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The Deeply Unchill Things That Happened When I Tried to Quit Weed

One cliché that I know about is that “things change in an instant.” Another cliché that I know about is that clichés are true. Three Saturdays ago, I spent the entire day in bed, constantly packing bowls of weed, compulsorily smoking them, and watching increasingly bleak and uninteresting TV shows from sunrise to bedtime, feeling self-loathing and like shit.

After four years of having days like this often—punctuating my daily routine of leaving work and immediately getting my hands around my amethyst crystal pipe, which I purchased via Etsy for $100—it just hit me: Weed is sort of ruining my life. I noticed the thought and sat with it, unsure of what would happen next.

Before that moment, I had been making some slight tweaks to my lifestyle for the sake of my mental health. I started seeing a therapist, exercising regularly, and getting acupuncture. The day after I smoked myself sick, I happened to have an appointment for the latter. After I sat in the waiting area for some time, my acupuncturist, Max, came out from behind reception to greet me. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked me if I was enjoying the weather, which had been sunny and warm for a few days despite it being winter. I said yes, and joked about how I had spent the day prior shrouded in darkness and was making up for lost time. Then I got serious, and the words kind of just fell out of my mouth: “I love weed… But I think I need to quit?” As I said it aloud, I scared myself.

Max and I were previously working on getting my Qi flowing in such a way as to make me less depressed and anxious. (The first time I went to him, I was high, and my experience with acupuncture was amazing. He stuck a needle in my head, a few others in my arms, my hands, and my feet, and I felt like the concept of a “third eye” was totally real and mine was open.)

He gently pointed out that my weed use was probably contributing to my problems. And although I agreed, which is why I just confessed to him, all the good times I had with weed flashed across my mind like memories of a lover immediately preceding an inevitable break-up; in my head, I was holding onto a “dank nug” that had arms and we were spinning around in slow motion. Outside of my reverie, Max was saying that he was going to stick some needles in my ears to make it easier for me to say goodbye to my beloved drug, and I nodded. It was time.

I love weed… But I think I need to quit?

The auricular treatment was extremely unpleasant, and I sort of felt like I was hanging upside down for an hour. When Max finally took the needles out, I earnestly felt rescued. I left feeling optimistic and insane. I was quitting weed! Outside on the street, I called my boyfriend, Rion, and told him I was leaving my stoner lifestyle behind, at least for a good chunk of time. He was shocked, but also happy; he seemed to always hate when I smoked, which was all the time. “I’m going to get my girlfriend back,” he said.

When I got back to my apartment, I took my weed and bowl off of my nightstand and tucked it into a dresser drawer. It didn’t occur to me to throw it away as some sort of grand gesture. It was February. I would quit for a month, maybe two, and then check in with myself to see how to proceed, I thought. Maybe I could even celebrate my triumph of will on 4/20.

I saw my therapist on Tuesday and told her the news. I think I said something about how I wanted to “try to have a better relationship with weed.” Instead of smoking every day, perhaps a short break would help me learn to imbibe in moderation?

She smiled and replied that it typically didn’t work like that, implying that I should consider dropping the habit altogether. Weed isn’t so much a treatment for depression as it is an avoidance of the treatment of depression, she said. I told her I planned to stop for a month and then see how I feel. She said that was a good idea, and she was proud of me. Now, she added, I would be “feeling feelings”; I was taking a step in the right direction.

I nodded, and started to consider what my life would look like without weed… for good. It seemed unfortunate and unbearable because weed makes everything so much more fun. Like, that’s basically a rule of nature. But maybe that’s why she was right.

When I got home from work that day, I craved weed vaguely. I was triggered, I joked to myself, by the memories of my old routine. Instead of smoking, I looked at the Reddit page for people who are trying to quit weed—which was a mistake! Horrifyingly, there were all these posts that said the symptoms of weed withdrawal—which I was already experiencing big time—would last for months. My sleep had been poor. My throat was sore and it seemed like I had the flu, or something. My lungs hurt periodically and I was cranky. But it could be worse, I gathered: Some of the denizens of r/leaves were writing about how they were coughing up resin.

