“The tremors affect everything,” 23-year-old Martijn tells me, speaking about his weed withdrawals, a condition most people don’t know exists. “I can’t sit normally at home without shaking constantly, which is very disturbing. When I’m working or going out with friends, I’m always just focusing on my body shaking — and when I go outside, every cold breeze makes my skin crawl.”
This isn’t Martijn’s only destabilizing side effect since attempting to quit weed a few weeks ago. He also lists cold sweats, a poor appetite, high anxiety, trouble sleeping and boredom as symptoms of his quitting. He even tells me they’ve been so bad that he’s relapsed, explaining that he “lasted around a week before smoking again.”
It was only at the beginning of the pandemic, around March 2020, that Martijn started smoking regularly — specifically, three to four joints a day (it actually all began with homemade edibles, but he quickly moved onto smoking). “I did this daily for six months,” he explains, “and then I quit. That time, I had mild symptoms that didn’t bother me, like a lack of motivation, less appetite and excessive sweating. But they only lasted for a couple of days.” Then, another six months after he first quit, Martijn started smoking again, which is where he’s at now, minus the recent attempt to curb the habit. He says that while he can cope with the other withdrawal symptoms — “for example, you can go to the gym to make yourself hungry and tired” — the shaking is having a ruinous effect on his day-to-day life.
Although weed is famously touted as non-addictive — the drug itself doesn’t tend to be physiologically habit-forming, but users can become psychologically and behaviorally dependent on it — many regular smokers can experience nasty withdrawal symptoms when they quit. But, explains Adam Waugh, the core team lead at harm-reduction charity PsyCare UK, unlike other drugs like alcohol, heroin or meth, “cannabis withdrawal symptoms aren’t medically serious.”
“When someone is physically dependent on alcohol and suddenly stops drinking, they can develop a severe withdrawal that includes hallucinations and seizures, and it can cause death if untreated,” he says. “With cannabis withdrawal, people typically lose their appetite, struggle to sleep and feel anxious, tired and unwell.”
But while the symptoms aren’t life-threatening, it doesn’t mean they can’t be debilitating. For 22-year-old Sebastian (not his real name) from Australia, the withdrawals are putting a hindrance on his usual routine. “I’ve been unable to work some days,” he tells me. “The loss of appetite combined with vomiting has caused me to lose huge amounts of weight, and the fever dreams have been disrupting my sleep schedule tremendously.”
Sebastian has been a daily smoker for the “better part of the last decade,” and has had several periods of sobriety during that time. Although he always suffers some side effects, he says they’ve been especially bad recently. Two weeks ago, after a six-month period of smoking a lot, he decided to have a hiatus in an attempt to “sort some personal shit out.” Since then, he hasn’t been able to sleep for more than three hours a night, has been experiencing “bad cravings, anxiety and irritability,” and has endured “extreme chills and sweats, constant vomiting, migraines and stomach pain.” He also has no desire to eat, and is suffering from “a lot of bad, intrusive thoughts.”
In fairness, Sebastian blames some of these side effects on nicotine withdrawals, as he usually smokes his joints with tobacco in them. “This doesn’t mix well going cold turkey off weed, because it’s also like quitting smoking tobacco cold turkey, too,” he says.
Martijn and Sebastian aren’t alone — there are plenty of Reddit threads by people seeking advice to alleviate their withdrawal symptoms, with titles like “Day Eight of Weed Withdrawal… This Feels Hopeless,” “Weed Withdrawal Is Kicking My Ass,” and bizarrely, “Weed Withdrawals Make You Want to End Your Marriage?” For Sebastian, the main solution is exercise. “It helps burn off that erratic energy you get from withdrawals and, in my experience, also helps to minimize cravings, makes you sleep better and alleviates anxiety,” he explains. “I’ve also found that taking CBD oil helps with intrusive thoughts and cravings.” Another key thing, says Sebastian, is to make sure there’s no weed easily accessible — that way, “you don’t have to resist a temptation that isn’t there.”
Waugh supports Sebastian’s suggestion to exercise. “There isn’t really any ‘quick fix’ for cannabis withdrawal symptoms,” he says. “They can be unpleasant, but they usually pass within a week or 10 days. The best thing to do is to try and eat food — even if you’re not hungry — exercise a bit and keep yourself distracted.”
Not everyone gets weed withdrawal symptoms, though, and Waugh says some people are “much more sensitive” to it than others. “Someone who’s particularly sensitive to cannabis withdrawal symptoms may start getting a mild withdrawal reaction — such as low level anxiety — after a week or so of daily use,” he explains. “But many people can take cannabis fairly regularly and stop without having any withdrawal symptoms. The people who tend to have worse withdrawals are people who consume quite a lot of cannabis — e.g., 0.5 grams or more per day — for long periods of time.”
For better or worse, Sebastian says the temporarily crippling withdrawal symptoms never put him off coming back to weed (and then going on hiatus, and so on, and so on). “I always return to weed, simply because I enjoy it a lot,” he says. “There’s no better way to relax after work than to smoke a bit of weed.”
And then, six months later, be unable to work because of it. The circle of life!