What is withdrawal?
Withdrawal is also known as detoxification or detox. It’s when you cut out, or cut back, on using alcohol or other drugs. You may have developed a physical or psychological dependence on a drug, or both. Symptoms experienced during withdrawal can be mild or severe, depending on:
how long you’ve been using for
Method of withdrawal.
This is when you’ve taken a drug for a while and your body has come to rely on it to feel normal. Your body is now used to functioning with the drug in your system, so if the drug isn’t taken withdrawal symptoms will start to appear.
Giving up synthetic cannabis after using it for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without it.
It has been reported that some people who use synthetic cannabis heavily on a regular basis may experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop, including:
agitation and irritability
The risk of tolerance and dependence on synthetic cannabis and their associated effects may be reduced by taking regular breaks from smoking the drug and avoiding using a lot of it at once.
This is when you believe you need the drug to function. You might believe that you need it for specific situations, like to be social at a party or unwind after work, or it could be all the time.
Where can I go?
You need a safe and supportive environment when withdrawing. Have a discussion with your doctor, health practitioner or a drug and alcohol service for advice on which setting will be best for you. One of the following will probably be recommended:
Home based withdrawal
Usually provided by a team including your doctor, a nurse and a support person like a friend or family member. If your withdrawal probably won’t be complicated, this might be a good choice.
What can I expect?
While your body is getting used to functioning without the drug, you can experience a range of symptoms from minor to serious. Generally speaking, withdrawal feels like the opposite of the drug. For example when withdrawing from a depressant like alcohol you may feel restless and agitated, or have tremors.
These symptoms vary between people, and between drugs. Find withdrawal symptoms for specific drugs.
Cravings for the drug happen because the brain has learnt that the easiest and quickest way to feel good is by using the drug. This becomes a way of dealing with problems and avoiding bad feelings.
Cravings come and go. Sometimes they might be weak, and sometimes very strong. Managing cravings is very important in the long term, because you might still feel them occasionally many years after you have stopped using. Learning to manage cravings involves distraction and relaxation techniques such as reading, watching a movie, meditating or exercising. It might help to remind yourself that your brain has learned this pattern of thought over time, and you can re-train it to follow a new thought pattern.
Withdrawal will generally last from a few days to a few weeks, but some symptoms like cravings can continue much longer. Exactly how long depends on factors like:
the type of drug
how long you’ve been using it
if you’ve been using other drugs
your general health
the setting you choose to withdraw in.
Is withdrawal safe?
You might need medical supervision to have a safe withdrawal. Always discuss withdrawal with your doctor or with an alcohol and other drug treatment service first, but this is especially important when withdrawing from alcohol, GHB, benzodiazepinesor ketamine.
In an emergency
There have been a number of deaths caused by synthetic cannabis. Call triple zero (000) immediately if someone is experiencing negative effects such as:
- fast/irregular heart rate
- chest pain
- breathing difficulties
- delusional behaviour.
Ambulance officers don’t have to involve the police.