Due to marijuana’s immense benefits and myriad medical applications, the potential downsides of cannabis use aren’t usually emphasized by ardent advocates and industry insiders. But just like any other mood-altering substance, pot withdrawal can spark its own set of unique effects when frequent consumers take a tolerance break or put down the pipe altogether.
According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and first reported by US News, nearly half of all past cannabis users who sought treatment for marijuana consumption issues said that they experienced some form of physical withdrawals. Using data collected from 23,518 case studies, researchers discovered that 47 percent of subjects felt symptoms ranging from anxiety and stomach pain to chills, night sweats, and constant headaches.
"People may feel that weed helps their anxiety level, but it may be more that you are developing worsening anxiety from marijuana withdrawal, rather than weed helping your anxiety level," Dr. Scott Krakower, unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, NY, told US News. "It's hard to explain to people that the symptoms they're experiencing could be from them not using marijuana."
But even with clinical studies showing mild physical responses to abruptly stopping cannabis use, cannabis advocates are still adamant that studies such as the recent JAMA release look at cannabis use within the larger context of drug abuse, where withdrawal symptoms are often much more severe and dangerous than those associated with cessation of frequent pot consumption.
"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," Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told US News. "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.”
Of course, since the study only looked at people who had sought treatment for cannabis use disorder, the research did not account for the vast majority of heavy marijuana users across the globe. And for those who do experience physical withdrawal symptoms when they go cold turkey from cannabis, doctors say that the negative effects will only last a matter of days, and not weeks or months.
"It does get better, and the symptoms do go away with time," Dr. Timothy Brennan, director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai, said. "If they know there's light at the end of the tunnel, maybe that will help motivate them to stick with it."
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