Is cannabis addiction real? New study adds to a growing mountain of evidence

Apr 28, 2020

Contrary to popular belief, a recent study published in JAMA Network Open found that frequent cannabis users can suffer from symptoms of withdrawal when they suddenly stop using. The findings, which give more credence to the notion the marijuana is, in fact, addictive, also bolster the evidence for the fact that cannabis businesses should be labeled essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a report on the study in US News & World Report, roughly 47 percent of people who use cannabis frequently seek out some kind of treatment for what is dubbed “cannabis withdrawal syndrome.” The study looked at 47 different research efforts that included upwards of 23,000 participants.

Symptoms of cannabis withdrawal include nervousness, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, restlessness, and irritability, according to US News & World Report. More physical symptoms may include stomach pain, shakiness, tremors, sweating, fever, chills, and headaches.

"It can be miserable, and presents a challenge for people trying to get sober from cannabis," said Dr. Timothy Brennan, director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai, in New York City in the article.

The idea of cannabis as an addictive substance has been debated heavily for years. Although it found a legitimate audience with the publication of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition,” it’s also found its detractors as well. In large part, many see the idea of cannabis addiction as fodder for prohibitionists and the anti-cannabis movement.

One person who knows it is real is Dr. Jonathan N. Stea, a registered and practicing clinical psychologist in Calgary. He’s been working with patients suffering from cannabis use disorder for a number of years. In an article he wrote for the CBC a couple of years ago, compared cannabis withdrawal to nicotine withdrawal.

“A misconception I often hear is that if cannabis addiction is real, it must only be psychologically addicting, not physically addicting,” he wrote. “This is not true. Researchers have identified an endogenous cannabinoid system, cannabinoid receptors, and cannabinoid antagonists, meaning there is a wealth of biological evidence that cannabis can produce both tolerance and withdrawal in animals as well as humans.”

According to Dr. Brennan in US News & World Report, cannabis addiction is more common in males than females and is more prominent in people who use other substances as well, like nicotine. Part of the issue, said Brennan, is that cannabis is more potent today than it was in the past.

"The cannabis supply that's out there now compared to the cannabis supply that was around in the 1960s and 1970s shows a dramatic increase in the percent of THC," Brennan said. "The cannabis now is much stronger, and that's what people develop a dependence on and a withdrawal from."

Cannabis users don’t know about cannabinoids

A joint study out of the University at Buffalo and the University of Michigan found that cannabis users are not as knowledgeable about the cannabinoid content of their product as they think they are. According to the study, users know “surprisingly” little of THC and CBD content and effective dosages of both.

The study was lead by Daniel Kruger, Ph.D., and published in the journal Drugs: Education, Prevention, and Policy. 

“Even the people who are most enthusiastic have very poor knowledge of cannabinoid content,” said Kruger, a research associate professor of community health and health behavior in the University of Buffalos School of Public Health and Health Professions. “They greatly overestimated how much THC and how much CBD was in various strains, and what the effective dosages were.”

Researchers surveyed nearly 500 “Hash Bash” attendees, asking them 24 questions about THC, CBD, and other cannabinoid content.

The most frequent response was, “I don’t know.”

Add comment