Although cannabis offers lots of benefits, more than half of medical users experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms, a new study has found.
Perhaps most surprising among the findings was that a younger age predicted greater severity and worsening of withdrawal symptoms over time.
Researchers also suggested that patients don’t often recognise their symptoms are associated with cannabis withdrawal, instead assuming that they are from an underlying condition which cannabis was treating.
The study highlights the need for more acknowledgement of cannabis withdrawal symptoms as well as therapies to lessen these effects.
Published in the journal Addiction, the study analysed detailed surveys across two years of 527 medical cannabis patients in the U.S state of Michigan.
The researchers then asked the patients if they had experienced any of 15 different symptoms when they ceased using cannabis. The symptoms mentioned include cravings, sleep problems, anxiety, restlessness, depressed mood, sweating, nausea, headache, strange dreams, irritability and aggression.
The patients were surveyed again one year and two years after their first survey.
At baseline, 41% of the subjects had mild symptoms, 34% moderate (multiple symptoms) and 25% were classed as severe (most or all of the symptoms). Over two years, most who had mild withdrawal symptoms were not likely to get worse, but some did move to moderate withdrawal symptoms.
Worryingly, around 10% of patients taking part in the study reported experiencing worsening changes to their sleep, mood, mental state, energy and appetite over two years even though they continued to use cannabis.
Lara Coughlin, Ph.D., who led the study, said, “Some people report experiencing significant benefits from medical cannabis, but our findings suggest a real need to increase awareness about the signs of withdrawal symptoms developing to decrease the potential downsides of cannabis use, especially among those who experience severe or worsening symptoms over time.”
It was found that patients who smoked cannabis tended to have more severe withdrawal symptoms than others, while people who chose to vape cannabis reported that their symptoms generally stayed the same or got worse, but did not improve.
Sleep problems were the most commonly reported symptoms, with cravings for cannabis also common. Sleep problems, depressed mood, decreased appetite, craving, restlessness, anxiety and irritability were also common among moderately affected patients.
Additionally, those in the severe group were more likely to be younger and to have mental health issues. Older adults were less likely to see their withdrawal symptom increase, while those who vaped were less likely to experience an improvement in their symptoms.
Why it matters?
People experiencing pain often choose cannabis over commonly prescribed pain medication such as opioids due to the better safety profile of cannabis.
However, as there is no medically accepted standard for medical cannabis dosing for different conditions, patients are often faced with an overwhelming amount of cannabis products that vary in strength, effects and route of administration.
There’s also not a huge amount of research or general consideration of cannabis withdrawal effects. And there is even less advice for ways of treating withdrawal symptoms – like CBD, exercise, and microdosing THC, for example.
For more information on overcoming cannabis withdrawal symptoms, see my book Overcoming Weed Addiction: The Truth About Addiction And The Secret To A Healthy Relationship With Cannabis.