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- Cannabis withdrawal: a longstanding myth or an inconvenient truth?
There are many debates surrounding the cannabis plant and its use as a medical and recreational substance. One of these debate topics surrounds whether or not it is possible to experience withdrawal symptoms when cutting down or ceasing cannabis use.
Many zealous cannabis supporters may bring up the argument that marijuana is an entirely natural herb and that it poses absolutely no risk when it comes to addiction, dependency, and withdrawal.
On the other hand, commentators who oppose its use waste no time stating that cannabis is a schedule 1 substance and therefore poses a high risk for addiction and abuse.
Both of these extreme stances occupy either end of a spectrum, with the truth existing somewhere in the middle.
ONE OF THE SAFEST DRUGS
The truth is, cannabis is an extremely safe drug and has been shown to be much safer than cocaine, amphetamines, and even alcohol. However, it is indeed still a psychoactive drug and does cause withdrawal symptoms in some cases.
The stereotypical image of drug withdrawal is that of a heroin addict sweating and shaking in the corner of a rehab clinic. Just because cannabis may cause withdrawal symptoms does not mean they are anywhere near as extreme as those experienced when coming off harder drugs.
THE DEBATE IS OVER: CANNABIS DOES CAUSE WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS
There are numerous reasons why someone might want to put an end to smoking cannabis. Perhaps they merely want to take a break in order for their tolerance to return to a normal level. Perhaps they have recently landed a new job that requires them to undergo frequent drug testing. Or maybe, they have decided that they no longer want cannabis to be a part of their life.
Whatever the reason, it is important for users to realise that if they stop cannabis abruptly, especially if they have been smoking heavily and for a long period of time, they are likely to experience some withdrawal symptoms.
This information may come as a surprise to some cannabis users, but the substance has been shown to cause withdrawal symptoms that manifest both physically and psychologically.
Many cannabis users are directly opposed to the idea that cannabis can become addictive, however the physical and psychological effects caused by ceasing cannabis use may indeed lead to addiction.
CANNABINOID RECEPTOR CHANGES
Dr. David Gorelick, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine conducted numerous studies on cannabis withdrawal, stating that “Psychological or behavioural addiction is defined as a loss of control over use.”
When smoking cannabis, cannabinoids are released into the body and activate receptor sites within the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids are extremely similar to a family of chemicals found within the body known as endocannabinoids, and they catalyse very similar effects.
The endocannabinoid system is affected by both endocannabinoids and cannabinoids, and receptor agonists affect the central nervous system in various ways, influencing psychomotor behaviour, short-term memory, intoxication, and appetite.
Therefore, cannabinoids affect the body both physically and psychologically. Over time, the effects of cannabinoids on these receptors change their condition. When cannabis use comes to a halt, these receptors then have to begin adjusting to normal levels. The symptoms of this phenomenon then pose the risk of leading to addiction and withdrawal.
WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS
A 2005 paper published within the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence discusses that significant advancements have been made when it comes to characterising and understanding cannabis withdrawal. However, they do state that many questions at this time still remain unanswered.
The paper documents a study on 72 adolescents seeking outpatient treatment for substance abuse problems. Each of the participants were using cannabis at least 15 days per month.
The authors of the study state that adolescent cannabis users undergoing substance abuse treatment did indeed experience withdrawal symptoms after ceasing cannabis use.
Various symptoms were reported during the withdrawal, including behavioural symptoms, as well as physical symptoms such as headache, nausea, and sweating.
Other symptoms were also experienced by the adolescents. These included anxiety, appetite change, depressed mood, irritability, and restlessness.
A 2003 study published within the Journal of Abnormal Psychology investigated the time course and significance of cannabis withdrawal.
The 50-day outpatient study observed 18 cannabis users during a 5-day phase where they continued their usual smoking routines. This phase was then followed by a 45-day abstinence phase.
The researchers commented that cannabis withdrawal was associated with an array of emotional states and physical symptoms such as observed aggression, anger, anxiety, decreased appetite, decreased body weight, irritability, restlessness, shakiness, sleep problems, and stomach pain.
These experiences started to occur around 1-3 days after participants stopped smoking and peaked around 2-6 days. Overall, these effects were witnessed to last for a duration of between 4-14 days.
THE AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) have come to recognise cannabis withdrawal and state that it is caused by heavy and prolonged use.
The APA report that cannabis withdrawal is characterised by at least three of the following symptoms: irritability, anger, nervousness, sleep difficulty, decreased appetite, restlessness, depressed mood, and physical symptoms (e.g. stomach pain, shakiness, increased sweating, fever or headaches).
Although cannabis withdrawal and addiction are real possibilities, it does not mean that they will affect everyone. Cannabis has been proven to be an extremely effective natural medicine as well as a safe recreational substance.
The APA state that prolonged and heavy use may lead to withdrawal symptoms. This means that taking breaks every now and then or limiting use could be a good idea. When using cannabis for medical purposes, it may be best to only use the required amount, although some diseases seem to benefit from larger quantities of cannabinoids.
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)