30th January 2021
By Roland Sebestyén
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Medical cannabis is being considered as an alternative medication for a number of conditions, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. Cannabis-based medicines have been shown to have medicinal and therapeutic potential as well as often presenting fewer side effects that common treatment options.

However, A recently published study has found that over half of patients using medical cannabis for chronic pain experienced moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms.

Medical cannabis is notably increasingly being considered as a potential alternative to opioid medications for the treatment of pain. It has been suggested that cannabis may be an effective pain reliever, while not carrying as many risks for abuse, addiction, and overdose as opioid medications.

While this may be so, the authors of ‘Progression of cannabis withdrawal symptoms in people using medical cannabis for chronic pain’ concluded that those consuming medical cannabis more frequently have a higher risk of developing dependency.

While it is still relatively unknown what sort of withdrawal symptoms heavy (recreational) cannabis consumers have to deal with, in another study 47% reported that they were struggling after they stopped using the drug.

Among the symptoms are depression, a desire or craving to use cannabis, restlessness, anxiety, and increased aggression.

At the same time, medical cannabis use has significantly increased over the last few years. Patients and people looking for alternative treatment turned to cannabidiol (CBD) related medicines for a large number of different health conditions.

Lara Coughlin, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, was part of a team looking into medical cannabis dependency.

In the end, after 527 individuals were monitored for two years, the researchers concluded that 59% of them had reported either moderate or severe medical cannabis withdrawal symptoms.

Ms Coughlin told The Conversation that the most common symptoms were sleep difficulties, irritability and anxiety.

She added: “We also found that cannabis withdrawal symptoms were more severe in younger people, people with mental health problems, people who had a longer history of cannabis use and people who used more frequently or in larger amounts.

“Additionally, we found that smoking cannabis – rather than eating or topically applying it – was correlated with worse withdrawal symptoms.

“Our team also looked at how people’s withdrawal symptoms changed over time. Most continued to experience the same severity of withdrawal symptoms any time they stopped ingesting cannabis over the two years of the study, but about 10% – particularly younger people – got worse over time.

“As with most dependency-forming substances, reducing the frequency or amount of cannabis use may help to alleviate these symptoms.”

Ms Coughlin writes that while having (medical) cannabis withdrawal symptoms are not as dangerous as if it is with alcohol or other hard drugs, it is important to recognise that “it does exist.”

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