This article has been sponsored by our friends at Ice Head Shop, the UK’s one-stop shop for all your smoking, vaping and CBD needs. Please check them out and show some love.
After being demonised and outlawed for so long, cannabis is now getting the recognition it deserves as a very effective therapeutic tool. However, when overused or abused, it can have some negative effects too.
One of the most common negative effects of long-term cannabis consumption is the withdrawal symptoms that can appear after discontinuing use.
I’ve experienced these withdrawal symptoms myself – irritability, cravings, sleep problems, anxiety, night sweats, restlessness, lack of motivation, low mood, exhausting dream and headaches. I’ve also learned many ways to minimise these symptoms so that I could enjoy a healthy relationship with cannabis.
This article will take a look at why we get cannabis withdrawal symptoms and ways that you can reduce or even eliminate them all together.
Chronic cannabis use down-regulates CB1 receptors
The most well-known effects of cannabis – elevated mood, red eyes, hunger, etc – are caused by THC activating cannabinoid receptors (CB1) in the brain and nervous system. These are short-term effects that wear off after a few hours.
When you consume THC regularly and over a long time, however, your body becomes adapted to the regular influx of THC by down-regulating (reducing in number) CB1 receptors. This means you’ll need to increase your intake of THC to get the intensity of effects you’re used to (AKA your tolerance has increased).
When the presence of THC is removed after long-term use, the body is forced to rely on its natural production of cannabinoids (known as endocannabinoids). However, it takes time for CB1 receptors to grow back to their baseline levels. And in the meantime, the brain and the body experience a lack of endocannabinoids, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.
Although cannabis withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening or medically dangerous, they can make life difficult for a good few weeks. A recent study found that more than half of medical users experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms.
Common cannabis withdrawal symptoms include:
Lack of appetite
Lack of motivation
Low mood or depression
Luckily for us, CB1 receptor downregulation begins to reverse surprisingly quickly once you stop using cannabis, and continues to increase over time. This study found that after four weeks cannabinoid receptor levels had returned to normal.
Read: The Ultimate Guide To Taking Tolerance Breaks (T-Breaks) From Weed: Why, When, How…
Endocannabinoids and the ECS
Found throughout the brain and body, cannabinoid receptors make up the endocannabinoid system (ECS) – a system all mammals have for regulating many vital bodily processes, including mood, appetite, pain sensation, reproduction, inflammation and more.
In order to regulate these process and keep the body in balance, the body produces its own cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. These internally-produced cannabinoids bind to and activate the receptors of the ECS to maintain the body’s vital functions.
If the production of endocannabinoids is out of whack, it can lead to health complaints and disease, which the consumption of external cannabinoids (via smoking/vaping, eating, etc.) can relieve.
When looking at ways to reduce cannabis withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to consider the ECS and the process that enhance and optimise its function.
Ways to reduce withdrawal symptoms
We all know how good exercise is for your overall health. This study found that running on a running wheel increased the CB1 receptor sensitivity and anandamide in mice.
This is not so surprising considering the fact that “runner’s high” is a result of increased anandamide (an endocannabinoid that binds to CB1 receptors) production during running, which results in lowered pain response, reduced anxiety and feelings of calm after running.
In humans, it’s suggested that short bursts of high-intensity exercise may be best for boosting ECS function. Approaches like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) two or three times a week could be optimal.
Like exercise, sun exposure is crucial to optimal health. The numerous benefits of adequate sun exposure include better sleep, enhanced blood flow, improved cognition, improved mood, lowered blood pressure, optimised neurotransmitters and hormones, and lowered cancer risk.
Vitamin D, which is actually more of a hormone than vitamin, is also needed for optimal health and functioning. There’s even research that found it protects against the dopamine-depleting effects of methamphetamine
Making sure you’re getting enough direct sunlight in your eyes and on your skin, particularly in the morning, will go a long way to helping deal with cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
3. Seafood and hemp seed oil
Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are the building blocks of endocannabinoids. It’s therefore understandable that dietary intake of PUFAs has a direct effect on endcannabinoid levels and, in effect, cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
While the functional effects of PUFAs and endocannabinoid levels has not been studied in detail, we do know that there is an optimal ration of omega-6 to omega-3 PUFAs of about 1:3.
Modern western diets generally feature much more omega-6s than 3s due to overconsumption of seed and vegetable oils and not enough seafood.
Seafood contains EPA and DHA – two very important, highly anti-inflammatory PUFAs that many people don’t get enough of. The endocannabinoid anandamide has also been found in shellfish.
It’s been found that a diet enriched with DHA for 2 to 4 months increases expression of CB1 and CB2 receptors in muscles, which could theoretically help reduce cannabis withdrawal effects. Hemp seed oil has a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats.
4. Stress reduction practices (meditation, deep breathing yoga, massage and socialising)
It’s been shown by numerous studies that stress and chronic cortisol exposure reduce CB1 receptors and endocannabinoid levels.
Meditation, on the other hand, is well-proven to reduce stress, anxiety and improve mood. So do deep breathing exercises, yoga, socialising and massage.
Therefore, it makes sense that doing these practices consistently will increase CB1 receptors and enhance endocannabinoid function, thus reducing cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
Cold exposure is one of the most underrated health-boosting practices known to science. Short-term stressors like cold exposure are known as hermetic stressors because they elicit a positive response in your body.
In the case of short-term cold exposure, the body responds by boosting production of neurotransmitters, lowering inflammation, raising immunity, improving mood, and more.
One way cold may have these effects is via its positive effects on cannabinoid levels and the ECS. This 2016 study found exposure to cold caused an upregulation of endocannabinoid levels, while this one and this one found a significant increase in CB1 receptor density.
