Physical Dependence

Studies show that most marijuana users, even heavy users, can reduce or stop marijuana use with little or no physical withdrawal effects. Some extreme marijuana users do report physical withdrawal symptoms when they quit using the drug, including irritability, headaches, nervousness, and insomnia. However, these symptoms are temporary, diminishing within a few days to a few weeks, depending on the individual, and are usually portrayed as mild.

Studies show that marijuana does not produce the much harsher physical withdrawal symptoms experienced by heroin or alcohol addicts. Even heavy marijuana users can reduce or stop their use without physical withdrawal effects, since cessation of marijuana use typically results in rapid recovery from its effects (another aspect of the phenomenon of tolerance). Some researchers claim that heavy marijuana users who cut back on their use for even a short period can become sensitive again to lower doses of marijuana. (These researchers suggest that this can be a factor in avoiding dependence in the marijuana user.)

Many surveys indicate that a large majority of people who try marijuana do not become long-term frequent users. In a study of adults in their 30s who were first surveyed in high school, over 75 percent reported that they had not used marijuana over the past year. In another study, 85 percent of men who had been daily marijuana users from ages 18 to 28 were found to no longer be using the drug on a daily basis, although a majority continued to use it occasionally. These and other surveys and studies indicate that marijuana dependency is usually not as severe or long-term as it is for many other drugs. Still, everyone should be aware that marijuana dependency does exist; it is difficult to predict who will experience this problem and when it might occur.

There have been limited animal studies that show significant physical symptoms from marijuana withdrawal. For example, in a recent government-sponsored study, researchers gave mice large doses of THC continuously for four days, then administered a cannabinoid blocker drug, which immediately stripped THC from their receptors. This resulted in extreme physical withdrawal symptoms in the mice, suggesting that marijuana causes physical dependence. However, many experts in the field take issue with these findings, since when human marijuana users stop using marijuana, they always experience a gradual separation of THC from receptors (because of normal biological receptor functioning). These experts maintain that for this reason, humans do not experience severe physical withdrawal when they stop using marijuana.

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