How to Quit Smoking Weed, According to Science

Written by

Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson is the senior editor at CBD Oracle, and has been covering science, vaping and cannabis for over 10 years. He has a MS in Theoretical Physics from Uppsala...

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Medically reviewed byAbraham Benavides, MD

Medically reviewed by

Abraham Benavides, MD

Dr. Abraham Benavides is an international cannabis science advisor, health coach, and full-tuition merit scholar of the GW School of Medicine. Abe pioneered and published first-author research with the Cannabis...

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While there are many reasons to enjoy smoking weed, what many of us might not want to admit is that there are also many reasons to stop.

Whether you’re finding that it’s difficult to find time for your hobbies while you’re smoking away every evening, or realizing that if you go without weed for a day or two, you get irritable and anxious, there are many ways the habit can catch up with you. Hell, maybe you even just want a tolerance break or to pass a drug test, but in any case you need to know how to quit smoking weed.

The problem is that much of the advice on the topic you’ll find online doesn’t really hit the right spot. In many cases, there is a focus on negative effects of marijuana or a kind of stilted medicalization in the way it’s discussed, as if you’re in danger of losing your grip on reality and spending your last dime on hash if you continue.

Here, the aim is to just give you practical, real-world advice for quitting, without the sensationalism.

How to Stop Smoking Weed: A Brief Guide

This post contains a lot of information about quitting smoking weed, but what if you just want to get right to the point and find out what you can do to make the process easier?

Reading the explanations below will increase your understanding, but if you just need to stay sober for a while (e.g. visiting family, vacationing, or if you have a drug test coming up), the following advice will help dramatically.

  • Set a quit date and stick to it. Studies across a range of different addictions show that setting a quit date is a crucial step to staying sober. It can help to tell your friends, family or basically anybody that you don’t smoke weed anymore. It doesn’t matter if you end up smoking one day; your quit date is still the same and tomorrow you won’t smoke.
  • Distract yourself from cravings. You don’t fight cravings, you ignore them. A good way to do this is to give yourself an alternative activity to replace getting high. You might choose to take a walk, call a friend or make time for a hobby you’ve been struggling to do while using cannabis.
  • Take cravings 5 minutes at a time. Ignoring cravings isn’t always easy or even possible. If you’re struggling, don’t think about the rest of the day; think about the next 5 minutes. Do some chores or watch a YouTube video instead. If the craving persists, do something for another 5 minutes.
  • Replacing behaviors with healthier behaviors, or the ‘small changes’ method. If you always smoke a joint in the morning and you don’t need to stop completely, perhaps you can get a dry herb vaporizer to cut down on flower, and reduce the effects on your airways and wallet. If you rely on cannabis to eat, perhaps a hemp-based CBG oil will help. Know that it is not necessary nor recommended to strictly use THC-free products, but if you want to, a high-quality broad-spectrum hemp vape pen can be a good alternative (just make sure it is lab-tested and contaminant-free). Research shows small changes are effective behavior adjustments, and The Habit Replacement Loop can be supportive of this. 
  • Prepare solutions for specific issues. Plan for common withdrawal symptoms and how you’ll tackle them without weed. For instance, you can use relaxation techniques or meditation to combat irritability, try CBD to help with sleep, and take walks to stave off feelings of fatigue.  

We also asked Dave Bushnell, who founded the r/leaves community on reddit, dedicated to helping people stop smoking weed. He said that while everything doesn’t work for everyone, there are a few “important pillars to staying quit”:

  • “Make sure your environment is conducive to not smoking – flush your stash and get rid of your gear. If that means smashing it then that can be pretty cathartic. If you live with someone who still smokes then ask them to support you by hiding their weed and rigs and smoking away from you.
  • Focus only on today. “One Day at a Time” is at the center of most recovery programs because it really works. When you wake up in the morning, promise yourself that you won’t smoke today. Just today. If it gets really bad during the day and you feel like you have to smoke then that’s fine, you can, it just has to be tomorrow. Then, tomorrow morning, promise yourself one day again. Making it through to bedtime is as hard as this ever has to be.
  • Find a community and participate in it. Help yourself and help others. Our subreddit is there 24 hours a day, but we also have two live text chat meetings at 11am and 5pm Eastern Time on Discord that are great check-ins to keep you on track.”

