Given marijuana is now legal in more states than ever before, it should be no surprise that questions about marijuana have become topics of fiery discussion, debate, scientific study and proposed legislative policymaking. (All references listed at conclusion of article.) Medical marijuana, in particular, has been showing itself to be a valuable tool to help relieve symptoms caused by chemotherapy and AIDS, or for those in chronic pain.
However, it would be foolish to stride into any of the discussions mentioned above without recognizing that daily marijuana use doesn’t come without risks. Often enough, we hear proponents of cannabis dismissing the idea that addiction to cannabis exists — that is, they say no evidence has been brought forward showing a cannabis-related withdrawal syndrome — instead, proclaiming, “I smoked weed every day for 30 years and then just walked away from it without any problems. It’s not addictive.”
Still, some researchers have indicated significant cannabis withdrawal symptoms can include aggression, anger, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, anorexia, depression, restlessness, headaches, vomiting and abdominal pain.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 9% and 30% of those who use regularly will develop marijuana use disorder (a.k.a., addiction or dependency); while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cite the statistic of 1 in 10 (10%).
A recent study published in Addiction (August 2021) used the survey results completed by 527 patients with chronic pain seeking medicinal marijuana certification or recertification. The study’s participants reported withdrawal symptoms using the Marijuana Withdrawal Checklist-revised at baseline and again at 12 months and 24 months. During baseline measurement, participants were grouped into initial withdrawal classes based on the intensity and amount of withdrawal symptoms reported: mild, moderate or severe.
Of the three groups, the withdrawal symptoms reported upon stopping marijuana use include:
- 41% of participants reported mild withdrawal symptoms, with the most common being marijuana cravings and sleep difficulties
- 34% of participants fell into the moderate group with the most commonly reported withdrawal symptoms being marijuana cravings, sleep difficulties, depressed mood, decreased appetitive, anxiety, restlessness, and irritability
- 25% of participants reported severe withdrawal symptoms that included cannabis cravings, anxiety, sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, restlessness, depressed mood, aggression, irritability, nausea, sweating, headache, stomach pain, strange dreams, increased anger, and shakiness.
The marijuana withdrawal symptoms reported were found to have worsened for some and improved for others. A number of variables were identified as potentially influential in affecting the study’s outcomes. However, whether or not the reported symptoms can be directly related to withdrawal from marijuana use, one focus of the study was on the stability of these symptoms and factors that were likely to influence that stability over time (i.e., 24 months). Below are some highlighted notes from the study:
- People in the mild group at baseline were likely to stay at that level, although some did progress to the moderate group by the end of the 2-year period.
- People who began in the moderate group were more likely to see their symptoms improve and end the study in the mild group at the 2-year mark.
- People reporting severe withdrawal symptoms at baseline were more likely to be longtime or frequent users of cannabis, more likely to be younger, and more likely to have a worse mental health profile.
In conclusion, while more research is needed to answer the ongoing questions regarding the nature, if any, of medical marijuana withdrawal symptoms, if you or someone you know is struggling with a marijuana use disorder, addiction treatment centers around the country offer caring expertise to help people find recovery from marijuana dependency issues. Contacting any treatment center is the first step in finding freedom from the travails associated with substance addiction.