On the third day of being sober, I woke up to Rion prodding me at 6:30 AM, making extremely urgent facial expressions and arm movements. For some reason, we had masochistically decided the night before to try and get to the gym before work. Reluctantly, I sat up in bed and made a big show of unhappiness. I had hardly gotten any sleep in between strange dreams, though it was better than the first night, when I had a panic attack. The melatonin I started taking, in lieu of a fat bowl, helped.

I got up, walked to the bathroom, and, when I got to the doorway, turned on the lights. As I acutely felt the electromagnetic radiation burning holes in my eyes, I recoiled and flipped the switch back. Then, in the dark, I proceeded to walk into the tiled wall near the shower, headfirst, and collapsed to the floor crying. It didn’t even hurt.

Still, I made it to the gym and then to work, but the rest of the day I felt tired and bad. At the time I just thought it was because I woke up too damn early in order to go workout during Real Achievers Hours, which I certainly had no business doing. (The place was swamped with blondes in eerily match-y, and expensive, workout clothes, carrying those big leather totes. I feel confident that even if I stop identifying as a stoner, I will always identify as a slacker. I don’t think I desire to become ambitious. I’m just trying to have peace.)

In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that it was a withdrawal side effect, because the next day I felt equally exhausted. I dragged myself to a DSA meeting after work when all I really wanted to do was sleep. I met up with my comrade, Andrew, who smokes as much as I used to. I told him I had quit weed a few days ago and his face dropped a little.

“Wow, I’m sad,” he said.

But when I thought about the current moment—I was outside my apartment, with a friend, getting ready to discuss tactics to resist the president and protect and improve our communities—I had to give being sober its due. Before Sunday, if I was tired, I would probably just flake on whatever plans I had and go home and smoke.

One of several weed-related t-shirts I own. I have also spent $200 weed leaf earrings and far too much money ($15) on these.

It’s been a little over three weeks without pot, and I’m still feeling the effects of THC leaving my system. It’s hard to even write this. I’m tired, my concentration is terrible, and I feel so much dumber than I ever did when I was high.

I’ve been thinking of all the dramatic parts in Infinite Jest—David Foster Wallace’s tome about the things that we worship to get through this life, often counter to that aim—about weed addiction. When I read the book in earnest (and while stoned) last year, the passages seemed stupid to me, but they make sense now. I had always thought I could end my habit, which I refused to consider a habit, at will. I just didn’t see a reason to. It has, however, been a difficult thing for me to stop lighting up. I constantly think that the effects of detoxing from weed could be mitigated so easily… with weed! The nausea, the headaches, the mood swings, the loss of appetite.

My face is also breaking out, which is so annoying. Annoying, in fact, is an accurate word for what it feels like, to me, to go through weed withdrawal. It’s not overwhelmingly horrible, but it is wearing me down. I’ve missed a few days of work because of the vague awful feeling that hangs over me on a day-to-day basis. But I somehow I feel happier.

Also annoying is the fact that the bad TV I used to enjoy ironically just flat-out sucks now. “Shark Tank” is bad. “The Voice” is bad. Even “The Bachelor,” which I still watch while half-paying attention to it because I’m way too invested in Nick’s journey to stop now, is actually boring and bad. Of course, I still love television—it’s hard to escape escapism in all its forms, as ineffective a salve as it is. I hope to God that when the new season “Terrace House” is released on Netflix, I can still find joy in it. Watching less TV, however, is a welcome thing.

What has kept me from smoking again—relapsing?—is remembering how I got to the point where I wanted to stop. A depressed woman in Infinite Jest puts it this way, referring to weed in embarrassing 90s slang: “I’m getting more and more miserable and fed up with myself for smoking so much… I start getting high and thinking about nothing except how I have to quit smoking all this Bob so I can get back to work and start saying I’m here when people call, so I can start living some kind of damn life instead of just sitting around in pajamas pretending I’m sick like a third-grader and smoking and watching TP again…”

She is caught in a cycle of quitting and smoking and quitting and smoking, and I don’t want to be. Cannabis is a benign plant; it should be legal, and the people who use it should be free to do so. It has been proven to do so many wonderful things for so many people, but perhaps not for me.

