Marijuana Withdrawal - When Cheech and Chong Goes Wrong

Some say there’s no hope with dope. But for people who’ve toked for years, there’s hope if you want to quit dope.

Most stoners seek to cut back first. Certain people refer to this as harm reduction. For pothead purists like myself, this never worked. I’d always delay my cutback tactics until tomorrow. And tomorrow never seemed to come.

I remember the first time my mom compared me and my stoner partner-in-crime to Cheech and Chong. I should have done some serious introspection after that. I didn't. And my Cheech and Chong lifestyle went wrong. Fast.

When I finally quit smoking bud for good, I didn’t feel too good. Insomnia was the most obvious marijuana withdrawal symptom. With insomnia came mental difficulties, like inability to focus or remember things. A pothead with poor memory, imagine that?

I’ve got nothing against the good herb. When I worked in the beer business, we had a saying. “Drunk drivers kill people, stoned drivers miss their exit.” That statement is actually true. I missed *a lot* of exits. When I realized life on the couch as an aspiring movie critic wasn’t panning out as planned, I decided to quit.

Truth is, my problem wasn’t quitting marijuana, I’d quit for periods of time – 6 months here, 6 months there. The issue was staying quit. I’d invariably return to those skunk-scented female plants, eyes red and brain dead.

For someone like me who smoked wizard pot like Gandalf for over a decade, marijuana withdrawal symptoms were inevitable.

Questions remain about the precise nature of cannabis withdrawal syndrome, as the scientific community terms it. A recent scholarly article, however, states that, “Converging evidence from basic laboratory and clinical studies indicates that a withdrawal syndrome reliably follows discontinuation of chronic heavy use of cannabis or tetrahydrocannabinol.” Translation from super-smart scientific lingo: habitual marijuana users who quit don’t feel too good.

Here’s a quick overview of commonly reported marijuana withdrawal symptoms from firsthand accounts, research and scholarly articles. I’ve also included some strategies to combat the unease that accompanies marijuana detox, some of which came from personal experience, others coming from detox testimonials around the web.

Full disclosure: to combat cannabis withdrawal syndrome, you’ll have to get off the couch.

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Insomnia

My insomnia came in the form of difficulty falling asleep. Once I fell asleep, I was fine. Dreams were much more vivid.

What to do to help?

  • Hot bath- do it right before bed and eat a snack afterwards.
  • Melatonin- never helped me, but some people swear by it.
  • See a doctor- There’s nothing like an honest conversation with your friendly family practitioner. Let the doc know you’ve decided to quit marijuana and may need temporary insomnia medication. If you are prescribed medication, make sure to ask your doctor whether it is habit-forming. You don’t want to go from pothead to Ambien zombie.
  • Exercise- try to avoid exercise in the afternoon or evening hours though, and especially before bed.
  • Meditation- I’ve been practicing for a long time now. I sleep better. Think better. Feel better. Funny thing is, when I meditate for 20-30 minutes in the morning, I feel almost like I’m stoned throughout the day. Natural highs do exist. It simply requires a little discipline to sit for 20 minutes in the morning. Some say, “if you’re too busy to meditate for 20 minutes a day, meditate for an hour.”

Depression

Marijuana releases the feel good brain chemical dopamine. THC acts on the brain’s reward system by binding to certain receptors, causing a chain of events that ultimately delivers the “high.”

Some research suggests that, over time, the body can become dependent on marijuana to release dopamine.

That’s bad news for heavy abusers seeking to cut back or quit. Reduced dopamine levels usually cause depression. So it’s no surprise many people who cut back or quit report depression.

As far as marijuana withdrawal symptoms go, this is probably the one that causes most people to fail. It’s difficult to suffer through depression when you know relief is just a toke away. But talk to anyone who doesn’t live in a purple haze anymore. There’s a good chance they’ll tell you about drastic improvement in quality of life.

What to do to help?

  • Talk to a friend- not your stoner buddies. Hopefully you have friends who don’t smoke pot. If you don’t, make some. Open lines of dialogue with a friend allows you to confide in someone during the cessation process.