Is Cannabis Addictive? Dependence and Withdrawal Explained

Even though some people will tell you cannabis isn’t addictive, this isn’t true. Regular cannabis use leads to tolerance, and stopping causes withdrawal, both hallmarks of dependence on a substance.

Many lines of evidence show that cannabis is addictive, causing dopamine release like other addictive drugs. Overall, about 9% of people who use cannabis meet the 4th edition Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for dependence. 

The 5th edition of the DSM, however, created the diagnosis of cannabis use disorder (CUD) and includes withdrawal symptoms from cannabis, which may inappropriately include a wider patient population. This definition is debated today among healthcare providers.

Dave Bushnell explained what drove him to create Leaves 12 years ago and touched on his own experience with addiction:

“I was an active addict for ten years ending in outpatient rehab, and although I used other drugs and alcohol, cannabis was absolutely my drug of choice. I now have 24 years clean. 

So despite weed’s reputation as not being addictive, I knew I wasn’t alone in knowing otherwise. I started Leaves primarily because I saw real momentum behind legalization efforts in the US, and I knew from my own experience that the number of people who had a problem with the drug would always be a subset of the people using it, so as general usage numbers went up so would the number of people who needed help. Reddit seemed like a good platform for that.

I launched it with a post on r/trees – you can see the initial responses to the idea, and that even on /r/trees it’s generally well received.”

Even a brief look at the posts on r/leaves shows many people struggling with weed in the same way Dave was. While some people have a resistance to saying weed is “addictive,” it is undeniably the case that a subset of people end up using it more than they intended to, in situations where it isn’t wise to do so and then experience unpleasant symptoms if they try to stop. “Addiction” does have negative connotations, but the fact that cannabis can lead to dependence is unavoidably true.

Essentially, using cannabis impacts your brain chemistry, and if you persistently alter your brain chemistry in the same way, your brain “adapts” to the new system and thus comes to depend on cannabis. We spoke to Dr. Anees Bahji, clinical assistant professor at the University of Calgary, who explained:

“Withdrawal can occur after reducing or quitting cannabis due to the interaction between THC (the active component of cannabis) and the brain’s reward system. Regular cannabis use can lead to changes in the brain, resulting in symptoms of addiction and withdrawal when cannabis use is stopped.”

What to Expect During Cannabis Withdrawal

Cannabis withdrawal has several symptoms, most often anxiety, irritability, sleep troubles, depressed mood, anger/aggression and loss of appetite.

When you’re quitting using cannabis, the main thing you’ll be up against is the withdrawal symptoms, often grouped under the name cannabis withdrawal syndrome.

Dave has moderated r/leaves for 12 years, and has seen many posts from people touching on the common issues when you try to quit:

“Of the people who experience physical side effects (some studies say it’s about fifty percent of quitters) they are pretty consistent – nausea, digestion problems, heart palpitations, sleeplessness, and very (very) vivid dreaming, often nightmares. Those reports are very consistent. Emotional symptoms are consistent with people trying to get clean with addiction from any drug – any amounts of depression, anxiety, fear of the future, anger, and facing powerful cravings with a fear of relapse, and of course, actual relapse.”

Dave covered all the key points, but from the DSM-V, cannabis withdrawal syndrome is technically defined as experiencing three of the following symptoms in the week after quitting cannabis:

  • Irritability, anger, or aggression
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Appetite or weight disturbance
  • Restlessness
  • Depressed mood
  • Somatic symptoms, such as headaches, sweating, nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain

Every person’s experience will be different and not everyone gets all symptoms, but broadly speaking this is what to expect. It usually starts within 1 to 2 days of cessation, peaks before day 6, and lasts about three weeks.

