ARTICLE OVERVIEW: It is fairly easy to quit using marijuana, even if you’re physically dependent on THC. You’ll learn more about the addictive potential of marijuana in this article. Then, we review common side effects of quitting and typical withdrawal protocols. Finally, we offer tips from the experts.
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 10 minutes
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Physical Dependence
- How Addictive?
- Why Quitting is Difficult
- Side Effects
- The Safest Way to Quit
- Tips for Tapering
Marijuana is one of the most casually used drugs today. Repeated use can lead to physical and psychological dependence, which means your body and brain crave marijuana to be able to function normally. But what’s the difference between the two?
PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE is natural and expected outcome of regular use of a psychoactive drug like marijuana. It occurs in all individuals who use marijuana daily…but the time it takes to become drug dependent varies by individual.. Those who are physically dependent can become drug-free through a gradual decrease in dosage or by quitting marijuana cold turkey.
PSYCHOLOGICAL DEPENDENCE (a.k.a. ADDICTION) can be accompanied or precipitated by physical dependence, but not always. The main difference between physical dependence and psychological dependence are a mental obsession. Those who have become addicted to marijuana will experience an uncontrollable need (cravings) to feel the pleasurable and euphoric rush from another dose. This craving can lead to obsessive-compulsive drug seeking and drug use behavior and an inability to quit smoking weed, even if you want to, even if you are aware of the harm it’s causing.
How Addictive Is Marijuana?
The jury is still out on this one.
According to the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) marijuana is still a Schedule I drug. Federally, law enforcement officials view marijuana as having a high potential for abuse/addiction and no medical purpose. However, more and more states are challenging this view. According to Business Insider magazine, in 2018, over half of all U.S. states have legalized the use medical marijuana for therapeutic purposes. The medical use of marijuana is certainly under the microscope.
Still, scientific research supports the view that marijuana is an addictive drug due to the following facts:
- Neuroscientific demonstrations have proved that marijuana affects the reward center in the brain in an exact same manner as all other addictive substances.
- Animal studies where marijuana was given twice a day for one week showed an occurrence of addictive symptoms.
- Clinical reports of humans reveal a similar pattern of withdrawal symptoms as in animal studies during the first weeks of abstinence.
The bottom line is that marijuana is a psychoactive drug. It affects the mind. When you use marijuana daily for a period of time, you become physically dependent on the THC found in marijuana. Take away the THC, and withdrawal symptoms occur.
Still, withdrawal alone does not characterize addiction. The cravings and obsessive thought patterns around use, followed by uncontrolled consumption are the hallmark signs of an addiction. Add to this continued use dspite negative consequences to home, health, or social life…and you’ve got a budding addiction on your hands.
Why Quitting is Difficult?
Marijuana does not cause strong physical dependence when used for a short period, but when abused over a longer period it might cause tolerance (need for increasing doses to be able to reach the initial high). High-dose or long-term smokers can experience more severe withdrawal symptoms, making total cessation difficult. Furthermore, the need to use weed to fill an emotional gap can keep people from a life of abstinence.
Quitting can also be difficult if other people around you continue to use. For example, when surrounded by smokers while trying to give up, you’ll find yourself strongly influenced by them to smoke also. This is why experts advise major life changes when you want to quit for good.
Marijuana is considered a fairly benign drug, although main dangers of use as reported by the NHTSA include the real threat of drugged driving incidents. Still, there haven’t been any consistent records of severe dangers during quitting. However, the following methods of discontinuation are not recommended due to the high chances of relapse that can lead you back to using again.
The main risk of quitting marijuana is starting back again. This is called “relapse”. Excessive cravings can make tapering a prolonged and unpleasant experience for you. In fact, if you find that can’t stop, then you can use cold-turkey as an alternative method. Be aware that going cold turkey can increase the severity of mood disorders and sleeping problems. See the list of side effects below for more.
