Marijuana Withdrawal Syndrome




There are now several clinical trials showing that mice and dogs show evidence of cannabis withdrawal. (For THC-addicted dogs, it is the abnormal number of wet-dog shakes that give them away.) Today, scientists have a much better picture of the jobs performed by anandamide, the body’s own form of THC. This knowledge helps explain a wide range of THC withdrawal symptoms.

Among the endogenous tasks performed by anandamide are pain control, memory blocking, appetite enhancement, the suckling reflex, lowering of blood pressure during shock, and the regulation of certain immune responses. These functions shed light on common hallmarks of cannabis withdrawal, such as anxiety, chills, sweats, flu-like physical symptoms, and decreased appetite. At Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, where a great deal of National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded research takes place, researchers have found that abrupt marijuana withdrawal leads to symptoms similar to depression and nicotine withdrawal.

What the NIDA has learned about cannabis addiction, according to the principal investigator of a recent NIDA study, was that “we had no difficulty recruiting dozens of people between the ages of 30 and 55 who have smoked marijuana at least 5,000 times. A simple ad in the paper generated hundreds of phone calls from such people.” (This would be roughly equivalent to 14 years of daily pot smoking.)

Here is a sampling of comments from dependent marijuana smokers, gathered from my blog, Addiction Inbox :

Comment 1

I’m 55 and I’ve been smoking pot off and on for the last 30 years… I had no idea of the withdrawal I would experience. Two days in, I thought for sure I had some dreaded disease. One minute I would be freezing, the next sweating. The loss of appetite doesn’t bother me because pot always helped me keep on an extra 5-10 lbs from the munchies and sweet tooth. Not sure how long it will take, but I do look forward to the day when this has all passed.

Comment 2

As far as symptoms, the worst for me so far has been insomnia, on day nine I was awake for 28 hours, a hallucinatory experience itself….The temperature regulation thing is very real, I’m freezing, I’m burning, I’m sweating. Starting to get hungry once a day.

Comment 3

The cravings have pretty much subsided but not completely. When I get bored is when it is the strongest. I have experienced the sweating, severe diarrhea, migraine headaches and sleeplessness…. I have hidden this addiction from family for so long and it’s nice to not have to worry if someone is going to stop by and smell it and catch me.

Comment 4

I have been smoking pot since I was 17, I am now 34, happily married with a child. I smoked at least once a day, up to 4 joints a day by myself. I stopped smoking a week ago but I am completely miserable…. I am always dreaming of using, I wake up in sweats and search the whole house for a roach sometimes when I am desperate but at the same time I feel proud that I have not called my dealer or visited my using friends, this time I might as well do it.

Comment 5

It’s been 2 weeks since I vaporized my last bowl, and since then I’ve gotten so desperate I’ve been smoking resin. Last night I used rubbing alcohol to get the resin out of my bong and smoked the resin after the alcohol evaporated. It tasted awful and barely got me high, but tonight I did it again, and I was so impatient that I put the resin-alcohol solution in the oven to help it evaporate! This is how desperate I’ve become – I’ve risked burning down my house in order to get marginally high.

Comment 6

After using heavily for the past 7 years, and basically all day every day for the last 6 months my side effects are major. i still cant sleep properly although at least now im getting 6 hours which isnt too bad. nausea every day. i have a bad stomach to begin with but i usually dont get sick every day. hot and cold sweats. im freezing right now but about half an hour ago i was boiling. i havent eaten properly since i stopped. the thing i dont like is that i feel spaced out constantly. i feel like im bent even when im not. and not bent in a calm relaxing way either.

Comment 7

I am a researcher at a university and have studied the effects of drugs, particularly alcohol, on the brain for the last decade or so. Like many of my friends and colleagues, I consider marijuana to be a relatively low-risk drug when used in moderation by responsible adults. However, I am now forced to admit that my view of the discontinuation syndrome was naïve and that I was completely unprepared for it myself:

Week 1: Despite missing my evening smoking session and feeling some mild irritability, I felt fine.

Week 2: Mild flu-like symptoms, which I assumed to be viral in nature though it did not exactly feel viral. No real desire to smoke marijuana. I assumed I was out of the woods and had gotten off easy.

Week 3: Sudden onset of incredibly intense and vivid dreams. Profuse sweating at night. Difficulty discerning dreaming from waking state. Lack of energy. Upset stomach. Absolutely no appetite. Unable to focus. Saw my primary care physician. All labs normal.

Week 4: This is where the real problems began for me. Sudden onset of intense, full body anxiety…. This led to complete insomnia for days. A very deep feeling of dread and a sense that I was going completely insane. Crying spells that came from nowhere….

Week 5: The intense anxiety slowly began to dissipate… was able to sleep for 4-6 hours a night, which is approaching normal for me. Appetite slowly came back but the thought of eating was unpleasant. Feeling of confidence began to return. Feelings of hopelessness and of going crazy began to diminish.

References

Budney, A. (2004). Review of the Validity and Significance of Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome American Journal of Psychiatry, 161 (11), 1967-1977 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.161.11.1967

Lichtman, A.H. and Martin, B.R. (2002) Marijuana withdrawal syndrome in the animal model. Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 42, 20S-27S.

Vandrey, R., Budney, A., Kamon, J., & Stanger, C. (2005). Cannabis withdrawal in adolescent treatment seekers Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 78 (2), 205-210 DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2004.11.001

WILSON, D., VARVEL, S., HARLOE, J., MARTIN, B., & LICHTMAN, A. (2006). SR 141716 (Rimonabant) precipitates withdrawal in marijuana-dependent mice Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 85 (1), 105-113 DOI: 10.1016/j.pbb.2006.07.018

Dirk Hanson, MA

Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of "The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction." He is also the author of ''The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution.'' He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog, and is senior contributing editor for the addiction and recovery website, The Fix.
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