Advocates of cannabis use recreationally, and to deal with physical and mental problems, suggest that cannabis is not problematic in terms of creating mental health problems or dealing with cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
But other people, even some cannabis users, deny that. They say that cannabis is emotionally addictive, provokes long-term changes in the body and mind, and can cause serious problems with anxiety, paranoia, and also enhancing existing mental health problems such as cognitive distortions.
So what’s the truth? I’m going to quickly put it all together so you can see the facts. There are two extreme positions I’ve just spoken about, so is either true, or is reality somewhere in between?
Is Cannabis Addictive And Can It Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?
The debate around whether cannabis is addictive or not has been going on for decades.
Unfortunately, the existing evidence is strong enough to suggest that it is addictive. It definitely triggers responses (cannabis is an agonist) in the cannabinoid receptors, part of the endocannabinoid system in our body.
Just like opiates are agonists of the opioid receptors, leading to addictive tendencies, so it is the same with cannabis. There is literally no way to deny it.
In terms of withdrawal symptoms, unfortunately even anecdotally it’s obvious. Speak to any regular cannabis smoker about the time they stopped smoking weed for a week and they will confirm that withdrawal symptoms do happen. If you know a weed smoker, and they haven’t smoked for a couple of days, you will notice more anxiety and other emotional changes.
Those withdrawal symptoms can be mild, a slight anxiety, easily getting upset. Sweating and feeling uneasy, trouble sleeping, vivid dreams, but in others they can be vicious. Even if people don’t put it all together, the trends are there even if they can’t spot them.
What’s The Evidence Of Long Term Changes To Support The Theory?
Cannabis is no different to any other drug. It interacts with systems in our body and changes the signals to produce the effect. Over time, the body becomes more and more dependent on this interaction to produce the changes, rather than doing them for itself.
That is the basis of addiction, which has a range of associated physical and mental things associated with the basic neurotransmitter and hormonal changes.
Physically then, cannabis can cause addiction. Emotionally it can as well. Socially it also can, because it becomes part of your lifestyle.
Plus, it definitely can provoke changes in the body, which leads to temporary or permanent psychological changes.
And in terms of withdrawal symptoms, suddenly removing cannabis from your life can lead to some pretty vicious withdrawal symptoms. At the extreme end of which is an acute withdrawal which is quite dangerous and can lead to permanent mental health problems, including in rare instances some serious problems with psychosis.
Does The Science Support The Claims That Cannabis Causes Mental Health Problems?
So unfortunately, although a lot of users tout cannabis as a safe drug to take that is just a bit of fun and chills you out, unfortunately the truth is rather more sinister if you are smoking it regularly, and at high doses (even worse if you are smoking the stronger types of cannabis around now).
Although a lot of people do not get serious withdrawal problems, or get particularly addicted, it is far more prevalent than a lot of people will admit.
In terms of the science, let’s look at some examples.
In 2005, a paper published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal, looked at 72 young people. They were all in outpatient treatment for substance abuse. All of them were found to have significant and noticeable withdrawal symptoms after stopping cannabis use.
Alongside that, those same adolescents showed signs of all the withdrawal symptoms we have talked about, namely, depression, irritability, restlessness, inability to sleep, changes in appetite, significant anxiety, aggression, and deviant behavior in order to seek out more cannabis.
A couple of years earlier in 2003, another study over 50 days looked at 18 people who were routine cannabis users. They agreed to a 45 day abstinence period. Observations were in line with what I’m telling you here about withdrawal symptoms.
Anger, aggression, anxiety, lack of appetite, a drop in body weight, restlessness, feelings of hopelessness, emotional problems, underlying mental health conditions getting worse, physical shaking, sweating, seeking out other addictive substances, all the classic signs of withdrawal.
The American Psychiatric Association has gone as far now as to state clearly that cannabis withdrawal and associated mental health problems are definitely something that are a fact of prolonged cannabis use.
They state that cannabis withdrawal symptoms include anger, irritability, sleep difficulty, nervousness, a lack of appetite, sweating, headaches, bad dreams, deviant behavior, and the seeking out of other substances to replace cannabis, for example alcohol or other types of drug.
What You Can Do To Avoid The Possibility Of Cannabis Problems
Look guys, unfortunately, you’re in denial if you’re thinking that cannabis is an easy thing to use and you won’t have any problems.
Moderately, sure, as long as you don’t overload yourself by only smoking the occasional joint, or you don’t use too many other central nervous system depressant drugs (alcohol being the classic one) heavily, then you should be okay.
If you’re smoking a couple of big joints every day, and you want to stop suddenly, whether it’s to get through a drug test or whatever, then you are heading for problems.
Tapering down is definitely the way out of this. If you go cold turkey then you will hit a brick wall which can be absolutely hideous. You could also change strains to lower withdrawal potential.
What you need to do is start to taper down on your use over a couple of weeks. Try and half your consumption over those two weeks. And then over two more weeks, half it again, hopefully working down to stopping completely if you need to.
I’ve personally known a few people who are regular weed smokers. The one trait I’ve seen in all of them is anxiety. They get anxious easily, they get upset more easily, and although they think they are chilled out people, unless they have cannabis in their system, they actually aren’t at all. Their decision-making is poor, and they can be very muddled and reactionary.
So do yourself a favor, be honest with yourself about the level of your use, and perhaps keep a diary to see how your moods change when you start cutting cannabis out and leaving it longer between smoking it to minimise the cannabis withdrawal symptoms you can suffer.