2. Stopping marijuana without medical supervision.
Marijuana alters the brain chemistry and when used for a longer period causes physical and psychological changes. Doctors at detox clinics/ treatment centers can monitor your state and manage withdrawal symptoms to ensure that the process is safe…especially if co-occuring mental health disorders like depression or anxiety are just below the surface.
If you’ve been using marijuana for a longer period of time, physical dependence can cause you difficulties during quitting because of withdrawal symptoms. While many people report experiencing few or no withdrawal symptoms at all, others report extreme mood swings, dysphoria, and sleeping problems.
A list of common marijuana withdrawal symptoms includes:
- Distorted sense of time
- Increased aggression
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep disturbances
The Safest Way to Quit
If you feel unable to stop using marijuana on your own it’s best to seek advice for the medical issue from a trained and educated medical professional. To make the process of quitting marijuana safer and less risky you can try any of the following methods:
1. Medical supervision and the use of medicines.
This method means that you’ll follow your doctor’s recommends on how to stop taking marijuana. Getting a medical clearance means that your condition will be evaluated by your doctor and you’ll be prescribed with medications to ease your withdrawal discomfort.
New medications prescribed during marijuana addiction treatment are:
- Baclofen works by eliminating the reward effects or positive sensations associated with marijuana abuse.
- Vistaril (Hydroxyzine) is prescribed to help you reduce anxiety during withdrawal.
The protocol is to test you before and after you quit smoking marijuana. Medical supervision also includes developing an individual plan for reduction of marijuana daily doses between you and your doctor, or a plan to go cold turkey.
2. Tapering or slowly reducing doses.
This method can help ease your withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Gradual tapering is recommended for those who have not succeeded coming off marijuana cold turkey. It is a longer lasting process than cold turkey but possibly more successful in the long-term. Tapering plans are unique for each individual, created along with a doctor, and tailored to a patient’s’ individual needs.
3. Go to a detox clinic, especially if you use other drugs.
Detox centers allow you to recover in a safe and drug-free environment. Detox programs usually begin with an assessment where you’ll be examined about your length and frequency of marijuana use, drinking, or other drugs. Addiction counselors at the detox clinic will compile a medical history file and develop a withdrawal symptom management course specifically designed to meet your needs.
Trained physicians and nurses at the detox clinic will help you minimize withdrawal symptoms while keeping you safe. Medical staff at the detox facility will always be available to help you handle any physical stress or emergencies and ensure that your marijuana detox is successfully done.
4. Consider rehab.
If you are a long time marijuana user and have developed an addiction, you will highly benefit from a structured and tailored to your needs treatment program. Inpatient treatment programs have an integrated approach which includes:
- Introduction to the program and to life without marijuana.
- Marijuana detox.
- Pharmacological and psychological therapy to help you better cope with withdrawal.
- Physical, emotional, and mental health support during the treatment process.
- Aftercare programs that teach you about relapse coping techniques.
Tips for Tapering marijuana
TIP #1 Avoid carrying big bag with you. Instead, make a gradual reduction plan
Decide how much you’ll smoke each day and how much you’ll reduce. Then reduce your marijuana into daily bags or daily joints. In order for this to work you need to stick to your daily dose and avoid taking joints from others.
TIP #2 Take longer breaks between each dose of marijuana
Find other things that will occupy your mind other than smoking. This way, you’ll prolong the hours between every next dose and you’ll have less difficulty reducing your daily intake. For example, you can start going home or going to bed earlier to shorten the hours during which you usually smoke.
TIP #3 Gradually cut the number of joints you smoke a day.
If you currently smoke 6 a day, smoke 6 for 3 days, then 5 for 3 days, then 4 for 3 days, and so on until you quit marijuana for good.
TIP #4 Stick to your plan!
The idea of tapering is to help you physically and psychologically accustomed to less marijuana, but this can only work if you have control over how much you consume and don’t give into pressure from your friends.
Do you still have questions about cutting down or quitting weed for good? Please leave your questions and comments – or share your experiences – in the comments section below and we will try to respond to you personally and promptly.