Personally, I’ve found cold baths and showers to help a great deal with sleep, night sweats and general anxiety when abstaining from cannabis.
6. Optimise hormones
A lot of the suggestions we cover in this article boost overall health in order to reduce or eliminate cannabis withdrawal effects. One way they so this is by optimising hormone levels in the body.
Hormones are known to be important in mood, reproduction and recover, but there is research showing positive effects of hormones such as testosterone and estrogen on the endocannabinoid system. This study, for example, shows that testosterone and DHT increase CB1 receptors.
Things that optimise hormones: Strength training/exercise with adequate recovery and nutrition, sunlight, cold, sleep, sex, limiting toxins, reducing stress and achievement/success.
7. Low doses of THC
Most people would consider using THC to overcome THC withdrawals as counterproductive and even pretty stupid. However, using low doses (or microdoses) of THC is one of the most useful tools for overcoming cannabis withdrawals.
And that’s because THC is biphasic – meaning it has different effects at different doses. While medium to large doses produce euphoria, red eyes and a change in perception, microdoses of THC are barely noticeable (if you feel at all high, it’s not a microdose).
Additionally, where high doses can reliably produce cognitive impairments and occasional negative effects like paranoia or anxiety, low doses reduce anxiety, improve mood and enhance cognition and memory.
One study found that just half a milligram of THC may provide clinically significant reductions in pain sensation without the psychotropic side effects that THC is well known for.
There’s also some research showing how microdoses of THC can reduce cravings and help people with cannabis use disorder to decrease how much they consume. This technique has helped me reduce how much I consume.
One theory is that while large, chronic doses of THC downregulate cannabinoid receptors, low occasional doses upregulate them. Adding high doses of CBD to low doses of THC seems to enhance CB1 expression in the brain too.
Again, some people may frown upon the use of a cannabinoid to eradicate cannabis withdrawal symptoms. However, CBD is very different from THC and should be used guilt-free.
Not only is it non-psychotropic, it is also very effective at relieving anxiety and cravings while lowering inflammation. This study found that daily doses of between 400mg and 800mg of CBD can lead to a reduction in cannabis use among people with cannabis use disorder.
There is also some evidence that CBD increases cannabinoid receptor density as well as endocannabinoids’ affinity to bind with receptors.
Read: 10 Best CBD Oils In The UK
Science is learning more and more about how your gut microbiome effects your overall health, including how important it is for your mental health. It’s not so surprising then that a probiotics – which can help populate your gut with healthy bacteria – can have positive effects on the ECS.
This 2007 study found that the well-known microorganism L. acidophilus can increase CB2 receptors in mice as well as providing an increase in pain tolerance.
Curcumin, the bright yellow substance that it the heart of turmeric’s therapeutic power, has been found to elevate endocannabinoid levels in the brain.
Curcumin has also shown promising antidepressant effects and the ability to increase brain nerve growth factor.
11. Olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to produce “a remarkable (~4-fold) and selective increase in CB₁ expression in the colon of rats receiving the dietary supplementation for 10 days.”
This effect compliments olive oil’s numerous other benefits.
12. Reduce caffeine and alcohol
Both caffeine and alcohol, when used chronically, can decrease endocannabinoid levels and receptor density. however, there is some research that suggest acute use of these substances may increase receptors, so once in a while should be fine.
Compounds called catechins have been found to bind to cannabinoid receptors, which may make tea a useful ally in overcoming cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
The principal terpenoid in black pepper, (E)-β-caryophyllene (BCP), binds to CB2 receptors to produce anti-inflammatory effects.
A popular recreational drink traditionally consumed in the South Pacific, Kava is thought to produce its relaxing and anxiety-reducing effects by interacting with the CB1 receptor. It may also help alleviate some cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
A study done at the University of Nottingham found that “singing increased plasma levels of anandamide (AEA) by 42%, palmitoylethanolamine (PEA) by 53% and oleoylethanolamine (OEA) by 34% (P < 0.05) and improved positive mood and emotions, without affecting hunger scores.”So, if you’re feeling blue while abstaining from THC, why not try singing! 17. PlaySocial play has been found to increase a marker of CB1 receptor activation in the amygdala of mice, as well as enhancing AEA levels in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens. 18. FastingIn rats, fasting for 24 hours increased endocannabinoid levels certain areas of the brain.In humans, we know that fasting works in many ways to improve health over the long-term, such as by calibrating your body’s sensitivity to hormones such as insulin, reducing inflammation and promoting growth hormones. 19. Microdosing magic mushroomsMicrodosing (aka taking a tiny dose of an active substance to produce unnoticeable effects) is becoming a popular way to improve mental health, enhance creativity, and to generally be more happy.Based on my own experimentation, I believe it also has applications in treating cannabis withdrawal symptoms by reducing cravings and negative thought patterns.0.1g of dried mushrooms every three days is the protocol I use, although others, such as 4 days on and 2 days off, could also be very effective.Research is finding psilocybin – the main active ingredient in magic mushrooms – to offer potent antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects, paving its way for treating PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, and more.Read: 7 Observations From Microdosing THC And Psilocybin For A Year My bookIf you are interested in this subject, I go into further detail on methods to help reduce cannabis withdrawal symptoms and THC consumption in my book, Overcoming Cannabis Dependence, as well as a number of other cutting edge techniques that have helped me cultivate a healthy relationship with cannabis.This article has been sponsored by our friends at Ice Head Shop, the UK’s one-stop shop for all your smoking, vaping and CBD needs. Please check them out and show some love.