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Marijuana Withdrawal Syndrome: Symptoms and Causes

Marijuana Withdrawal Syndrome: Symptoms and Causes

December 9, 2023

The consumption of any drug is harmful for the person regardless of the type or frequency of consumption. However, when these habits cease, quite unpleasant symptoms may also appear.

In the case of cannabis, the consequences of the cannabis withdrawal syndrome They do not have to be as serious as those caused by heroin or cocaine. However, they tend to be quite disabling. Next, we explain this syndrome, its symptoms, its causes and its treatment.

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What is the withdrawal syndrome to marijuana?

We understand marijuana abstinence syndrome the reaction that originates in the body when a consumer addicted to this substance stops taking it abruptly .

This reaction can be more or less intense depending on the level of addiction of the person, and manifested by physical and psychological withdrawal syndromes.

Withdrawal syndrome It does not have to appear in all those people who stop using marijuana . However, the longer this substance has been smoked, the more likely it is that the symptoms of this syndrome will appear.

The severity of the symptoms is not usually as important as in other substances such as alcohol or cocaine. Likewise, the intensity of these will vary from one person to another . For example, a person with a very mild dependence on cannabis may not suffer symptoms or may be so mild that he can manage them himself.

On the other hand, all those consumers who have developed a severe cannabis use disorder or an addiction to it, will undoubtedly require treatment by a professional.

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How does marijuana work?

Marijuana is a substance that is made from the hemp plant or cannabis. This is considered as one of the most widely used drugs in the world , seeing the number of consumers increased year after year.

The most common form of consuming marijuana is smoked either alone or accompanied by tobacco. However, in recent years there has been a tendency to drink it or ingest it as an ingredient in some culinary preparations such as confectionery.

Due to its effects, cannabis is considered a psychoactive substance. That is, it alters the brain functions of the person who consumes it. Although a single plant contains more than 400 different chemicals, Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main active chemical component causing changes in the body.

When a person smokes marijuana, this component present in aspirated smoke is absorbed by the lungs, which transfer it to the bloodstream. Once in the blood, THC reaches the brain where it acts on cannabinoid receptors.

THC gives way to a series of brain chemical reactions that lead the person to experience a feeling of happiness and absolute relaxation very characteristic of this drug.

This pleasant sensation is due to the fact that the majority of cerebral areas involved in the experimentation of pleasure, the perception of the senses and time, thoughts, concentration, memory and movements, they are the ones that cannabinoid receptors harbor the entire brain .

One of the main drawbacks of THC is that this is deposited in the fat cells , so the body needs much more time to eliminate them compared to other narcotics.

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What symptoms does this syndrome have?

The symptomatology associated with the withdrawal syndrome to marijuana is very varied and its appearance varies according to the level of consumption of the person. These symptoms can be divided into psychological symptoms or physical symptoms.

Psychological symptoms

  • Irritability .
  • Sudden reactions of aggressiveness.
  • Sensation of anxiety .
  • Sensation of sadness or depression.
  • Alterations of sleep (insomnia, nightmares, etc).
  • Tiredness or extreme fatigue.
  • Decreased appetite .

Physical symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating .
  • Stomach ache.
  • Nausea and vomiting .
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Fever.

Of all these symptoms, insomnia and depression are the most characteristic of the withdrawal syndrome to marijuana, as well as nightmares and irritability.As for physical symptoms, headaches are usually common and may remain for weeks.

Through excessive sweating, the body tries to eliminate the toxins that this substance infers in the body naturally.

How is it diagnosed?

There are a series of pre-established guidelines for the diagnosis of marijuana abstinence syndrome. These guidelines consist of a physical examination and the formulation of a series of questions about the symptoms. Likewise, the medical staff can request a blood or urine test .

Regarding the diagnostic criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the person must meet a series of criteria or requirements to be able to be diagnosed with this syndrome. These requirements are the following.

Criterion A

There must have been an abrupt cessation in the use of marijuana. In addition, this consumption must have been chronic for several months .

Criterion B

The person must have 3 or more of the following symptoms for one week after cessation of use:

  • Anger or aggressiveness .
  • Symptoms of anxiety.
  • Problems sleeping .
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss.
  • Depressive mood .
  • Restlessness.

In addition, all these symptoms have to be accompanied by at least one of these physical symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain .
  • Muscle contractions or tremors.
  • Hyperhidrosis .
  • Fever.
  • Headaches

Criterion C

The symptoms mentioned above should generate a clinically significant discomfort in the patient , as well as interfering with the usual operation of this.

Criterion D

Marijuana abstinence syndrome will be diagnosed when all the above criteria can not be better explained by another disorder, condition or disease , including abstinence from other substances.


Because the symptoms of this syndrome are mild in most cases, Most patients try to control this symptomatology on their own . However, and especially in the most serious cases, the treatment of professionals will favor the rapid remission of symptoms and increase the probability of success.

These withdrawal symptoms can be treated with medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , always prescribed by a doctor, who will review each case conveniently. It is also important that the person drink plenty of water and try to maintain rest.

The psychological support will help the patient to maintain the motivation and prevent him from relapsing into the use of marijuana or other drugs.

Bibliographic references:

  • Curran, H.V., Freeman, T. P., Mokrysz, C., Lewis, D.A., Morgan, C.J.A., Loren H. Parsons (2016). Keep off the grass? Cannabis, cognition and addiction. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 17 (5), pp. 293-306.

THC induced hyperemesis syndrome (December 2023).

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