How to Stop Smoking Marijuana
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John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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While marijuana (also known as weed) is sometimes portrayed as relatively harmless, research has shown that it can have a number of negative effects on health. In addition to these health risks, there is also a potential for dependence and addiction.
If you want to quit smoking marijuana, there are several things you can do to improve your chances of success like tapering your use, quitting cold turkey (if you’re prepared to handle withdrawal symptoms), and finding healthier distractions.
This article explores some of these tactics for how to stop smoking weed as well as information on the withdrawal symptoms you may experience.
Choose How You Will Stop Smoking Marijuana
Once you decide to stop smoking weed, your first decision is to pick which approach is right for you and your needs. While some people may find giving up marijuana easier than others, your own experience may depend on whether you have developed a dependence or addiction to the substance.
Cannabis use disorder is more likely to develop in individuals who began smoking weed at a younger age or use the drug heavily. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that around 30% of people who use marijuana have a cannabis use disorder.
There are two common approaches to choose from when you are trying to stop smoking marijuana: tapering your use or quitting cold turkey.
Tapering Your Use
Tapering is a process that involves gradually reducing drug use by lowering the dose used over a period of time. The goal is to slowly allow a person’s body to become used to lower levels of the substance while minimizing drug withdrawal symptoms.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) generally favors a gradual tapering approach to help minimize severe withdrawal symptoms.
If you decide to try the gradual approach, there are some things you can do to help improve your chances of success.
- Give yourself a deadline. Pick a date that you would like to stop smoking weed for good. Then figure out how much you’ll have to cut back to quit by that date.
- Pick a tapering strategy. You might opt to cut back a certain amount each day or each week. You might also opt to switch to a lower-potency cannabis product.
Quitting Cold Turkey
This approach involves simply stopping the use of the drug. While quitting cold turkey isn’t easy and often leads to more intense withdrawal symptoms, there are some reasons people might choose this method.
For instance, it can be an effective way to stop your habit and get a fresh start. People who doubt their ability to reduce their marijuana use gradually may find this method more effective.
To quit smoking marijuana, you need to choose an approach that works for you. You can either gradually wean yourself off the drug or stop smoking cold turkey.
Prepare for Withdrawal When You Stop Marijuana
Once you decide to stop smoking weed, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the withdrawal symptoms you might experience as you give up the drug. By doing this, you’ll be better prepared mentally and can plan how you will deal with these symptoms.
Signs of Marijuana Withdrawal
- Appetite changes
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever, sweating, and chills
- Irritability and mood swings
- Sleep difficulties
- Weight loss or gain
Research suggests that up to 90% of people who are dependent on marijuana will experience withdrawal symptoms. People who use tobacco or other substances are more likely to experience withdrawal when they stop smoking marijuana.
For most people discontinuing their marijuana use, withdrawal symptoms will usually last for around one to two weeks. However, some people may continue to experience these symptoms for several weeks or even months, a phenomenon known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
Symptoms of withdrawal can be unpleasant and can derail your efforts to stop smoking weed. When the physical and psychological symptoms get bad enough, you might return to using the drug to find relief.
During this time, it can be helpful to have a plan that will help you stick to your recovery efforts. Look for ways to relieve your symptoms without turning to marijuana and consider reaching out to your healthcare provider for solutions that can help.
Reminding yourself that these feelings are temporary and that you will get better in a few days can help.
Understand Your Triggers
Whether you are tapering your use or quitting cold turkey, it is vital to be aware of the people, objects, or situations that can trigger drug cravings and use. Identifying these triggers and finding ways to avoid or cope with them can help you be more successful.
When you are trying to stop smoking marijuana, it is essential to get rid of any marijuana-related paraphernalia in your home. Getting rid of the drug itself is crucial, but you should also eliminate any pipes, bowls, bongs, vapes, and related products.
Having them readily available makes it easier and more tempting to give in to a drug craving.
It would help if you also spent some time thinking about the triggers that make you want to smoke marijuana. Are there certain times of day you’re more likely to smoke? Do you feel the urge to smoke more in specific settings, situations, or around certain people?
