47% of regular cannabis users show symptoms of cannabis withdrawal

Published Aug 27, 2020 09:00 a.m. ET
iStock / fizkes

The headline is a bold one that contradicts what so many people currently believe about cannabis. For a plant that is touted as a miracle that can cure almost anything, it might be hard to fathom the possibility of any sort of risk becoming associated with it, but like all good things, there are some things that you should know about, like the fact that 47% of regular cannabis users report experiencing symptoms of cannabis withdrawal syndrome.

It is just as important to recognize that cannabis use affects everyone a bit differently and that this illness is not something that cannot be managed, nor is it a thing that typically ends in a tragedy like withdrawal from other recreational drugs often do. In fact, the symptoms of CWS are generally so minimal that they go highly unreported because they are relatively easy to manage without the help of medical professionals, as long as you’re willing to put the effort in to get control over the situation.

What is CWS?

CWS, also known as cannabis withdrawal syndrome, is the technical term for an array of adverse symptoms that may impact a consumer after a length of time passes without using cannabis. Though we have absolutely no idea why CWS impacts some cannabis users and not others, it is believed to be triggered by the regular consumption of THC-rich strains or products, as it only affects those who have become reliant on the effects of cannabis over time.

Symptoms of cannabis withdrawal

The number and intensity of symptoms that may be experienced by consumers with cannabis withdrawal syndrome will vary from one individual to the next, but typically, these are the most commonly reported by regular users.

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • No motivation
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Body aches and pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Itching
  • Uncontrollable cravings for cannabis

The research

If you look at the list of symptoms above, you’ll notice that they don’t seem all that severe, and that is because, in general, they aren’t. They are simply a list of uncomfortable and in some cases mildly painful adverse effects that can come from going too long without cannabis. So, while you might qualify to have had this particular diagnosis at one time or another, it is not a lifelong or unmanageable illness, which makes a high percentage, like the 47% given by one study, a lot more believable.

The research team reviewed a total of three studies that all met the necessary qualifications to be useful for determining a risk assessment of cannabis use. Altogether, 23,518 cannabis consumers were included in the study, and approximately 69% of them were men, which is reasonable when you consider the fact that they make up the majority of cannabis users.

The participants were from various regions around North America, and by the end of it, the results which have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that 47% of all regular cannabis users reported experiencing at least some cannabis withdrawal symptoms.

Is this something that you need to worry about?

Anyone who indulges in cannabis products, be it for medicinal or recreational uses, should be aware of the risks no matter how minimal, but we wouldn’t say that this alone should deter anyone from using the plant or any of its derivatives. Like with most good things in life, moderation is the key to success, so if you want to avoid experiencing symptoms of cannabis withdrawal syndrome, then you’ll want to keep an eye on a few things while you’re actively enjoying all of the benefits that the plant has to offer.

Mental health connection

Researchers saw no difference between consumers who experienced cannabis withdrawal syndrome as far as sex, ethnicity, age, etc., but one thing did stand out, and it was that those with mental health problems were 17% more likely to receive this diagnosis. Though it is unclear how much of an effect this has, as millions of people suffer from mental health problems or CWS without ever reporting it, this point has become a focus that researchers have been reiterating as a consistent finding for quite some time.

How to avoid it

If you want to avoid the possibility of falling victim to the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal, then there are some things that you can do, but it is important to recognize that this is an illness that seems to only impact regular users which are typically described as anyone who uses cannabis at least 3 times or more per week.

  1. Don’t be a regular consumer

Since this is an illness that only seems to impact regular users, if you keep your intake restricted to less than 3 times per week, your chances of coming out the other side of long term consumption of cannabis without any adverse effects will go up significantly.

  1. Take tolerance breaks

Especially in the case of medicinal patients, it can be impossible to simply avoid becoming a regular consumer, as they need at least a little bit every day to maintain relief, but for those who can go without cannabis products for a few days, it’s a great idea to establish tolerance breaks. Cannabis withdrawal syndrome has been directly linked to tolerance level, so it only makes sense to keep working on yours if you want to avoid the potential adverse effects.

  1. Keep your doses low

Since we know that there does seem to be a correlation between tolerance to the cannabinoid THC and CWS, another great tip to reduce your risk would be to keep daily intake as low as possible. It might be challenging and nerve-racking at first to pay such close attention to how much you use, but the long-term benefits of microdosing might be worth the hassle depending on your situation.

  1. Plan ahead so that you don’t ever run out

Since the only time this affects cannabis consumers is when they don’t have any for a length of time, then for some, the best plan is to make sure that they don’t run out. Whether you start growing so that you can afford it, or you start rationing your supply to ensure there’s enough to make it from one payday to the next, for many, this is the ultimate solution for avoiding the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal.

  1. Maintain healthy lifestyle choices

You can do everything that is listed above and still has little to no success if you aren’t taking care of your body. Many become reliant on cannabis and use so much of it to accomplish things that could be replaced with regular daily activities for a much better long-term outcome. A perfect example of this is exercise, which can help to increase your appetite and make it so that you get a good night's rest, so while cannabis can be useful, make sure that it isn’t the only tool in your self-help arsenal.

How to manage it

Symptoms of cannabis withdrawal can get in the way of life, as we all have responsibilities that won’t just go away because we don’t feel well, which is why it helps to know some tricks and tips for getting past the discomfort.

  1. Microdose

If you don’t have any plans to quit altogether, and you’re experiencing cannabis withdrawal syndrome, then the best medicine for you might just be small doses. Even a single hit, might be all that you need to take the edge off, and if that isn’t an option due to work or court orders, then the next best thing is CBD, which can help to counteract some of the most uncomfortable adverse effects.

  1. Drink plenty of water

You might feel nauseous, groggy, have an upset stomach, or feel an intense headache coming on, and a lot of these things can be managed with the help of good old-fashioned water. The more hydrated you are, the faster any traces of cannabinoid will leave your system, plus it can help to perk you up and keep you awake during those first few grueling days.

  1. Stock up on Advil

For many cannabis users, aches and pains of all sorts are the first things that happen after they’ve gone too long without it. The good news is that for the most part, these are regular aches and pains that you probably haven't been feeling for a while, thanks to the assistance of cannabis, but the bad news is that it will all come back to you in a flash without the helpful medicine, and the best way to tackle this is with a good over-the-counter pain reliever like Advil.

  1. Eat well

It might be hard to get any kind of appetite for a while after the symptoms of CWS start to kick in, which is why it is so important to make sure that when you do reach for something, it’s healthy. Delicious salads, fruits, or cheese and crackers platters are the perfect solutions for when you have an upset stomach, as they’ll go down easy, and help to settle the way that you’re feeling the whole way down.

  1. Get plenty of exercises

As hard as it may be to pull yourself out of the house when you aren’t feeling well, a nice stroll around the block could be enough to pick you up, clear your head, and help you to get back on track faster. It can also help you to fall asleep and stay distracted when you’re fighting off cravings, so if you didn’t have one before, now might be the ideal time to invest in a gym membership.

There is still so much that we don’t yet understand about cannabis withdrawal syndrome, but for now, it is important for all interested and already existing cannabis users to weigh the pros and the cons before they start. Cannabis is most definitely the safest recreational drug of choice on the market today, but like most things in life, there are some risks along the way. So be prepared, get educated, and stay ready to recognize the symptoms before they get to a point where it could interfere with your quality of life.

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