Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 1:29 p.m.
It's an aphorism of the medical marijuana community that, unlike nicotine, alcohol and other narcotic substances, cannabis is not addictive and therefore does not lead to physical withdrawal symptoms for those who quit.
But now comes an Australian study that suggests otherwise.
The study, by David Allsop, PhD, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and other researchers there, involved 46 pot smokers who were studied over a period of one month. The subjects were invited to smoke pot every day for a week, then asked to abstain from smoking for two weeks, and then answer questions at the end of the month. Of that group, 10 subjects of the 46 admitted to smoking weed when they weren't supposed to be--typically about five days into their abstinence period--and their relapse coincided with what the study calls "peak functional impairment."
The study reported 19 different symptoms of withdrawal, including trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, feelings of anxiety, feeling like "life was an uphill struggle," feeling of physical tension, mood swings and depression. In conclusion, the study found that the "more dependent a person is on marijuana, the more severe their withdrawal symptoms are when they quit, and "those who experienced more severe impairment were also significantly more likely to relapse at follow-up."
Critics of the study are bound to point out that if only 10 out of 46 pot smokers couldn't go two weeks without pot, it doesn't exactly suggest that the withdrawal symptoms being experienced are nearly as powerful as those suffered by folks who are physically addicted to cigarettes or alcohol.
In fact--and to his credit--Dr. Allsop himself acknowledges that the data's shortcomings in that regard. "It is of note that the average level of functional impairment caused by cannabis withdrawal symptoms was relatively mild ... among this sample of nontreatment-seeking users," he wrote, adding that the since the study was based on patients who were already chronic stoners seeking help in dealing with withdrawal symptoms, they may not represent a typical chunk of the broader pot-smoking population.