This brings up a good point. People who receive support when quitting a substance tend to do better than ones that don’t.

Think of it like this. Those nature channels always show herds of animals sticking together to ensure survival. One breaks off from the herd and gets torn to shreds by predators. People who reach out, find support and join the herd of recovering stoners stand a better chance of maintaining an herb-free lifestyle.

There’s plenty of support groups, like Marijuana Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous.

You can also find support online. I strongly recommend Reddit’s r/leaves, a community devoted to those trying to put down the bong for good.  

Loss of appetite/weight loss

This one is pretty self-explanatory. You won’t get the munchies anymore. For those of us who’ve gone on munchies stampedes and devoured 12 Krystal’s, 2 Wendy’s Spicy Chicken sandwiches and more French fries than a potato farmer (definitely not me), this might not sound too appealing.

Munchies are a staple of the stoner lifestyle, which is why weed is the fast food industries’ #1 salesperson.

I can assure you as someone who eats approximately 487% less fast food now that I’ve quit weed that it’s a good thing. After a few days you won’t miss it. Neither will your cholesterol level.

What to do to help?

Appetite will return to normal after a week or so. There’s really no need to combat this one. But if it’s really bothering you…

  • Exercise- Nothing snags the hunger bug like a little physical activity.

Anxiety

For me, social communication was just a little awkward after I quit smoking herb. As a partially reclusive stoner, my interactions with the world consisted of random, pseudo-profound Facebook status updates and philosophical debates in my head.

I felt a lot like C3PO at first. Dialogues with earthlings felt robotic. When something was said to me, I could almost hear my brain computing the programmed response.

Anxiety bouts decreased with time away from marijuana.  

What to do to help?

  • Fight the urge to isolate- A lot of people deal with anxiety with isolation. Social situations tend to bring on the nerves. Try to resist the urge to isolate and get out with people who don’t smoke pot.
  • Meditation- this is becoming a recurring theme, isn’t it? Meditation is clinically proven to reduce levels of anxiety.
  • Exercise- physical activity is also clinically proven to reduce anxiety.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine- I should probably take my own advice here, as I tend to drink a little too much coffee. But during the few week or so of marijuana cessation, try and avoid a lot of caffeine.
  • Listen to calming music- avoid the death metal and scroll down that iPod to a mellow track. As a recovering pothead, there should be no lack of relaxing tunes.

Irritability

When I was smoking weed, I felt a lot like the Big Lewbowski. Mellow. Smooth. Witty.

When weed went away, I discovered I wasn’t as laid back as I thought. In the days after I quit, I was much more likely to get frustrated over things I didn’t care about before. Two semi-trucks driving side by side on the roads, keeping people from passing? On weed, that was far out. Off weed, I fantasized about running them off the road and calling my congressman to change the law that let trucks drive in the left lane.

What to do to help?

  • Fish oil- there is evidence that fish oil helps mood and promotes positive attitude. There’s also evidence it helps the brain. Two good reasons to incorporate fish oil into your diet once you start quitting marijuana.
  • Exercise- it’s a fact that exercise enhances mood.
  • Meditation- you don’t have to be a monk to do it.
  • Eat- even if your appetite is off, make sure to eat 3 regular meals. Hungry equals angry for this recovering stoner.

Here’s the good news if you put the pot away for good…

Marijuana Sobriety Symptoms

  • More money
  • Increased motivation
  • No need to borrow a friend's urine for job-related drug tests
  • Better work ethic
  • Improved mental acuity
  • Improved quality of life
  • Improved taste in music
  • No more Visine
  • Actual skunk smell when driving on the road will smell appealing, not disgusting

Hope you enjoyed my attempt at a humorous take on marijuana withdrawal. It's really nothing to geek out about because many people who try to quit don't get through the inital discomfort. If you're serious about quitting, start by taking a brief inventory. What are the pros and cons of quitting? Why should I quit? 

Get a gameplan together and follow it. And remember, the more support you have, the more likely you are to succeed! Feel free to send me an email if you'd like more direction on ways to quit marijuana. At the time of this article, I have not used cannabis for 797 consecutive days. 

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