The Long Haul: Understanding Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS) from Marijuana

The Long Haul: Understanding Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS) from Marijuana

As the conversation around marijuana becomes more nuanced with its increasing legalization and acceptance, an important aspect that often gets overlooked is the aftermath of long-term use, particularly when one decides to quit. While the immediate withdrawal symptoms of quitting marijuana—such as irritability, insomnia, appetite disruption, and mood swings—are widely recognized, there's another phase of recovery that can be equally challenging: Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

What is PAWS?

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome represents a set of impairments that occur as a result of ceasing the intake of addictive substances, including marijuana. Unlike acute withdrawal, which typically subsides within a few weeks, PAWS can linger for months or even years after the last use. It encompasses a range of symptoms affecting mood, cognition, and physical well-being, making the road to recovery a prolonged journey for many.

Common Symptoms of PAWS from Marijuana

  • Emotional Instability: Individuals may experience ongoing mood swings, from heightened anxiety to deep depression, often without a clear trigger.
  • Cognitive Impairments: Difficulty with concentration, memory lapses, and reduced cognitive speed are common, impacting daily functioning and productivity.
  • Physical Challenges: Chronic fatigue, disrupted sleep patterns, and a persistent sense of physical discomfort can be hallmarks of PAWS.
  • Social Withdrawal: The emotional and cognitive challenges can lead to social isolation, as individuals may find it difficult to engage in social activities or maintain relationships.

Understanding the Impact

The symptoms of PAWS can be bewildering and disheartening, especially after overcoming the initial hurdles of acute withdrawal. Many individuals are unprepared for this phase, mistaking these lingering effects as a permanent state rather than a step in the recovery process. Recognizing PAWS as a normal, though challenging, part of recovery is crucial for long-term success and mental health.

Managing PAWS

While there's no one-size-fits-all solution for managing PAWS, there are strategies that can help mitigate its impact:

  • Stay Informed: Understanding that PAWS is a normal part of the recovery process can alleviate some of the stress and anxiety associated with unexpected symptoms.
  • Support Networks: Engaging with support groups, either in-person or online, can provide comfort and advice from those who have experienced similar challenges.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can help improve physical and mental well-being.
  • Professional Help: Counseling or therapy can offer strategies to manage symptoms, especially for dealing with mood swings and cognitive impairments.
  • Patience and Self-Compassion: Recognizing that recovery is a journey, and allowing yourself grace during difficult moments, can foster a more resilient mindset.


Understanding and preparing for Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is an essential part of the recovery journey for long-term marijuana users. By acknowledging the reality of PAWS, individuals can arm themselves with the knowledge and strategies needed to navigate this challenging phase. Recovery is not just about overcoming physical dependence but also about rebuilding and sustaining mental and emotional health. With the right support and resources, the long haul of PAWS can lead to a more profound, sustained recovery, opening the door to a life of clarity and fulfillment beyond marijuana.

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