Early on in the marijuana withdrawal process, mood symptoms can start to manifest, and range from irritability to depression to anxiety. Within just 24 hours of stopping marijuana, you may feel that your thoughts are trapped in a loop, or that you can’t stop worrying about issues that normally wouldn’t bother you. For others, nervousness may manifest as being more on edge: you may find that you are more easily irritated, or that you respond to situations with out-of-character anger, which may entail verbal or physical aggression.
As many as 3 in 4 people who use marijuana regularly will feel anxious and on edge within 24 to 72 hours of abruptly stopping. Feelings of anxiety typically persist and peak within the first week of quitting but will gradually resolve and diminish within two weeks (Budney, J Abnorm Psychol, 2003). In some people, however, symptoms can continue, or even worsen, over the first month of abstinence. There are several reasons you may be experiencing all of these symptoms.
First, irritability and anxiety are common across all substance use disorders and reflect the shared neural mechanism of removing a potent positive stimulus. Much of the anxiety you are experiencing therefore has to do with recalibration of the neurotransmitter balances in your brain.
Second, you may have used marijuana as a tool to mitigate the negative feelings of stress or sadness in your everyday life. Maybe you smoked to dull your feelings of nervousness, or to take the edge off for a little while. Once the marijuana wore off, though, that anxiety returned, and restarted a vicious cycle of dependence.
With cessation of marijuana, everyday stressors can seem heightened, and withdrawal related anxiety can be a major source of temptation to self-medicate with marijuana. In fact, the anxiety-relieving effects of marijuana may be a huge factor in which you began using in the first place. Now, while you in the midst of anxiety, is the time to hold firm, and break the cycle. Remember that self-medicating with marijuana isn’t addressing the underlying problem, and that using only serves to delay your anxiety further down the line.
Try and find alternative ways to cope with the negative feelings caused by withdrawal. Consider ways of relaxing your body or mind when you feel anxiety creeping in, or perhaps find comfort and support in your family and friends. No matter what, don’t fall for the trick of self-medicating your withdrawal-induced anxiety.
You will thank yourself later for saying no in the moment.