There isn’t evidence that a marijuana hangover actually exists. In some instances, people who have consumed very high doses of marijuana may experience residual effects the next day. Others say there is no such thing as a weed hangover.
People who have been using marijuana chronically can experience withdrawal, which includes many hangover-like effects when they stop use. This experience is known as cannabis withdrawal syndrome, and some people describe it as a marijuana hangover.
Marijuana is sometimes used medicinally, but it is more often used recreationally.
What Is Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome?
The presence of cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS) is a criterion of diagnosing a person with cannabis use disorder, per the DSM-IV. While not all marijuana users meet the criteria for cannabis use disorder, those who do develop a dependency on the drug can have a hard time trying to stop use when they want to get off the drug.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that marijuana users can experience mild withdrawal symptoms if they have developed a dependency on the drug.
These Symptoms Could Include:
- Marijuana cravings
- Appetite loss
- Gastrointestinal problems
These symptoms could last from one day to a few weeks, depending on how much marijuana was used and for how long. Most people experience these symptoms at mild-to-moderate severity levels, but they could become severe in heavier users or for those who have other complicating factors such as polysubstance abuse.
Prevalence of Withdrawal
A study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that among frequent marijuana users, 12.1 percent experienced cannabis withdrawal. The most common symptoms of withdrawal experienced by these participants were:
- Nervousness or anxiety at 76.3 percent
- Hostility or irritability at 71 percent
- Sleep problems at 68 percent
- Depression at 58.9 percent
Study participants who experienced CWS were also more likely to have co-occurring mood disorders and anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and family histories of depression. These indicators could be contributing risk factors for higher rates of CWS.
Although these symptoms may not present a physical danger to the person detoxing from marijuana, they can make the process of withdrawal unpleasant. They can also serve as a trigger for continued compulsive drug use and relapse.
When marijuana dependency has developed, the brain will trigger strong cravings for the drug as it seeks to reinforce more consumption of the substance. This can make it hard to resist relapsing, even when someone is highly motivated to try and stop using the substance. This is why addiction is considered a brain disorder.
What Is the Withdrawal Process Like?
Detoxing can be an uncomfortable process, but there are ways to take care of yourself and ease some of the symptoms associated with marijuana withdrawal. CWS includes mood and behavioral symptoms that can be light to moderate in intensity, depending on the severity and frequency of use patterns in the individual.
Marijuana withdrawal is usually treated in an outpatient setting, but some people may benefit from medical detox in an inpatient facility, depending on the severity of their risk factors. If the person has been using marijuana heavily for a long time or used it in conjunction with other substances, inpatient medical detox may be recommended.
An article in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation outlines what is known about cannabis withdrawal syndrome:
- People with dependency have cannabinoid receptors that have been desensitized and no longer function correctly. This desensitization begins to reverse after two days of abstinence and continues to improve to normal functioning within four weeks of abstinence.
- Women tend to experience stronger symptoms associated with withdrawal, including nausea and stomach pain.
- Those with comorbid mental illness, other medical disorders, or poor social functioning may require inpatient treatment for withdrawal.
- About 35 to 75 percent of people seeking outpatient detox developed CWS once they stopped using marijuana, which was stronger the longer and heavier their marijuana use history was.
Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CWS usually lasts up to two weeks, with the most severe symptoms peaking within the first three to four days. Symptoms are generally mild, but they can make it difficult for some people to stop using.
This is a general timeline of what you can expect while going through cannabis withdrawal, either at home or in a clinical setting:
- Days 1 to 3: During this time, people may experience irritability, headaches, fatigue, and restlessness.
- Days 4 to 7: Cravings may intensify, and insomnia may start to disrupt sleep. People may experience nausea, hostility, and anxiety.
- Days 8 to 21: There may be ongoing cravings for marijuana. Hostility and anxiety may continue. Depression symptoms may start to appear, and relapse potential may be high.
Tips for Dealing With the Marijuana Hangover
Whether termed a marijuana hangover or withdrawal, the symptoms are essentially the same. Here are tips for how to deal with it:
- Take any medications you have available to treat your symptoms, such as over-the-counter headache or nausea medicines.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water and avoid alcohol
- Exercise when you feel up to it. Walking, stretching, yoga, and biking are all good activities to promote overall wellness during this time
- Rest and take naps. Your body is processing substances, so make sure you give it time to recover
- Use cold compresses and ice packs to treat excessive sweating
- Talk to your support system. Use recovery groups, your clinical team members, and supportive family members and friends to talk about your feelings when you start to feel overwhelmed and irritable
- Listen to your body. You may be experiencing cravings, so try to recognize and acknowledge those cravings. Find something to distract or comfort you.
What Medications Are Used?
More research is needed to determine what medications are most beneficial to treat marijuana withdrawal. Some medications that have been identified as potential therapies for CWS include:
- Mirtazapine. This can be used to treat insomnia associated with withdrawal.
- Gabapentin. This is still being researched as a potential treatment for CWS, but it has shown potential benefits in initial studies.
Other medications have been studied to treat marijuana withdrawal, such as antidepressants, lithium, buspirone, divalproex, atomoxetine, and venlafaxine. Venlafaxine has been shown actually to make withdrawal symptoms worse. Other medications have not been shown to have any significant effect.
Does Marijuana Withdrawal Require Medical Detox?
Many people can detox from marijuana at home without complications. If marijuana is the only substance a person has been consuming, they will likely be able to detox from marijuana at home or with outpatient oversight using a combination of rest, hydration, and over-the-counter or natural remedies to ease symptoms of withdrawal.
Marijuana may remain in your body for up to 30 days after the last dose is taken, so some withdrawal symptoms could last this long. Marijuana cravings could continue for years after use has stopped due to the neural pathways that have developed in brain circuitry during active substance abuse.
If you want to get off marijuana and are concerned about experiencing cannabis withdrawal syndrome or a marijuana hangover, talk with your doctor or an addiction treatment professional about your options. Depending on how long you have been using and what your individual risk factors are, you may be able to detox at home with oversight from an outpatient program.
In some circumstances, your risk factors may indicate that you should consider medical detox in a supervised setting to ensure your comfort throughout the process.