does cannabis stay in your system?
The amount of time cannabis stays in your system after consumption depends on how much of the substance you’ve consumed and how long you’ve been ingesting or smoking it. Cannabis is known to be present in the bloodstream for just a short period but can stay in fat cells for 13 days, where it can be detected by a urine test.
Can you outrun addiction?
Exercising can help during your recovery process – especially if you can run and subsequently burn some fat. Experts also recommend exercising during detox, particularly when you’re doing so on an outpatient basis.