Still, that’s hard for me to fully internalize, and deciding whether I’m actually quitting for life makes me uneasy. (How can weed be bad when it’s good?) At the end of week one, I went to acupuncture again and as I lay on the table, with needles placed slightly below my skin at points on my ears, forehead, hands, legs, and feet, I started thinking about weed, getting all kinds of ideas about reforming our relationship. Maybe I could just use it sacramentally, and create some sort of witchcraft ritual synchronized with the full moon? Maybe I could just observe 4/20, yearly? Am I being an insane addict?

I left not knowing the answer, and I still don’t. But I know that when I have to go through the drawer where I’ve stashed my weed, I don’t even consider pulling it out, though I note the good smell. I know my boyfriend says I seem like a more present person in subtle ways, withdrawal side effects aside. I know that everyone keeps saying they’re proud of me, and I love getting praise and compliments. My new addictions are therapy, exercise, and acupuncture, as I dedicate myself to at least a month of being weed-free. I keep telling myself that I won’t let things go back to the way they were.

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When I realized my weed use was completely out of control, I had to ask myself some hard questions. Will I ever be able to smoke again? Is life—God forbid—better sober? And what if "Shark Tank" isn't actually good?

How Long Does Withdrawal From Marijuana Last?

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Cannabis (marijuana) is the most commonly used illicit drug. For many years, marijuana has been considered a soft drug, exempt from the usual concerns about addiction. However, recent research has shown that cannabis withdrawal can and does occur when heavy pot smokers discontinue its use.

As a result, the diagnostic criteria for cannabis withdrawal is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5).  

Overview

If you have been smoking pot heavily for at least a few months—whether as a regular pattern, in binges, or if you have become addicted—you may experience cannabis withdrawal if you abruptly stop using.

A Duke University study of 496 adult marijuana smokers who tried to quit found that 95.5% of them experienced at least one withdrawal symptom while 43.1% experienced more than one symptom. The number of symptoms the participants experienced was significantly linked to how often and how much the subjects smoked prior to trying to quit.

Those who were daily smokers experienced the most symptoms, but even those who reported using marijuana less than once a week experienced some withdrawal symptoms of moderate intensity.

Signs & Symptoms

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening—their main danger is causing someone who really wants or needs to quit cannabis to relapse.

You might feel extra edgy and irritable, have trouble sleeping and eating, and may even get a stomachache or headache. Some people compare it to the feeling you get when you try to quit caffeine.

Although marijuana withdrawal typically lasts one to two weeks, some marijuana users experience several weeks or months of withdrawal symptoms, known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

One person’s experience of cannabis withdrawal might be quite different from another’s, and the severity depends on a whole host of factors, including frequency of use as well as overall health. However, there are certain common withdrawal symptoms that usually occur within 24 to 72 hours of stopping heavy use.

Cravings

Although many regular smokers of marijuana do not believe they are addicted to the drug, many former marijuana users report drug cravings in the early days of abstinence. The experience of cravings will vary from person to person, but tend to include a persistent desire to use the substance.

This is a hallmark of addiction, whether it’s heroin, alcohol, gambling, or sex addiction. In one study, 75.7% of participants trying to quit reported an intense craving for marijuana.

Irritability

Irritability can range from mild and relatively easy to control annoyance to excessive anger and even aggression. This is a normal reaction to withdrawing from marijuana.

If the irritability lasts for more than a week, it is a good idea to seek support from a doctor, drug counselor, or psychologist, as the symptom may be part of another issue that your cannabis use was masking.

More than half of those who try to quit marijuana report mood swings, irritability, or anxiety. Others report aggression, nervousness, restlessness, and a loss of concentration.

Anxiety

Anxiety can be a symptom of both cannabis intoxication and cannabis withdrawal.   The distinctive paranoid feelings that occur when high on marijuana are well known among users,.

It can be worrying when anxiety continues or worsens even after you quit. As with the irritability, it can be helpful to remember that your fears are probably a natural part of drug withdrawal.

If you continue to feel anxious after a week of discontinuing cannabis, see a doctor. Cannabis use can sometimes cause substance-induced anxiety disorders, and there may have been an existing anxiety problem before you started using cannabis.  

