Back in 1994, there were lots of things we were undecided about: Raves, were they the pied-piper of the techno-tribal revolution, or unrelenting embarrassment? Bill Clinton—corrupt, lying philanderer, or charming, lying philanderer? Brenda or Kelly? Zima or death?
For its part, the DSM-IV, the standard psychiatric diagnosis manual, was undecided whether the marijuana habit could be kicked cleanly or whether there would be consequences. In the run-up to the next revision, there was a flurry of studies on marijuana withdrawal, including ones that looked at the general population of users, adolescents, and even “non-treatment-seeking adult cannabis smokers.”
By the time the DMS-5 was released in 2013, the jury was in and there was a new entry: Cannabis withdrawal syndrome.
Evoking images of innocent teen-aged lives ruined by the allure of “jazz cigarettes” and dangerous “race music,” the idea of marijuana withdrawal has often been dismissed as a legacy anti-drug hysteria, from Reefer Madness to Just Say No. Nevertheless, clinicians have documented some 40 symptoms associated with quitting marijuana use—which range from the troubling (aggression and other mood disorders) to the trivial (excessive yawning) to the downright scatological (runny nose and diarrhea). The DSM-5 recognizes just seven symptoms: irritability, weight loss, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms (including fever, chills, stomach- and headache). You’ll be happy to know that diarrhea did not make the cut.
Compared with the torment of opioid withdrawal and the potentially deadly alcoholic DTs, cannabis withdrawal is relatively mild. Only about half of heavy users who go cold turkey will even experience withdrawal symptoms of any kind. If you’re one of the unlucky fifty percent, expect your symptoms to peak anywhere between a week to 10 days. They might even linger for a month.
“Mild” withdrawal symptoms does not mean “pleasant,” however, and marijuana detox can be a trial, for both the former user and those around them.