Dave points out that while it ordinarily resolves quickly, in some cases withdrawal points to bigger issues that need to be addressed, “The physical symptoms resolve with time, although that time varies significantly among individuals, and the psychological symptoms can resolve just by quitting, or quitting can reveal some pre-existing conditions like depression or anxiety disorders that might need additional treatment.”

The most important thing is that you anticipate these symptoms, and remember that they will reduce substantially after the first week. This already suggests a key piece of advice: week 1 is the most important part of the process. However, if there are deeper, underlying issues it’s likely you’ll have to take further action to resolve them.

Can You Get Medication for Cannabis Withdrawal?

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to find an effective medication for withdrawal from cannabis, but many medications can help with specific symptoms of withdrawal.

Generally speaking, though, there is very little in the way of medication to help with the process. Physician and cannabis specialist Peter Grinspoon, writing for Harvard Health Publishing, notes that the options used are either pharmaceutical versions of cannabis itself or other medications with unpleasant side effects.

However, in some cases your doctor may be able to prescribe something to help with specific symptoms. Studies suggest that Mirtazapine can help with the insomnia from cannabis withdrawal, for instance. Dr. Bahji pointed out that many medications can be useful for specific symptoms, but stressed the importance of psychological support:

“Although there are no approved pharmacological interventions specifically for cannabis withdrawal (or cannabis use disorder), medications like antidepressants or anxiolytics can manage symptoms of depression or anxiety. Supportive care, such as counseling or support groups, can manage emotional and psychological effects.”

Cold Turkey or Gradual Quitting?

The choice of quitting “cold turkey” or reducing your use gradually is ultimately down to personal preference, but evidence does suggest that gradual quitting could be effective.

“Cold turkey” quitting – that is, just suddenly stopping using weed altogether – is what most people do when they want to quit smoking weed. In some cases, this is really useful – if you have a scheduled family road trip, honeymoon, pregnancy planned, vacation abroad somewhere cannabis isn’t legal, or a drug test coming up, stopping as soon as possible and entirely is the best approach.

However, that doesn’t mean that gradual reduction can’t work. In fact, two studies in particular suggest that it could be a valuable approach for people looking to quit.

  • One study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, involved two small tests (7 participants each), one of THC capsules and a mood stabilizer called divalproex. While divalproex decreased cravings, it didn’t help with withdrawal symptoms. But 50 mg per day of oral THC decreased cravings and helped with symptoms like anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
  • A later study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, extended this work by looking at different dosages of oral THC (30 or 90 mg per day, compared to placebo) in 8 daily cannabis users. The researchers found the higher dose was more useful for withdrawal symptoms, but that both doses worked better than a placebo.

The only issue, as pointed out by the Australian National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, is that people who are more dependent on cannabis may struggle to control their smoking intake, unless the access to cannabis is regulated by a third party. It won’t be as easy to say no to the second joint while you’re still enjoying the effects of the first. If you feel like you might struggle with this, they suggest that stopping suddenly may be better, provided it isn’t badly timed for your job, studies or other personal responsibilities.  

Understanding Why You Smoke

Understanding why you personally use cannabis is a crucial step on the road to quitting, because to overcome your dependence on cannabis, you’ll need to address underlying issues or get these benefits without weed. Consulting a licensed therapist can be very helpful in these and many other regards.

Thinking about why you smoke doesn’t necessarily mean looking for deep-seated trauma from your past, with many widely-used treatment frameworks like motivational enhancement therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy focusing on more practical, real-world solutions. This depends strongly on your specific situation, but in many cases, developing the coping skills, motivation and emotional resilience to say “no” and withstand withdrawal is sometimes all you need to do. However, professional help is available to many nowadays and can make this easier while staying safe with your mental health.

For most people, “why” you smoke will probably be relatively straightforward. For example, you might smoke because you struggle with stress in your life, perhaps you often feel depressed or anxious, or it could even be something as simple as wanting an easy way to get to sleep at night. Whatever the answer is – and there are no wrong answers – you need to identify it and ideally write it down.

