Updated: Nov 23
Marijuana use is prevalent throughout the United States. Though this drug has been widely decriminalized in many parts of the country, marijuana use can still progress to compulsive and problematic levels for some people, at which point they may find it difficult to stop using. People who develop significant marijuana dependence over the course of their use may also experience troublesome withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit, making the early recovery period additionally challenging.
Quitting marijuana is entirely possible despite certain challenging aspects, and professional substance abuse treatment has helped many manage withdrawal and recover from substance use disorders involving marijuana. Learn more below about the potential effects of marijuana abuse and how to go about stopping using cannabis.
Learn more below about the potential effects of marijuana abuse and how to go about stopping using cannabis.
How Does Marijuana Use Affect The Brain?
Frequent cannabis use carries certain risks. Someone who regularly uses marijuana may be at higher risk of developing a cannabis use disorder. Marijuana is also associated with other physical and mental health risks. With the rising potency of marijuana’s average concentration of its primary psychoactive component, these risks may be elevated for users.1
Marijuana’s psychoactive components affect the brain through a series of chemical interactions. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary intoxicating chemical compound found in cannabis. THC is similar in chemical structure to naturally occurring cannabinoids in the body, such as anandamide. This similarity allows THC to attach to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors and disrupt the endocannabinoid system’s normal functioning. THC also stimulates the release of larger-than-normal amounts of dopamine, which is partly responsible for its pleasurable high.2
THC affects a user’s brain in areas that control mood, memory, thinking, and concentration.2 Marijuana’s effects may be desirable for some people and include:3
Feelings of sedation or relaxation.
Distortions in sensory perception.
Altered sense of time (e.g., subjectively slow passing of time).
THC’s effects on the brain don’t always produce pleasurable effects. Its disruption of the brain’s normal pathways of communication may sometimes lead to distressing effects such as:2
Diminished coordination and reaction time.
Acute psychotic features, such as hallucinations and delusions.
Despite the prevalent notion that marijuana is entirely safe or free of any addictive potential, there is certainly evidence to suggest otherwise.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
Marijuana is the second-most widely used mind-altering substance in the United States, behind alcohol.1 In a 2018 survey, almost 12 million young adults reported using marijuana within the previous 30 days.4
A previously criminalized drug across the country, marijuana is now widely legalized in many areas for medicinal and recreational use.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) identifies marijuana as an addictive drug. With consistent use, people who consume weed may be at risk of developing a marijuana use disorder, or marijuana addiction.
Physiological dependence, which develops as the brain and body adapt to weed, is a common feature associated with many instances of marijuana addiction.5 People who develop dependence on marijuana may, over time, begin to produce less of their own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters and become desensitized to the effects of them. Should this happen, a heavy marijuana user may experience withdrawal symptoms when they slow their cannabis consumption or stop consumption altogether.
Take Our Marijuana Addiction Self-Assessment
Take our free, 5-minute marijuana addiction self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with a marijuana dependency. The evaluation consists of 10 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a marijuana use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.
The presence of cannabis withdrawal symptoms is one criteria used to make the diagnosis of a marijuana use disorder.6
When someone is dependent on marijuana, they may experience withdrawal when they attempt to quit or cut down on the consumption of the drug. If you’re wondering what happens when you quit smoking weed, this may be a viable option.
One study by NIDA found that around 40% of teens who the journal considered dependent on marijuana experienced withdrawal symptoms when they stopped using.7
Acute marijuana withdrawal may give rise to unpleasant symptoms such as:7
Anger or aggression.
Fever, sweating, or chills.
Withdrawal is one of the more challenging parts of quitting marijuana. Someone with significant cannabis dependence may try to smoke weed to get rid of the unpleasant physical or emotional symptoms of withdrawal, derailing any recovery efforts. It’s common for people making attempts at decreasing or stopping their marijuana use to return to cannabis (or pick up another drug) because of the distress of withdrawal. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms generally peak in intensity around the third day of detoxification from the drug.6
How to Quit Smoking Marijuana
Unfortunately, quitting pot isn’t always easy for many people. As mentioned, people who smoke weed regularly may develop significant cannabis dependence. Once this develops, quitting marijuana may result in several uncomfortable experiences, including cravings and turbulent moods. Trying to quit on your own is possible, but it can be challenging without the accountability, support, and guidance of professional treatment. To quit smoking marijuana, you may benefit from the supervision and care provided through a marijuana addiction treatment program.
Treatment can help people remain safe and comfortable while quitting marijuana. The supervision and support of treatment can decrease the likelihood of a person relapsing on their drug of choice. Each person’s recovery needs may be somewhat unique, and may benefit from individualized treatment plans. When someone is struggling to quit marijuana on their own, has a cannabis use disorder, or suffers from marijuana dependence, cannabis-specific treatment may be their best option.
Quitting Cold Turkey: Tips to Quitting
If you must stop smoking marijuana immediately at home, remember to surround yourself with a wide support network. In times of withdrawal and craving, having safe and healthy people around you can serve as a way to protect you against relapse. Here are some of our suggestions:
Make a plan. Having a clear goal in mind (in this case, abstinence from marijuana) can help a person who is trying to quit drugs stay on track. By yourself or with your support system, make a plan for how you’ll quit marijuana and remain sober.
