Think again if you believe cannabis is not an addictive drug. A new scientific study shows it is and those who stop smoking pot suffer from cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms include nervousness, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, restlessness and irritability, said Dr. Timothy Brennan, director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai, in New York City. The study published April 9 in the JAMA Network comes from 47 pooled studies that included more than 23,500 participants.
People quitting pot also might experience physical symptoms like stomach pain, shakiness, tremors, sweating, fever, chills and headaches,
“The results suggest that withdrawal is likely or possible for a large majority of users, particularly heavy users,” said Emily Feinstein, executive vice president of the Center on Addiction, in New York City.
“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,” added Feinstein, who was not involved with the study.
The study says cannabis withdrawal syndrome is more common in men and people who use tobacco or other drugs along with marijuana, according to analysis done by Dr. Anees Bahji of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues. Heavy users are also more likely to experience withdrawal.
But NORMAL Deputy Director Paul Armentano said withdrawal tends to be mild and short-lived, unlike many substances that are legal nationwide.
“By comparison, the profound physical withdrawal effects associated with tobacco are so severe that many subjects who strongly desire to quit end up reinitiating their use,” Armentano said. “In the case of alcohol, the abrupt ceasing of use in heavy users can be so severe that it can lead to death. Simply withdrawing from caffeine can lead to a number of adverse side effects, like rebound headaches.”
Brennan agreed: “Most symptoms go away in a few days. Nearly all symptoms go away in a few weeks.”
Still regular marijuana users need to be convinced their withdrawal symptoms are real, otherwise they are likely to relapse and begin smoking again, said Dr. Scott Krakower, unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
Meanwhile, Brennan said ex-cannabis consumers experiencing withdrawal symptoms should take over-the-counter for nausea and headache.
“It does get better, and the symptoms do go away with time,” he said. “If they know there’s light at the end of the tunnel, maybe that will help motivate them to stick with it.”