Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Marijuana Withdrawal Rivals Nicotine
Kicking pot or cigarettes leads to anxiety, sleep problems.
A small study in the journal Alcohol and Drug Dependence likened withdrawal from cannabis to that of withdrawal from nicotine, in the case of smokers addicted to either or both substances. The study gave further support to the growing body of evidence supporting the existence of a clinically significant marijuana withdrawal syndrome in heavy marijuana smokers.
As one cigarette smoker in withdrawal famously put it, “I cannot think, cannot concentrate, cannot remember.” Now it appears that heavy marijuana smokers who go cold turkey might be susceptible to the same symptoms of withdrawal from addiction.
Dr. Ryan Vandrey, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and principle author of the study, told Amy Norton of Reuters Health that marijuana withdrawal can cause symptoms similar to nicotine withdrawal, such as anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems. Marijuana withdrawal, which typically affects only heavy smokers, has not been well studied or characterized in the scientific community. Some marijuana advocates view the idea of marijuana withdrawal with considerable skepticism. “These new findings give some idea of its significance,” Vandrey said, and will help inform heavy pot smokers about the symptoms they may face if they abruptly stop smoking.
In the journal article, “A within-subject comparison of withdrawal symptoms during abstinence from cannabis, tobacco, and both substances,” Vandrey and his co-authors conclude: “Overall withdrawal severity associated with cannabis alone and tobacco alone was of a similar magnitude. Withdrawal during simultaneous cessation of both substances was more severe than for each substance alone, but these differences were of short duration and substantial individual differences were noted.”
The authors argue that “cannabis withdrawal is clinically important and warrants detailed description in the DSM-V and ICD-11.” The DSM-V and the ICD-11 are standardized diagnostic classification systems used in the practice of psychiatry.
Participants in the study smoked marijuana at least four times a day, and cigarette smokers consumed 20 or more cigarettes daily.
Since, as Vandrey notes, the presence of withdrawal symptoms often leads to failure when smokers are attempting to quit, it is possible that many more people are trying—and failing—to quit marijuana than researchers have previously suspected. Dr. Vandrey suggested that since difficulty sleeping is one common symptom of withdrawal, sleep medications might be indicated in the case of severe marijuana withdrawal, but cautioned that more study is needed.
Along with insomnia and anxiety, heavy marijuana smokers often report an increase in the frequency and vividness of their dreams during withdrawal as well.
See also: Marijuana Withdrawal nicotine