If you experience extended paranoia, especially if you also experience hallucinations or delusions, it is very important to be properly assessed by a mental health professional, ideally with expertise in substance issues   such as an American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM)-certified physician or a psychiatrist.

Depression

Depression, characterized by a persistently sad mood accompanied by several other symptoms like decreased interest in daily activities and difficulty concentrating, is another possibility of cannabis withdrawal.

Occasional depressed feelings are natural. It is not unusual for people coming off cannabis to also become more aware of some of the negative consequences of their drug use as well as emotional states the marijuana has been masking.

For example, some people who cease marijuana after using for several years can feel they have wasted a considerable part of their life. These feelings are normal and can often be used to bring about positive changes you want to make in your life.

If the feelings of depression don’t lift after a week or two, are impacting your functioning, or if making changes in your life seems overwhelming, seek help from your doctor or a drug counselor. As with other mood changes, depression can be substance-induced or pre-existing to your cannabis use, and it is treatable.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression and addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Sleep Problems

An estimated 46.9% of former pot smokers report sleep disruption problems, including insomnia (trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep), unusually vivid or disturbing dreams, and night sweats during cannabis withdrawal.

Others who have quit smoking report having “using dreams” in which they dream they smoke marijuana. Frequent, vivid dreams typically begin about a week after quitting and can last for about a month before tapering off. Although some former users have reported having these types of dreams years after they stopped smoking pot.

Insomnia symptoms after you stop using weed can last a few days or a couple of weeks. Some people find that they can experience occasional sleeplessness for a few months after quitting.

Headaches

Not everyone who stops smoking marijuana experiences headaches, but for those who do, the headaches can be very intense, especially during the first few days after quitting.

Headaches, like most other symptoms of withdrawing from marijuana use, will usually begin one to three days after quitting and will peak two to six days after stopping. Symptoms usually fade after two weeks, but some former smokers report continued symptoms for several weeks or even months later.

Other Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of marijuana withdrawal tend to be less intense, peak sooner, and fade more quickly than the psychological symptoms associated with quitting. The frequency and amount of marijuana used prior to stopping affect the severity and length of the withdrawals, which may include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as headache, sweating, shakiness and tremors, fever and chills

Coping & Relief

Making a few healthy lifestyle changes and employing some coping strategies can help you get through this period of withdrawal:

  • Stay physically active to help ease bodily tension.
  • Let friends and family members know when you need support or space.
  • Avoid situations that you find anxiety-provoking, such as loud, crowded parties.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation.
  • Establish sleep rituals and avoid caffeine too close to bedtime.

Warnings

There are no worrisome dangers in quitting marijuana cold-turkey or detoxing on your own. That said, consulting a medical professional can help you better manage the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal and prevent relapse.

Just as people with alcohol use disorder who are trying to quit drinking may pick up a drink to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, marijuana users may be tempted to light up a joint to relieve the discomfort they experience when they try to stop smoking pot.

One study found that 70.4% of users trying to quit smoking marijuana relapsed to relieve the withdrawal symptoms.

Long-Term Treatment

In many cases, the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal will dissipate with time and can be treated without medical attention. However, if your symptoms last for more than a couple of weeks, you should see your doctor or mental health professional.

Make sure you tell your doctor that marijuana withdrawal is playing a role in how you are feeling. If you just say you are depressed or anxious, you may be prescribed medication, like benzodiazepines, that can present its own set of dependence issues.

Fortunately, many non-addictive pharmacologic options exist for anxiety, as well as non-drug treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).  

Resources

If you have decided to quit smoking weed after regular use, chances are you will experience some kind of withdrawal symptoms. Depending on how much and how often you have been smoking, these symptoms could become intense enough to drive you to relapse to find relief.

But you don’t have to do it on your own. Seek help from your healthcare provider to deal with the physical symptoms of withdrawal or seek help from a support group like Marijuana Anonymous to handle the psychological symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal can be unpleasant and may temporarily interfere with performance at work, school, and daily life. While withdrawing from marijuana use can present challenges, remember that what you are going through will pass. Be patient. Making life changes is always challenging, but with the right support, they can be transformative.

Withdrawal from marijuana isn’t always easy, so here is everything you need to know about withdrawal symptoms, the timeline, and how to get help.