Frequent marijuana users can suffer from withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, experts say

Print More

By BRANDON CHEW
Capital News Service 

LANSING — While marijuana is commonly thought of as less dangerous than other drugs, frequent users can suffer from multiple withdrawal symptoms, as well as a heightened risk of anxiety, experts said. 

The younger someone starts using marijuana and the more often it’s used increases the likelihood of more severe withdrawal symptoms, said Lara Coughlin, an addiction psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychiatry. 

She’s the lead author of the study published in the journal Addiction.

Possible withdrawal symptoms included increased anxiety, sleeping difficulty, decreased appetite, restlessness, depressed mood, aggression, irritability, nausea, sweating, headache, stomach pain, strange dreams, increased anger and shakiness. 

The survey analyzed the responses of 527 adults with chronic pain who sought  medical cannabis certifications. They were predominately white (82%), 49% male and their average age was 45.6. 

The study categorized multiple withdrawal symptoms in three categories: no symptoms or mild symptoms; multiple but moderate symptoms; and severe withdrawal with most, if not all symptoms. 

Of participants, 41% had mild symptoms, 34% had moderate symptoms and 25% and severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Marijuana legalization by states “has gone a lot quicker than the research field has at understanding risks or consequences of abuse,” Coughlin said. 

She said the concern is that early use marijuana may increase the risk of future problems, including more substance abuse problems. and may cause brain changes.

Debra Pinals, the medical director of behavioral health and forensic programs at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said there’s also concerns that users who already suffer from depression and anxiety could experience negative side effects from frequent marijuana use.

“We certainly worry about people who have those kinds of disorders, depression, anxiety, even disorders that involve psychotic thinking with excessive intake, or intake at all, of THC that can worsen some of those conditions,” she said. THC is the major psychoactive compound in marijuana.

“But we also worry about people who don’t have those conditions because heavy use and exposure to THC can actually influence people having those adverse reactions,”Pinals said.

Cara Poland, an addiction medicine doctor and assistant professor at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, said marijuana use can cause feelings of paranoia and cause people to isolate themselves and be less social

“Marijuana itself can cause some amount of paranoia, whereas alcohol causes disinhibition,” Poland said. “Alcohol by its effects on the brain is going to make people more social, whereas marijuana can induce this kind of paranoia, and that itself can make people not want to be around others.”

Marijuana also doesn’t make as many users dependent. As a result, people are less likely to be concerned about developing a use disorder, Poland said. 

“One in four people who smoke a cigarette will become nicotine-dependent during their lifetime,” she said. “With marijuana, that number is one in 10. So fewer people have a problem with marijuana-use disorder. It’s easy to think it’s benign because it doesn’t adversely affect as many people as some of these other substances.”  

Pinals said, “The marijuana of today is not necessarily the marijuana of 30 years ago,and people have to realize that some products are much more potent and much more problematic.”