Marijuana is the third most commonly used substance after alcohol and nicotine. Although marijuana is considered to be safe for consumption by some people, considerable scientific research indicates that long-term marijuana use can result in the development of physical dependence on the drug, making marijuana use necessary to function normally. Individuals may also become addicted to marijuana.

Around 9% of individuals who use marijuana are likely to develop dependence, relative to 15% of individuals who try cocaine. Approximately four million individuals in the United States fulfilled the criteria for marijuana addiction in 2015. Furthermore, prolonged use of marijuana can cause tolerance, characterized by the need for larger quantities of the drug to achieve the desired effects.

How Long Does Marijuana Stay in Your System?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive compound present in marijuana. THC enters the bloodstream via the lungs when marijuana is smoked. Some of the THC is metabolized by the liver into water-soluble metabolites and excreted through the urine.

The remaining THC is rapidly absorbed by adipose tissue (fat deposits) and organs such as the liver, brain, heart, gonads, and lungs. THC is then passively released back into the blood and subsequently excreted through urine. This results in a long half-life for marijuana. The half-life of marijuana in infrequent users in 18-30 hours, but the half-life of marijuana may range between 5-13 days in the case of frequent users.

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are similar to those observed with nicotine dependence. Some of the common symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:

  • Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal

    Anxiety and nervousness

    Irritability

    Anger

    Depressed mood

    Insomnia and sleep disturbances

    Decreased appetite or weight loss

    Cravings for marijuana

    Symptoms observed at a lower frequency such as headaches, tremors, excessive sweating, fever, chills, and headaches

Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline

The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal generally last between 2-3 weeks and there can be considerable variation in the severity and duration of the expression of withdrawal symptoms.

The onset of withdrawal symptoms generally occurs within the first 1-2 days after onset of abstinence. The effects of marijuana withdrawal peak between the first 2-6 days after the onset of abstinence and gradually decrease in intensity over the subsequent 1-2 weeks (2-3 weeks after onset).

Factors Impacting Marijuana Withdrawal

The two major factors that influence the severity and duration of marijuana withdrawal include the drug use history of the individual and the personal characteristics of the individual. Severe dependence on marijuana, determined by the frequency, dose, and duration of drug use, tends to result in more severe withdrawal symptoms that last longer. Polydrug use, including the use of alcohol and tobacco, can result in more severe withdrawal symptoms as well. Similarly, the presence of a co-occurring psychiatric disorder can have an impact on withdrawal symptoms.

Physiological and other personal characteristics including gender, genetics, age, and overall health also determine the duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms. THC is absorbed by adipose or fat tissue and body fat content and the metabolic rate of an individual may determine the duration of withdrawal symptoms.

How to Cope with Marijuana Withdrawals

The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are not life-threatening like those observed during withdrawal from other drugs. However, marijuana withdrawal symptoms can cause significant discomfort and the severity of these withdrawal symptoms can cause a relapse.

Discontinuation of marijuana use all at once, i.e. stopping marijuana use cold-turkey can lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms. Hence, it is advisable to gradually taper the marijuana dosage to reduce discomfort and prevent a relapse.

Detoxing Off Marijuana

In most cases, the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal resolve by themselves and treatment at a medical detox is not necessary. When detoxing at home, a few measures in addition to tapering the dose of marijuana intake may prove useful. Having a plan can prevent a relapse. For example, medical advice should be sought before undergoing detox, and the help of a friend or a family member should be secured for emotional support and in case of an emergency. Detoxification must be undertaken in a calm and non-stimulating environment.

Adhering to a healthy diet consisting of fresh fruits, lean meats, and vegetables, while avoiding a calorie-rich and high-sodium diet, can help the detoxification process. Since marijuana is stored in fat tissue, a low-calorie diet and exercise can help boost metabolism and burn off fat. Drinking plenty of water and tea can also help clear the drug from the system. Mood disturbances involving anxiety, depression, and irritability are commonly observed during withdrawal from marijuana. Practicing yoga and meditation or engaging in other relaxing activities can help improve mood.

When to Find Help: Marijuana Rehab in Florida

Long-term use of marijuana can cause physical dependence on the drug that may be severe enough to cause addiction. Marijuana addiction is characterized by an inability to control drug use despite negative consequences on social and occupational functioning. It is essential to seek treatment in such a scenario of severe marijuana dependence and addiction.

Detoxification is the first step in the process of treatment of marijuana dependence and involves helping the individual cope with the withdrawal symptoms. Although detoxification may be undertaken at home, treatment at an inpatient or outpatient detox facility can reduce the chances of a relapse. Detoxification only involves the elimination of the drug from the body. Treatment at a rehabilitation center is necessary after detoxification to address the psychological issues underlying marijuana abuse.

If you or a loved one are addicted to marijuana, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can help. The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health provides quality care and treatment for substance use disorders delivered by experienced and accredited medical professionals. Reach out today to explore treatment options available to you. Help is here.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.