Do I Need Medical Detox for Marijuana Withdrawal?

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Marijuana is a widely used drug in America. A study in 2019 found that 48.2 million people used it at least once, and 30% of those who used it were diagnosed with marijuana use disorder, the clinical term for marijuana addiction.1 There is some debate about whether or not marijuana is addictive; however, research shows that you can become dependent on the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using it. Understanding how marijuana interacts with your brain and body can help you determine if you need medical marijuana detox.

How Is Marijuana Different From Other Substances?

For a long time, the general consensus was that marijuana is not addictive and withdrawal symptoms do not exist if you stop using marijuana—although this is not correct and people can develop marijuana dependence and withdrawal. One of the reasons for this misconception may be that you can use marijuana daily for years without adverse effects. In fact, a study found that, on average, those who used marijuana used it daily for 10 years before seeking treatment.2 Conversely, other addictive substances, such as opioids or alcohol, may cause negative consequences earlier—especially in the case of opioids since continued use leads to tolerance and an increased risk of overdose.

Other substances can also have severe side effects associated with their use and withdrawal after stopping use. Marijuana lacks some of the same severity. Some of the serious side effects of other drugs that you do not typically find with marijuana use include:3

  • Lung or heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Severe dental problems
  • Overdose
  • Nerve cell damage
  • HIV and hepatitis C from injection drug use

As more information is discovered about marijuana and its effect on your health, it is clear that you can become dependent on the drug and experience withdrawal, as well as negative side effects from overuse.

When you use marijuana regularly, your brain becomes dependent on it to function. Once you become dependent, stopping your use will cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms during detox. Depending on the severity, you may or may not need to seek medical detox to manage your marijuana withdrawal.

How Is Marijuana Detox Different Than Other Detox Processes?

Marijuana detox is the process you go through to rid your body of the drug. When you enter treatment for marijuana addiction, the first step is to go through a detox process.

Detoxing with other substances will look differently than marijuana detox. Some substances can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that can be life-threatening. Some of the serious side effects and withdrawal symptoms that you find with other drugs include:4

  • Hyperventilation
  • Racing heart
  • Tremors
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Low body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Breakdown of muscle tissue
  • Depression
  • Excessive sleep
  • Hunger
  • Confusion or slow movements

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not usually as severe or potentially life-threatening as the ones listed above. These symptoms are not the only differences found when detoxing from marijuana compared with other substances. The stages of detox are different for marijuana and other substances like alcohol. When detoxing from alcohol, you can expect to follow a somewhat predictable timeline:5

  • Withdrawal symptoms emerge within 8 hours after your last drink
  • Symptoms peak around 24 to 72 hours after your last drink
  • Symptoms resolve within five to seven days

The chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC can linger in your body for an extended period of time and has short-term and long-term effects on your brain. For these reasons, the detox process for marijuana is not as predictable as the process for alcohol and other drugs.

What Are Common Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms?

A recent study found that 47% of people who regularly used marijuana experienced withdrawal syndrome when they tried to quit.6 Marijuana withdrawal symptoms arise when your brain has to adjust to not receiving the chemicals from marijuana like it has been. The longer and more often you have used marijuana the more likely it is you’ll experience withdrawal. Some of the most common marijuana withdrawal symptoms include:2

  • Mood changes like irritability and anger
  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Craving marijuana
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Headaches
  • Loss of focus or difficulty concentrating
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Stomach issues
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms do not typically reach a life-threatening emergency that will require medical attention. If you find that you are experiencing marijuana withdrawal anxiety, here are some tips for dealing with them at home. However, if your symptoms are severe enough to cause you intense discomfort, you can seek help at a hospital or detox center.

Who Needs Medical Marijuana Detox?

While you can detox safely on your own from marijuana, it may be best to seek medical detox. No medications are currently approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to treat medical marijuana. There are, however, some medicines available that can help with some of the symptoms, such as:7

  • Medications like zolpidem can help you sleep if you are having difficulty sleeping
  • Buspirone has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress
  • An anti-epileptic medicine called gabapentin helps with sleep problems and improves executive functioning

When considering if you need medical marijuana detox, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Do you have a supportive home environment where you can detox safely without triggers to use again?
  • Do you currently have a secondary substance use disorder with a drug other than marijuana?
  • Are you experiencing thoughts of harming yourself due to severe depression?
  • Do you have a pre-existing mental health condition that could be made worse by detoxing from marijuana?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, medical detox might be the best option for you.

Where Can I Get Medical Detox for Marijuana?

You can seek marijuana detox at most places that offer detox for other substances. Ask the detox center if they treat marijuana withdrawal and let them know if you are using other substances or have a mental health condition so that your treatment can be specific to your needs.

Your primary care doctor can also prescribe some medicines that treat your specific withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, trouble sleeping, or anxiety. Generally, detoxing from marijuana at home is safe for most people.

How Do I Progress in Recovery After Marijuana Detox?

Detoxification from marijuana is only the first step in recovery. A study shows that, on average, those who use marijuana and seek treatment for their marijuana use disorder have already tried to quit using the drug six times.7 That is most likely because detoxing does not take away the desire to use marijuana nor change your patterns of thinking and behaving while you were using the drug.

Continued therapeutic treatment is necessary for a full recovery. Behavioral therapies that have shown promise in treating marijuana use disorder include:7

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which seeks to identify false beliefs, examine the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and change behaviors
  • Contingency management, which utilizes incentives as a positive reinforcement to stay abstinent
  • Motivational interviewing, which therapists will use to ask questions and guide you toward what motivates you to make lasting change
  • Group therapy, which gives patients a safe space to process experiences and relationship problems while learning sober social skills and holding each other accountable

Treatment for marijuana addiction has proven to be effective in helping individuals quit using cannabis in the long run. Going to rehab and learning relapse prevention skills and coping strategies can make it easier to quit than if you try on your own.

If you or someone you know has a marijuana addiction, please call 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) to speak to a specialist about treatment options. We are available 24/7.

Resources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, June 8). Data and Statistics. United States Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. Budney, A. J., Roffman, R., Stephens, R. S., & Walker, D. (2007). Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 4(1), 4-16.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2022, March 22). Addiction and Health. National Institutes of Health.
  4. Gupta M, Gokarakonda SB, Attia FN. (2021, October 21). Withdrawal Syndromes. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.
  5. National Library of Medicine. (2021, January 17). Alcohol withdrawal. National Institutes of Health.
  6. Grinspoon, P. (2020, May 26). If cannabis becomes a problem: How to manage withdrawal. Harvard Health Publishing.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 13). Available Treatments for Marijuana Use Disorders. National Institutes of Health.
Pen iconAuthor
Lisa Conatser, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
Lisa Conatser is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas, offering virtual sessions for children, teens, adults, couples, and families. As a counselor, teacher, and writer, she has interactions with people from all walks of life, which gives her a unique insight into a wealth of communication styles. In practice for 10 years, Lisa never grows tired of hearing people’s stories or