Questions over the clinical significance of cannabis withdrawal have hindered its inclusion as a discrete cannabis induced psychiatric condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). This study aims to quantify functional impairment to normal daily activities from cannabis withdrawal, and looks at the factors predicting functional impairment. In addition the study tests the influence of functional impairment from cannabis withdrawal on cannabis use during and after an abstinence attempt.
A volunteer sample of 49 non-treatment seeking cannabis users who met DSM-IV criteria for dependence provided daily withdrawal-related functional impairment scores during a one-week baseline phase and two weeks of monitored abstinence from cannabis with a one month follow up. Functional impairment from withdrawal symptoms was strongly associated with symptom severity (p = 0.0001). Participants with more severe cannabis dependence before the abstinence attempt reported greater functional impairment from cannabis withdrawal (p = 0.03). Relapse to cannabis use during the abstinence period was associated with greater functional impairment from a subset of withdrawal symptoms in high dependence users. Higher levels of functional impairment during the abstinence attempt predicted higher levels of cannabis use at one month follow up (p = 0.001).
Cannabis withdrawal is clinically significant because it is associated with functional impairment to normal daily activities, as well as relapse to cannabis use. Sample size in the relapse group was small and the use of a non-treatment seeking population requires findings to be replicated in clinical samples. Tailoring treatments to target withdrawal symptoms contributing to functional impairment during a quit attempt may improve treatment outcomes.