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Pot Shots: Bad-Faith Arguments Take Up The Most Space In The Pot Addiction Debate

In Culture
MIND OVER MATTER: Many cannabis advocates are skeptical that anyone has withdrawals from quitting pot, while critics insist it’s a highly dangerous substance. Science disagrees with both of them. Photo by Lightspring via Shutterstock

MIND OVER MATTER: Many cannabis advocates are skeptical that anyone has withdrawals from quitting pot, while critics insist it’s a highly dangerous substance. Science disagrees with both of them. Photo by Lightspring via Shutterstock

The popular discourse surrounding cannabis has devolved to the point that people now anticipate the responses they’ll get whenever they say anything remotely “negative” about weed.

Last week, cannabis-business veteran Kristen Yoder, a self-described “BS detector” known for ridiculing myths, platitudes and bad corporate behavior in the cannabis industry, posted a story on LinkedIn about dealing with cannabis withdrawal. “Before you leave a comment, let me get them for you,” she wrote, heading off the responses she was sure would follow, including: “It’s not like withdrawing from heroin or pharmaceuticals!” and “Not everyone goes through that, I never did!”

“Yeah, I get it,” she wrote. “You’re lucky.”

At this point, enough people have related their experiences withdrawing from weed that it’s clearly an issue for some substantial number of cannabis users. But the True Believers are going to stick to scripture, and even Yoder’s pre-emptive maneuver didn’t stop them from throwing in their two cents. “I’ve never heard of cannabis withdrawal, not sure I believe in it either,” wrote Bradley McLaughlin, CEO of BudTrader.com, a medical-pot marketing platform. 

It’s not a matter of “belief,” however, as there is science backing up the claim. 

Yoder, for instance, responded to her doubters with a link to a study published by the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation finding that pot withdrawals are indeed very real. Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

As real as they are, the symptoms are generally not debilitating, and certainly are not anything like the withdrawal symptoms associated with kicking heroin or OxyContin. Severe alcoholics have a much harder time giving up booze than any pot smoker might have giving up weed. 

Researchers have found that “long term and regular use” of pot can lead to “light to moderate” symptoms including cravings, insomnia, stomach pain, nausea, irritability, fatigue and headaches. The symptoms generally last a few weeks to a couple of months. 

The question of whether cannabis is “addictive” gets thorny because of the associations with that word. Having a headache and not being able to sleep isn’t exactly the stuff of the movie Panic in Needle Park. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that if you listened only to prohibitionists. 

Kevin Sabet, a former government drug warrior and now the president of Smart Approaches To Marijuana advocates prohibition. He and his organization say pot is addictive, often flatly averring that it’s “as addictive as alcohol.” He cites the fact that more regular users report being “addicted” to cannabis than regular users of alcohol report being “addicted” to hooch. He didn’t mention anything about any pot-smokers experiencing delirium or going into seizures, which can happen when severe alcoholics try to quit drinking.

A couple of years ago, Sabet tweeted that “Marijuana is addictive, and is not an offramp from opioid addiction.” That would come as a big surprise to the thousands of people who say pot saved them from various drug addictions. 

Alex Berenson does much the same thing, on social media and in his rather amusingly titled book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. 

Once, the perpetually enraged Fox Business reporter Charles Gasparino declared on Twitter that he “grew up [with] guys who were addicted [to] heroin. The pot today is in that general area.” Berenson played right along, citing the higher THC levels of today’s weed and asserting that “people have told me” that they’ve had a harder time kicking cannabis than stopping opioid use. 

One might be on safer ground to use the word “dependency,” when it comes to weed, but it’s probably best to avoid such terms and note that you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

And how to deal with those symptoms? The short answer might be: simply endure because in a few weeks you should be fine. And if you take up cannabis again, maybe use it less often to avoid having to go through the annoyances of withdrawal. Nobody has any definitive treatments, but some people say they’ve had luck taking CBD, drinking lots of fluids, taking pain relievers and exercising. 

Yoder is still very much pro-cannabis, despite her recent decision to lay off. Her experience with quitting: “The first week I couldn’t eat and lost six pounds….I cried daily, had headaches and insomnia, crazy dreams. Cravings died down around week three. Day 30, though… I felt AMAZING!” 

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