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Would you like to overcome your marijuana addiction? Going cold turkey may lead to little discussed but real withdrawal symptoms. How can you detox from weed and cope with your marijuana withdrawal symptoms?

Marijuana use has more than doubled among adults from the United States over the last decade or so — and research indicates that as many as three in 10 cannabis users meet the diagnostic criteria for marijuana use disorder [1]. Most people who turn to medical help for a marijuana addiction have smoked pot nearly every day for more than a decade and have tried to quit weed unsuccessfully over six times [2]. 

One of the main characteristics of an addiction is, of course, difficulty quitting use of the substance or experience even when you desperately want to be free of your addiction.

If you are a weed smoker who would like to quit — regardless of whether you have tried to stop using cannabis already in the past — what are your options? What marijuana detox methods can help you cope with weed withdrawal symptoms and assist you while you get used to a life without cannabis?

Why Quit Weed? An Overview Of The Negative Impact Of Long-Term Marijuana Use

Marijuana, the most widely used illegal drug in the world, has a reputation of not being very addictive, offering harmless pleasure to users, and even having numerous health benefits — a view to which the recent trend to legalize medical marijuana will certainly have contributed. While marijuana is associated with fewer adverse effects than other, heavier, illegal drugs, the real picture is, unfortunately, more complicated: cannabis is not harmless. [3]

While we are all familiar with the short-term effects of marijuana intoxication that initially drive people to start smoking cannabis (being high), it's worth noting that smoking weed impairs your ability to drive rather a bit [4]. Colorado drivers involved in deadly car crashes have been significantly more likely to test positive for marijuana since the state legalized medical cannabis, showing that even short-term weed use can be fatal if you do not exercise judgment and refrain from driving [5]. 

Over the longer term, recreational (non-medical) marijuana use is associated with:

  • Addiction.
  • Brain function impairments such as a reduction in information processing speed — it is not yet clear whether quitting weed reverses these changes.
  • Respiratory disease and cancer. 
  • Heart disease. 
  • Mental health effects including anxiety and psychosis. [6]

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms: What To Expect After You Quit Weed

Between 50 and 95 percent of regular cannabis users seeking help while quitting weed report experiencing cannabis withdrawal symptoms [7]. 

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms range from anger, aggression, irritability, and nervousness or anxiety to loss of appetite and associated weight loss, restlessness, and sleeping difficulties. Here, it is especially of note that people who have recently quit weed frequently experience strange dreams. Physically, recent marijuana quitters may be plagued by an upset stomach, sweating, chills, and shaking. Marijuana detox can also be accompanied by strong mental cravings for weed and feelings of depression. The good news is that cannabis withdrawal symptoms tend to peak between days two and six after quitting, and most quitters feel better after two weeks. [8]

Does all of this make you reluctant to quit weed cold turkey (again, perhaps)? Fortunately, help for weed detox is available! Here some of the better ways to cope with marijuana withdrawal symptoms. 

Therapy While Going Through Weed Withdrawal

Cognitive behavioral therapy seems to be recommended for just about anything these days — but note that while the underlying focus of CBT is always on correcting the thought patterns or behaviors that lead to the problems for which the individual is seeking therapy, practical therapeutic approaches are adapted to the client's need. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to have a positive effect on people with substance abuse disorders, including marijuana addiction. Mechanisms you may encounter if you choose CBT to cope with your marijuana withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Motivational intervention, where the weed user's feelings of reluctance to stop using cannabis are addressed and therapist and client work on motivational strategies that will help the user stay off weed. 
  • Contingency management seeks to disrupt the reward your brain associates with drug use. You may receive small motivational items in return for abstaining from cannabis for a certain amount of time, and then work up to larger rewards. Your brain will hopefully begin associating not using weed, rather than smoking it, with rewards. 
  • Relapse prevention, where you will examine what your personal triggers for weed use are, and what you can do when you experience these triggers instead of smoking pot. [9]

Medications For Cannabis Withdrawal

Pharmacological treatment for cannabis withdrawal is still in its infancy. So far, the only oral medication that has been proven to have the potential to prevent most of the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal is, perhaps somewhat ironically, oral THC. [8]

The other proposed treatments are experimental. They include the sleep aid Ambien to lessen the sleep disruptions associated with marijuana withdrawal [10], the anti-anxiety drug Buspirone [11], and Gabapentin, an anti-epileptic drug [12]. The latter is actually the amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is also available as a supplement in many health foods stores and can thus be used as a natural way to cope with cannabis detox without medical intervention as well. Lithium, a psychiatric medication that helps reduce suicidal feelings and is used to treat major depression, may also help people going through cannabis withdrawal [13]. 

Natural Ways To Cope With Cannabis Withdrawal

We'll define "natural ways to cope with cannabis withdrawal" as any coping mechanism that does not require a prescription or a doctor and that doesn't cause additional harm by replacing one addiction with another. 

The first powerful natural coping mechanism for people who would like to quit marijuana that we have to mention is a gradual reduction of weed use, also known as "tapering off". Mechanisms include reducing the amount of cannabis you use during a single sitting, reducing the frequency of marijuana use, and only allowing yourself to smoke pot before you go to bed — all with the goal to get down to a certain amount of weed by a predetermined deadline. Tapering off allows your brain and body to get used to your new way of being slowly, facilitating reduced weed withdrawal symptoms. [8]

While research into specific herbal remedies to help you through your marijuana detox process is lacking, we do know that plant-based treatments can help you weather specific withdrawal symptoms. Valerian root might help with the insomnia many people who have just quit weed experience [14], ginger and vitamin B6 may get you through bouts of nausea [15], and the aforementioned GABA might reduce anxiety, to name some. These herbal remedies serve to help you with certain symptoms of cannabis withdrawal, rather than reducing all symptoms across the board, however. 

Auricular acupuncture (AA), though widely used to treat substance abuse, has unfortunately not been shown to be effective [16]. 

What does work is moderate aerobic exercise — even if you do not seek the help of a doctor to get through your withdrawal process, regular exercise has been shown to both reduce the use of cannabis and the cravings people who are going through withdrawal experience. This might be because exercise reduces feelings of stress and anxiety, and because it triggers the reward center of the brain, thus reducing the need to get a reward through smoking pot. [17]

What Now? How Do You Pick Your Weed Withdrawal Method?

A myriad of ways to cope with marijuana withdrawal are at your disposal, as you have seen. While weed users who would like to quit should choose the withdrawal methods they personally feel comfortable with, those who have already tried to stop using marijuana multiple times without any success should look into seeking medical help in the form of therapy or medications to help you quit weed. 

In addition to the coping mechanisms to help you through your weed withdrawal, you may also find that simply keeping busy — and very importantly, staying away from the people you used to smoke pot with — offers you distraction and helps you break old patterns

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