Cannabis causes serious withdrawal symptoms in regular users trying to quit the drug – including headaches, anger and anxiety, a new study found.
Researchers from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario used data from 23,000 marijuana users and discovered it is far more addictive than campaigners claim.
The idea that cannabis is a non-addictive substance is prevalent among those that support and lobby for relaxation of drug laws around the world, the authors said.
The Canadian team used information on users from 47 different research papers to create a new ‘meta-analysis’ of cannabis and how easy it is to stop taking the drug.
They found that 47 per cent of all regular marijuana users suffered from what they described as ‘cannabis withdrawal syndrome’ when trying to give up.
Cannabis causes serious withdrawal symptoms in regular users trying to quit the drug, including headaches, anger and anxiety, a new study found
Queen’s University academics said the more someone uses the drug, the greater the risk of withdrawal effects – they also found men were more likely than women to suffer from withdrawal symptoms.
Researchers say it adds to a growing pool of research into the long-term effects of cannabis use on the brain and on lives.
Impacts of taking the drug over a long period include addiction, poor educational outcomes and a diminished quality of life.
Other symptoms include ‘increased risk of chronic respiratory tract and psychotic disorders, injuries, motor vehicle collisions, and suicide’.
The team defined a ‘cannabis withdrawal syndrome’ (CWS) sufferer as someone who has at least three major symptoms which develop within seven days of giving up the drug.
‘Because many CWS criteria are depression or anxiety symptoms, regular users may seek cannabis to obtain short-term symptom relief, unaware that this use could perpetuate a longer-term withdrawal problem,’ the team wrote.
These include irritability, anger, aggression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, restlessness, depression, headaches, sweating and nausea.
Clinicians should be aware of the high prevalence of cannabis withdrawal symptom and should consider screening for it,’ the authors wrote in their paper.
They say doctors should be doing screening for withdrawal symptoms ‘particularly among those who are at greater risk, in order to counsel patients and support individuals who are reducing their use of cannabis.’
‘Many professionals and members of the general public may not be aware of cannabis withdrawal, potentially leading to confusion about the benefits of cannabis to treat or self-medicate symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders.’
The number of people calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis in Britain have been growing in recent years – focusing initially on medical use.
In 2019 a cross-party group of MPs said they believed cannabis could be legalised in the UK within five years.
Conservative Jonathan Djanogly, Liberal Democrat Sir Norman Lamb and Labour’s David Lammy spoke out after visiting, where the drug has been legalised.
Mr Lammy and Sir Norman both said they believed the drug would be legalised in about five years.
The idea that cannabis is a non-addictive substance is prevalent among those that support and lobby for relaxation of drug laws around the world
The study authors say using cannabis to treat medical problems could cause further issues with withdrawal symptoms down the line – if not properly considered.
‘The clinical significance of CWS is shown by the fact that it can be impairing, that cannabis or other substances are used to relieve it, by its association with trouble quitting use, and by its negative prognostic association,’ they wrote.
Cannabis withdrawal syndrome appears to be common among people with regular or dependent use of cannabinoids, authors discovered.
It is more common in people with drug or tobacco addictions.
‘Clinicians should be aware of the high prevalence of CWS and should consider screening for CWS, particularly among those who are at greater risk, in order to counsel patients and support individuals who are reducing their use of cannabis.’
The team say that doctors should also seriously consider its use amongst those with existing mental health problems due to the fact depression can be a symptom of withdrawal syndrome.
The findings of the study into withdrawal symptoms have been published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
WHAT IS CANNABIS AND WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS?
Cannabis is an illegal Class B drug in the UK, meaning possession could result in a five year prison sentence and those who supply the drug face up to 14 years in jail.
However, the drug is widely used for recreational purposes and can make users feel relaxed and happy.
But smoking it can also lead to feelings of panic, anxiety or paranoia.
Scientific studies have shown the drug can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress, but heavy use may worsen depression in the long term by reducing the brain’s ability to let go of bad memories.
It can also contribute to mental health problems among people who already have them, or increase users’ risk of psychosis or schizophrenia, according to research.
Marijuana can be prescribed for medical uses in more than half of US states, where it is used to combat anxiety, aggression and sleeping problems. Researchers are also looking into whether it could help people with autism,eczema or psoriasis.
Cannabis oil containing the psychoactive chemical THC, which is illegal in the UK, is claimed to have cancer-fighting properties, and one 52 year-old woman from Coventry says she recovered from terminal bowel and stomach cancer by taking the drug.