Research by a group of scientists studying the effects of heavy marijuana use suggests that withdrawal from the use of marijuana is similar to what is experienced by people when they quit smoking cigarettes.
Abstinence from each of these drugs appears to cause several common symptoms, such as irritability, anger and trouble sleeping - based on self reporting in a recent study of 12 heavy users of both marijuana and cigarettes.
“These results indicate that some marijuana users experience withdrawal effects when they try to quit, and that these effects should be considered by clinicians treating people with problems related to heavy marijuana use,” says lead investigator in the study, Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. Admissions in substance abuse treatment facilities in which marijuana was the primary problem substance have more than doubled since the early 1990s and now rank similar to cocaine and heroin with respect to total number of yearly treatment episodes in the United States, says Vandrey.
The small sample size renders this more of a suggestive case study than a reliable scientific trial.
That rehabilitation numbers are now comparable to those of cocaine and heroin is potentially misleading, as an order of magnitude more Americans smoke pot than use cocaine. The absolute numbers may be similar, but the rates of admission into substance abuse programs due to use of the different drugs are not.
Still, the increase in treatment meshes with the secular rise in THC levels (the compound that influences the release of dopamine in the brain during a high) that has characterized US and European pot over the last half-century.
I'm more interested in this:
Interestingly, the study also revealed that half of the participants found it easier to abstain from both substances than it was to stop marijuana or tobacco individually, whereas the remaining half had the opposite response.
As both forms of smoking increase the amount of dopamine that is released in the brain, might substitution inherently be counter-productive for many people who are trying to kick pleasureable 'bad' habits?
It's plausible that the standard 21mg cessation patch, which releases into the user the nicotine equivalent of one pack of smokes over a 24-hour period, may get its hit-or-miss reputation for the same reasons underlying the split found in this study. The patch, and substitution as an aid to giving up other addictive activities more generally, may be more effective than trying to go cold-turkey for most people*. But it might actually further entrench regular use among others.
I wonder how that disparity might be genetically influenced. I suspect that answer will be revealed, among countless other, in the coming years thanks to the revolutionary advances in DNA sequencing that are occuring as we speak.
Marijuana also appears to increase the incidence of periodontal problems:
In a study of more than 900 young adults, researchers found that heavy tokers were 1.6 times more likely to have at least mild periodontal disease, compared to those who had never smoked grass. ...
As a group, their risk of having at least one site with more severe gum disease was triple that of the group who never used the illicit drug, say the researchers, whose work is published in Wednesday's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
This suggests that regular marijuana use shares some consequences of regular tobacco use. That isn't surprising given the similarities in the way both are consumed.
Weed seems to be following a path similar to that of cigarettes before it: Originally thought to be innocuous, but appearing less and less so as time goes on.
*The consensus from what I've read seems to be that patches tend to be about twice as effective as resolving to go 'cold turkey' is, but there's the question of how much more resolve in takes in the first place to actually buy the expensive patches versus simply saying "I quit".