5 Tips for Coping with Marijuana Withdrawal Anxiety

Last updated: 04/7/2022
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

Marijuana, also called cannabis, is one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 48.2 million people used marijuana in 2019.1 Chronic marijuana use can lead to a physiological dependence, which means you need to keep using this drug to function normally. If you suddenly stop using cannabis, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms, such as marijuana withdrawal anxiety, which can be distressing. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to cope with this anxiety as you withdraw from cannabis.2

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

It is a common misconception that marijuana cannot lead to dependence and addiction. In fact, marijuana can be highly addictive, and if you stop using it, you can experience marijuana withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal may include:4

  • Diminished appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Sleep difficulties, including insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Loss of focus
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Cravings for marijuana
  • Chills
  • Stomach problems
  • Sweating
  • Depression

These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they vary from person to person. The longer you use marijuana, the more likely you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to quit.

When you stop using marijuana, your body must adjust to not having a regular supply of the active ingredient found in marijuana. The main psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), responsible for its intoxicating effects.5 Stopping the use of marijuana is often followed by withdrawal symptoms, which have been found to increase marijuana anxiety attacks that primarily elicit mental distress instead of physical.

Symptoms of Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks are associated with marijuana withdrawal and are often misunderstood, ignored, and underreported. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness, and marijuana use can also trigger panic attacks.

Panic attacks are associated with a sudden period of intense fear that comes on quickly and reaches its peak within minutes. These attacks often occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by a trigger, such as fear or a situation that causes intense emotion or reaction. A marijuana anxiety attack can also be triggered when you suddenly stop using.6

Symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks include:6

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
  • Being irritable
  • Having muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

During a panic attack, you may experience:6

  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heart, or an accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control

How to Manage Marijuana Withdrawal Anxiety

Going through an episode of a marijuana anxiety attack can feel like you are trapped in your own head. Your thoughts are way too loud, and you may experience difficulty with thinking and problem solving, which interferes with your ability to focus or follow what’s happening at the moment.7

If you experience a bout of anxiety after quitting marijuana, it is important to accept what is going on in your mind. This may sound difficult to do at the moment, but it is a key aspect of anxiety reduction even when marijuana isn’t involved.8

How you manage marijuana withdrawal anxiety is crucial. As mentioned above, marijuana withdrawal is not life-threatening or medically dangerous, but it does exist. Finding ways to manage the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal anxiety or panic attack reactions can be done by using the following tips.

1. Use Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness is the evidenced-based practice of being completely present, a mental state
focused on one’s awareness of feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is a meditative state achieved by being conscious of one’s present moment.8

2. Seek Help

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other types of counseling can often help people who have anxiety or panic attacks, or anxiety disorders. CBT is a therapy that can help you change the way you see challenging or frightening situations and help you find new ways to approach anxiety disorders as they arise.

Research has shown that CBT-based approaches help change irrational thinking often associated with anxiety and depression. Seeking help from trained professionals can help you address other withdrawal symptoms and adds the support you may need during the withdrawal process.9

3. Use Deep Breathing

Deep breathing has been found to reduce symptoms of panic and anxiety during an attack. Inhale and exhale slowly. Several deep breathing exercises can be used to help relax use during a marijuana-induced panic attack or anxiety.10

4. Relaxation and Insomnia

Utilizing relaxation techniques such as mediation, guided imagery, and yoga can help reduce stress, irritability, and mood swings common during the withdrawal process. Relaxation techniques help with insomnia and anxiety, which are also common when you are withdrawing from marijuana.11

5. Engage in Exercise

Research shows that exercise can boost mental well-being and reduce anxiety and stress. Studies show that exercise effectively reduces fatigue, improves alertness and concentration, and helps with overall cognitive function.9

Entering Detox for Marijuana Withdrawal

Marijuana withdrawal anxiety is not considered to be life-threatening; however, there is always a potential for someone to exhibit poor judgment and be more prone to accidents. You can even develop suicidal thoughts resulting from the distress, anxiety, and depression occurring during marijuana withdrawal.5

There is always a possibility that you may continue to experience symptoms of mild depression, mood swings, lethargy, motivation issues, intermittent cravings for marijuana, and anxiety for weeks, months, and maybe even years after you have stopped using the drug.

If your withdrawal symptoms become too distressing, you may want to consider entering a marijuana detox program for help. Trying to detox on your own can be extremely difficult, and the withdrawal timeline will vary depending on the length, frequency, and amount of marijuana used. Therefore, it is suggested that if you intend to stop using marijuana, especially if you use marijuana daily or near-daily, to do so under the supervision of a professional detox program to help you alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Overcoming marijuana addiction is possible with support. The right treatment program can get you on the path to recovery, detoxification is considered the first stage of treatment. Detoxification, the process by which the body clears itself of drugs, is designed to manage the acute and potentially dangerous physiological effects when stopping drug use.11

However, detox alone does not address the psychological, social, and behavioral problems associated with marijuana or other addictions. Thus, detoxification should be followed by a formal assessment and referral to a drug addiction treatment program.11

Marijuana Withdrawal Anxiety and Detox: What to Expect

Finding the motivation to quit marijuana or other drugs can be difficult, knowing what to expect when you enter a detox or treatment facility can be helpful. Detox or treatment centers and programs are designed to help you through the initial stages of marijuana
withdrawal. These centers and programs can provide motivation, support, and guidance when you want to stop using marijuana for good.
Participating in a detox program can help you overcome the unpleasant effects associated with marijuana withdrawal and can address marijuana anxiety and panic attacks that can be triggered when you stop drug use.

Detoxification centers provide counseling, therapy, or medical support services that can help you understand and navigate any underlying issues that led you to become dependent in the first place. Attending support or therapy groups is a way of connecting with others and can help you stay on track when quitting marijuana or other drugs. Engaging in a detox program can help you with many of the symptoms associated with withdrawal:3

  • Irritability
  • Poor sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Reduced appetite
  • Physical discomfort that generally peaks after a few days

As mentioned previously, these symptoms vary from person to person and depend on frequency, duration, and amount used.

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one needs help or is struggling with marijuana addiction or withdrawal, connect with a treatment specialist at (800) 662-HELP (4357). We are available 24/7 to help you find detox or rehab.

Resources

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP20-07-01-001, NSDUH Series H-55). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  2. Crippa, J. A., Zuardi, A. W., Martín-Santos, R., Bhattacharyya, S., Atakan, Z., McGuire, P., & Fusar-Poli, P. (2009). Cannabis and anxiety: a critical review of the evidence. Human psychopharmacology, 24(7), 515–523.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, December 24). Marijuana Drug Facts.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 13). Is marijuana addictive?
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 13). What is marijuana?
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Anxiety Disorders.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Brain and Addiction.
  8. Moore, A., Gruber, T., Derose, J., & Malinowski, P. (2012). Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 6, 18.
  9. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (2021, March 13). Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.
  10. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (2021, September 28). Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress.
  11. Corliss, J. (2022, February 2). Six relaxation techniques to reduce stress. Harvard Health Publishing.
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 3). Types of Treatment Programs.

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