Get rid of marijuana-related paraphernalia. While quitting marijuana at home, you may wish to get rid of your paraphernalia associated with smoking and cannabis use, as well, such as bongs, pipes, bowls, and vapes.
Identify triggers and strategize how to deal with them. Your personal triggers for wanting to use marijuana may differ from someone else’s. It is necessary that, if you are aiming to quit using weed, that you figure out what are your pressure points and strategize ways to healthily cope with them.
Build a strong support network. When it comes to getting sober, or at least reducing your drug use, it’s crucial to surround yourself with healthy and supportive people who want to help you stay on track with your decision to be abstinent. Building a strong support network will help you quit marijuana and provide you with the vital healthy connections one needs to stay abstinent.
Find a weed replacement. Marijuana users may find it easier to quit if they find a more holistic replacement when cravings occur. Physical activities like yoga or working out, or finding new hobbies to cope will help.
Taper usage instead of going cold turkey. Going cold turkey frequently produces more intense withdrawal symptoms. Creating a tapering schedule with an addiction professional can be a good alternative to going cold turkey.
Though our tips for quitting marijuana cold turkey may help, your best option may be to reach out to a treatment provider that specializes in cannabis abuse treatment for professional guidance on how to quit. With the recovery expertise of a treatment provider, one can determine their best course of action when trying to stop using this drug.
Addiction Treatment for Marijuana Abuse
Sometimes, quitting marijuana is difficult to do alone. If you can’t seem to quit weed cold turkey, you may want to seek professional help to cease marijuana use. American Addiction Centers offers multiple forms of treatment to help those abusing marijuana that helps patients gain the skills to cope with craving and avoid their triggers. Therapy also helps improve on other skills, such as problem-solving and lifestyle management.
Addiction treatment providers may use several behavioral treatments to help those struggling with marijuana use, such as:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of behavioral therapy that focuses on treating a variety of mental health issues under the assumption that many problematic behaviors are borne from unhealthy thought patterns. With CBT, one can identify their negative thought patterns, learn healthier ways to cope with their emotions, and observe their negative thought patterns.9
Contingency management. Contingency management is a form of treatment that utilizes incentive and reward to reinforce healthy changes in an individual. When treated through a contingency management method, providers may give patients tangible rewards that reinforce their positive behaviors (like staying sober).
Motivational enhancement therapy. Motivational enhancement therapy strives to resolve any ambivalence toward treatment and prompt an internally-motivated desire to change in people suffering from substance abuse issues.10
The length of treatment will depend on individual usage.
Benefits of Quitting Marijuana
Quitting marijuana can help you regain your life; sometimes, people who struggle with substance abuse issues end up neglecting key areas of their life that used to bring them joy and satisfaction. Some of these areas might include career, personal growth, friendships, relationships with family members, intimate relationships, and more. Quitting marijuana can help you rekindle these bonds and commitments and achieve freedom from addiction.
Quitting marijuana can help you achieve better sleep quality. Some studies suggest that marijuana interferes with your body’s REM sleep cycles, sometimes disrupting your quality or depth of sleep. Sleep is an integral part of the body and brain’s health and overall recovery. Giving up weed might help you sleep better.11
Quitting marijuana can protect your memory from worsening. Some studies suggest that THC exposure over long periods may quicken age-related loss of hippocampal neurons. In turn, this can impact your ability to process information and form memories. By giving up weed, your memory may improve and may be less likely to worsen.12
How To Help Someone Else Stop Smoking Weed
To help someone else quit smoking or ingesting marijuana in any form, you may wish to start by educating yourself on substance abuse, marijuana abuse, and the potential impacts of long term marijuana use. You may also attend Codependents Anonymous (CODA) or Al-Anon meetings to ensure that you’re caring for yourself, as well as setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, while trying to help someone else who may have a problem with smoking weed.
You can also speak with the person you love who you’d like to help recover from weed abuse to let them know you’re concerned for them and the amount of marijuana they consume. Last, you can help this person seek proper treatment options or find treatment options to bring to this person.
Find Marijuana Rehab Near You
One solution to the unpleasantness and potential unpredictability of withdrawal is to undergo the process with the supervision and support of a comprehensive rehabilitation program. The support and care offered through professional rehabilitation may help people better manage the withdrawal period, which might otherwise prove to be a significant hurdle to ongoing recovery efforts. Though presently there are no pharmacologic interventions approved for managing cannabis withdrawal or that specifically treat cannabis use disorders, close supervision, medications for certain symptom relief, and other supportive care measures can help to pave the way for long-term recovery.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). What Is the Scope of Marijuana Use in the United States?
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (April 8, 2020). How Does Marijuana Produce Its Effects?
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2019). Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (July 2, 2020). Is Marijuana Addictive?
Bonnet, Udo, and Ulrich W Preuss. (April 27, 2017). The Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome: Current Insights.
Partnership to End Addiction | Where Families Find Answers. Study: Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms Common in Teens Treated for Substance Use
American Psychological Association. (2017). What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (January 2018). Contingency Management Interventions/Motivational Incentives (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opioids, Marijuana, Nicotine).
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (January 2018). Motivational Enhancement Therapy (Alcohol, Marijuana, Nicotine).
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2014). Marijuana Use Can Affect Sleep Quality.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). What are Marijuana’s Long Term Effects on the Brain?
About The Contributor: Amelia Sharp Author, American Addiction Centers Amelia Sharp is a Senior Web Editor at American Addiction Centers.