Cannabis users have a greater chance of relapse to cannabis use when they experience certain withdrawal symptoms, according to research published Sep. 26 in the open access journal PLOS ONE led by David Allsop of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) at the University of New South Wales.
The authors tested a group of dependent cannabis users over a two week period of abstinence for impairment related to their withdrawal symptoms. Findings were correlated with the probability of relapse to cannabis use during the abstinence period, and the level of use one month later.
They found that in more dependent users, certain withdrawal symptoms, such as physical tension, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, mood swings and loss of appetite, were more strongly associated with relapse than other symptoms, such as hot flashes, fatigue, or night sweats. Participants with greater dependence before the abstinence attempt reported more severe impairment from the withdrawal. Participants with greater impairment from cannabis withdrawal consumed more cannabis during the month following the abstinence attempt.
If these results extend to treatment seeking cannabis users seeking treatment for withdrawal, the research may help improve counseling and treatment strategies for those looking for support.
"Tailoring treatments to target withdrawal symptoms contributing to functional impairment during a quit attempt may improve treatment outcomes" says Allsop.
Citation: Allsop DJ, Copeland J, Norberg MM, Fu S, Molnar A, et al. (2012) Quantifying the Clinical Significance of Cannabis Withdrawal. PLOS ONE 7(9): e44864. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044864
Financial disclosure: Dr. Allsop is supported by a project grant (1006036) from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia. Funding for the work was provided by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Dr. Budney's contribution was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, DA15186 and DA23526. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing interest statement: Yes, we have the following interest. Professor Alan Budney has provided consultation to GW Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Allsop, Professor Copeland, and Dr. Norberg are currently carrying out an investigator driven clinical trial using materials donated by GW Pharmaceuticals. This does not alter our adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials, as detailed online in the guide for authors. All other authors report no competing interest exists.