Whether or not an addiction to marijuana is a risk of the drug has been widely debated, with the general population typically believing that cannabis does not have addictive qualities. However, talk of problematic marijuana use and marijuana use disorders has become more frequent. A new study, published on April 9 in JAMA Network Open, shows that users can suffer not only mild symptoms of withdrawal, but also that heavy users could go through severe withdrawal when they stop using the drug.
A recent review of 47 studies containing a total of 23,500 participants, found that roughly 47% of frequent cannabis users seeking treatment experience what health professionals are calling cannabis withdrawal syndrome.
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"People should be prepared to experience withdrawal if they are going to stop using marijuana, and ideally consult a health care provider to help manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse," suggests Emily Feinstein, executive vice president of the Center on Addiction, in New York City.
According to Dr. Timothy Brennan, director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai, in New York City, withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, nervousness, the inability to sleep, depression, irritability, and restlessness. Some users may even experience stomach pain, tremors, shakiness, sweating, fever, chills, headaches, lack of appetite and cravings.
He explains that the cannabis supply today compared to the cannabis supply in the 1960s and 1970s has increased percentages of THC, often resulting in a stronger user experience, and that people are developing a dependency on the stronger high sensation created by the THC.
An analysis by Dr. Anees Bahji of Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, suggests that cannabis withdrawal is more commonly seen in men or in individuals who use tobacco and other drugs alongside cannabis.
However, Dr. Brennan assures that most symptoms will subside within days. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms may last as long as a few weeks. "It does get better, and the symptoms do go away with time," he assures. "If they know there's light at the end of the tunnel, maybe that will help motivate them to stick with it."