In some cases, the “why” will relate to something more deep-seated and serious, as psychologists like Gabor Maté suggest most (if not all) addiction stems from trauma. While it’s certainly possible to still follow a practical, “how-to-not-smoke” guide like this in this situation, it’s probably better to seek professional support for people in your situation. However, the advice is ultimately the same: you need to know what is at the root of your use.

Meeting Those Needs Elsewhere

Based on your most important reasons for smoking, you should devise alternative strategies for coping with your issues. For example, if you have trouble with stress or anxiety you might decide to start meditating, taking walks in nature and even using CBD.

Your list of the reasons you use cannabis is in many ways the best tool you have in approaching quitting. While you can get generic advice for quitting weed or another substance from many places online, the things that make a difference to you are the ones that you need to focus on. If you address these issues or find an alternative for them, then it will be much easier to step away from weed.

There are some common issues for many quitters, though, directly related to the withdrawal symptoms from weed. So we’ve collected some suggestions here.

  • If you have stress or anxiety: Depending on the severity of the situation, you could attend therapy or try something like meditation or even CBD to manage it. Exercise has also been shown to be effective for managing stress, so taking a couple of 15-minute walks a day and deep or box breathing could even help.
  • If you have trouble sleeping: Many people use cannabis to get to sleep, so if you stop, this is likely to be a problem. Unfortunately, sleeping medications have serious side effects so you should try home remedies first. Avoid caffeine for 6 hours before bed, keep your sleeping schedule consistent, exercise regularly during the day, avoid screens for an hour before you go to sleep and use thick blinds or curtains to keep all light out.
  • If you struggle with pain management: Cannabis may also help you manage pain, and so if you quit you’ll lose this benefit. However, medications used to treat pain are addictive themselves, so you may not wish to use this option. CBD is a potentially viable alternative, although some evidence suggests the benefit is greater in combination with THC. Minor cannabinoids like CBG and more are also promising analgesic and anxiolytic agents.

Switching the Habit for Something Else

One common piece of advice for addiction is that you should replace an old habit with a new one. This could be anything, but it’s a good opportunity to pick up a new hobby or take walks out in nature, for example.

We asked Dave Bushnell from Leaves about whether replacing an old habit with a new one is the best way to approach addiction, and he made a crucial comment: “It is a good way, but I always hesitate to say that any one way is the best – people resonate with different ways of doing things, and what works for many doesn’t necessarily work for all.”

He continued, “That said, the Alcoholics Anonymous folks have a saying that quitting ‘leaves an alcohol-shaped hole in your life,’ and another quote that’s said often in our group is that ‘addiction is the process of replacing a love of many things with a love of one thing.’ By the time they reach us, cannabis has usually infiltrated so much – get high before you eat, get high before you go out, get high before you listen to music, that when you quit you need to rebuild your habits, hobbies, and enthusiasms in a way that heals that weed-shaped hole.”

Understanding Your Triggers

Learning about your triggers and making plans for managing them is crucial to staying sober. Triggers can be environmental (being in specific places or with certain people), emotional (e.g. feeling depressed) or behavioral (e.g. playing video games).

Triggers are basically anything which leads to the thought or urge to smoke weed. Like your personal reasons for smoking, your triggers are specific to you. It’s useful to make a list, because a big part of planning to avoid smoking is really planning to avoid or deal with your triggers in a better way.

A common acronym used for triggers is “HALT,” which stands for Hungry (and thirsty), Angry (and/or anxious), Lonely (and/or depressed) and Tired (and/or bored). In many cases, an individual trigger you’ve identified (for example, a friend canceling plans) will ultimately lead to one of these four states (e.g. feeling alone or bored). These are the main states that often lead people to relapse, and again it helps to plan ahead for how you’ll deal with them.

For example:

  • Hungry/thirsty: Cook yourself a healthy meal or even order some take-out. Treat yourself and listen to your body.
  • Angry/anxious: Take a walk, meditate or anything else that gives you a private, quiet moment.
  • Lonely/depressed: Call an old friend, family member, or reach out to an online support group like r/Leaves.
  • Tired/bored: Re-discover some old hobbies, hang out with some friends or even use it as an excuse to catch up on chores.

