Cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS) is the proper medical term used to describe marijuana withdrawal. Before the 1990s, many doubted that cessation of marijuana could lead to similar symptoms of withdrawal seen with other drugs. However, as marijuana use began to rise over the next two decades, more patients began to seek treatment for marijuana-related disorders, including cognitive deficits, psychosis, and dependence.
There is no guaranteed method for predicting who will have cannabis withdrawal syndrome after quitting marijuana, just as there is no way to predict how long it will last. There are, however, some predisposing factors, which may place you at risk for CWS.
Frequency of Use
By far, the dominant risk factor for CWS is how much and when you last smoked. In short, you are at higher risk for marijuana withdrawal if you are a heavy marijuana user. This means being a daily smoker, or if you have used more than 3 times a week for a year or more.
Multiple studies have demonstrated a positive association between intensity of cannabis use and rates of withdrawal (Stephens, Addiction, 2002; Copeland, J Subst Abuse Treat, 2001). If you are a heavy user, or if you use other substances like alcohol, tobacco, or cocaine, or have a co-morbid psychiatric diagnosis, you may consider consulting with your doctor or other healthcare provider so that you can be monitored for symptoms of severe withdrawal.
Genetic Factors, Race, and Gender
In some individuals, inherited susceptibility may play a huge part in how likely they are to have marijuana withdrawal. Studies of twins with cannabis use disorder have shown that, when it comes to withdrawal, at least half of the variability between individuals can be attributed to genes (Verweig, Psychol Med, 2013).
Other studies have found that African Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders may be at elevated risk of CWS (Livne, Drug Alcohol Depend, 2019).
Gender may also be a significant factor in risk of CWS and women may experience more severe symptoms of marijuana withdrawal. In a 2015 study, women reported higher withdrawal discomfort than men for symptoms including irritability, restlessness, increased anger, violent outbursts, as well as for gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea and stomach pain (Hermann, Exp Clin Psychopharmacol, 2015).
Comorbid Psychiatric Illness
If you have a personal or family history of psychiatric illness, including anxiety, depression, or other substance use, you are likely at an increased risk for CWS. National surveys have found that people who have had a history of a mood or anxiety disorder within the past year are nearly two times as likely to have CWS compared to healthy counterparts (Livne, Drug Alcohol Depend, 2019). If you are suffering from a psychiatric disorder, it may be best to consult your healthcare provider if you plan to curtail your marijuana habit.
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