By now, you have likely experienced some form of withdrawal symptoms. You may be wondering why you feel so terrible or be tempted to use again to alleviate these symptoms. Though it won’t address your symptoms directly, it may help to understand the neurochemistry underlying withdrawal and, consequently, how returning to cannabis would be a setback on a neurochemical level.
THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, signals in your body through a series of receptors, termed cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). CB1 is primarily expressed in the brain, while CB2 is present on peripheral nerves and immune cells. Your body naturally produces several compounds that are similar in structure to THC and signal through these same receptors. Collectively, these signaling pathways are referred to as the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS). Though not completely understood, the ECS is now thought to play an important role in the maintenance of sleep, mood, appetite, and memory. When you smoke, THC stimulates changes in all these domains to create the experience of being high.
The withdrawal symptoms you have experienced are a direct consequence of these previously desired effects of THC. Consistent smoking leads to continued stimulus through the CB receptors, and in response, your body naturally downregulates their expression on cells over time as a protective mechanism. After you quit, the strong THC stimulus was removed, and only your endogenous cannabinoids were left to signal through a diminished number of receptors. This results in dampened ECS activity and thus dysregulation in sleep, mood, appetite, and other bodily functions, which creates the syndrome of withdrawal.
Rest assured, though, these changes are not permanent. In fact, withdrawal symptoms signify that your brain is re-equilibrating back to baseline. Although it may be tempting to smoke to alleviate these symptoms in the short-term, it would ultimately be a setback to all the progress both you and your brain have made so far. Stay strong.