How to Respond to a Slip Up (Or a Full Relapse) 

If you planned to quit but you end up smoking one day: that’s totally fine. Slip ups, or even full on relapses, are a normal part of trying to stop a substance or behavior you’re dependent on; all you have to do is reflect on why you ended up smoking and plan to avoid the same issue in future.

If you’ve ever been around anyone trying to quit smoking cigarettes, give up drinking or stop taking any other drugs, you’ll undoubtedly know that slip-ups are common. Note that there is a difference between a slip-up and a “relapse,” with the latter being when you actually restart your pathological behavior, not if you end up having a single joint after a tough day of work or at a party. Both are common, but a slip-up doesn’t need to become a relapse.

All you have to do if you slip up is ask yourself: why did I slip up then and not another day? It’s likely that you’ll have encountered one of your triggers and either didn’t try your strategy or it didn’t work as well as you’d planned. Both of these are fine, you just need to learn your lesson and try to manage the situation better next time. That’s it. Just get back up on the horse and keep moving forward.

If it’s a genuine relapse, you should do the same but also remind yourself why you wanted to quit in the first place. One key factor is your motivation, and if you often relapse, know that this is a normal part of long-term recovery as long as you stay motivated and develop insight into your condition. In any case, the best approach is to re-identify why you want to quit (and if you still do) and work on your alternative strategies for managing your triggers.

The Importance of Community

Find yourself a community. It doesn’t matter if it’s an online community like r/Leaves, a support or religious group or just some trusted friends and family: having people you can turn to in tough times really matters.

The “L” in the HALT acronym stands for loneliness, and finding a supportive community is a key part of beating back this trigger. If there aren’t many people in your life you can talk to about your weed use, online communities like r/Leaves are invaluable.

In fact, this is one of the things from 12-step programs that inspired Dave to create the subreddit:

“I structured Leaves around what I found most valuable in rehab, which were the group sessions, where we all sat together and talked about what problems we were having and our experience in recovery. Those groups comprised addicts using every kind of drug imaginable – pills, cocaine, heroin, crack, but we all realized quickly that we were having similar experiences and we had a whole lot of help to offer each other. Especially when there has been a commonly repeated myth in the cannabis community that cannabis has no downsides and can’t be addictive, there is a huge value in simply knowing that you are not alone. And when people start sharing what they’re feeling and what has worked for them and those things sound familiar, the benefit is exponential.”

It really doesn’t matter what the support group is, but more subjectively, we would suggest something or someone non-judgmental and generally positive. This was kind of a foundational principle for r/Leaves, as Dave explained:

“I don’t want people who realize that they might have a problem and need help to feel like they have to join a group of people with an agenda outside of helping them get healthy. We aren’t anti-cannabis evangelists, just smokers who realized that the only way we could have a healthy relationship with smoking is to not smoke at all. If that’s you, then helping you quit is our only agenda.”

The true value in finding this type of community is knowing that you are not alone and people do understand the problems you’re facing. Smoking too much weed doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “disease” or some type of defect; you are a valuable person who is just working on smoking less weed. It’s hard, but with the right support and the right strategies, you can do it. 

However, for the people that do suffer from comorbid mental illnesses like CUD, bipolar or psychotic disorders, or depression, finding professional help and recruiting social support is essential.


The research, experts and testimonies here point to: replacing habits with healthier habits, changing your routines completely, finding friends that are on a healthier track in life, and taking care of yourself, including psychological and emotional healing. Alternative methods of cannabis ingestion (e.g. oral, edible, dry herb vaporizing) may help curb smoking cravings. 

For many people, getting high is just something fun to do at the weekend and this drug warrior obsession with sobriety is pointless meddling in other people’s business. But for other people, weed isn’t just something fun to do; it’s a way to patch over bigger problems and deal with serious issues that seem insurmountable otherwise. If this sounds like you, and you don’t want to continue this way, the most important thing you can do is resolve to make a change and seek professional help. You might not succeed at first, but you will succeed in the end.

Last medically reviewed on August 11, 2023.