Once you are more aware of the things that trigger your drug use, you can plan to deal with those triggers. Sometimes this might involve avoiding or eliminating things that create pressure on you to smoke marijuana. In other cases, you’ll need to explore healthy coping mechanisms to help you manage your urges.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you do make a mistake and smoke again. Relapse is common for anyone who is trying to quit. Research has found that it usually takes people a few tries before they are successful.
A slip-up doesn’t mean that you’ve failed; it’s just a temporary setback. The key is to keep trying and find healthy ways to deal with triggers.
Healthier Ways to Cope
- Find ways to relax such as meditation, mindfulness, or deep breathing.
- Make time to engage in hobbies you enjoy.
- Spend time with people who support your recovery.
- Create boundaries with people who encourage drug use and make it hard to stick to your goals.
- Take care of yourself and make sure you are eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, and getting plenty of sleep.
- Consider getting peer support by joining a support group or a 12-step program.
Tips for Quitting Marijuana
No matter what strategy you decide to use to stop smoking marijuana, several techniques can help you stick to your goals. Some things you can try are listed below.
Finding ways to stay busy can help distract you from some of the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. It can also keep your mind off of the drug cravings that you might be experiencing.
Look for things that you can do that will help take your mind off smoking marijuana. If you usually smoke during specific periods, such as on the weekends, find activities that will help keep you occupied and distracted.
Creating a new routine can also be helpful when you are quitting a substance such as marijuana. Keeping a routine during stressful times can be important for your mental well-being, but sticking to old habits (those that featured regular drug use) can make recovery much more difficult.
When you are quitting marijuana, you may find that getting regular exercise can be helpful for various reasons.
First, it can act as a valuable distraction when cravings hit. It can also help you feel better and more energized as you cope with symptoms of withdrawal.
Some research also suggests that exercise may help complement other treatments for cannabis use disorder. Researchers indicate that since marijuana use can affect the systems that regulate stress and rewards, exercise might help reduce withdrawal symptoms, aid in stress management, and reduce drug cravings.
One small study published in the journal PLoS ONE found that moderate exercise curbed marijuana use and cravings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, which amounts to about 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week.
Care for Yourself
It can be challenging to deal with the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal, so caring for yourself is particularly important during this time. Make sure you are eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of rest.
When you find yourself struggling with stress or anxiety, try implementing some effective stress management techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
Also, focus on finding a sense of balance in your life. Practicing mindfulness, in which you learn to focus on the present moment and build a stronger sense of self-awareness, can help you become more in tune with your needs.
Your social support system can also play an important part in achieving your goals.
You might notice that some people in your life may be less supportive—particularly if much of your social life centers around marijuana use. In these cases, you may need to consider reevaluating some of your relationships and places where you spend your time.
Create boundaries with people who make it more challenging to quit. Talk to supportive friends about your goals. They can offer the encouragement and support that you need to be successful.
How to Get Help for Marijuana Addiction
If you want to stop smoking weed, it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to do it all on your own. Getting help from your healthcare provider or therapist can increase your chances of successfully quitting marijuana.
Start by talking to your doctor or mental health professional about your treatment options.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of marijuana use disorders, but research in this area is ongoing. Clinical trials have shown that buspirone, an anti-anxiety medication, can reduce cravings and drug use and decrease symptoms of irritability.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to treat co-occurring mental health disorders. For example, they might prescribe antidepressants to treat symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Therapy is generally the recommended treatment for marijuana use disorder. Specific strategies that may be used include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which addresses the underlying negative thought patterns that contribute to addictive behavior. Your therapist can also help you find coping mechanisms that will help you deal with the thoughts or emotions that often contribute to drug use.
- Contingency management, which involves the use of rewards to reinforce and encourage drug abstinence. For example, you may be able to earn desired rewards by passing a drug test.
- Motivational interviewing, which is an approach that helps people develop a strong motivation to make positive behavior changes in their lives. This type of therapy can be helpful for people who struggle to find the motivation to quit smoking marijuana.
Self-help strategies are important, but sometimes you might need a helping hand. Reach out to your doctor or find a mental health professional who specializes in treating addictions.
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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the “Everything Psychology Book.”