Long-Term Cannabis Use Makes Cocaine Withdrawal Worse, Study Finds

Cannabis abuse is the term for a non-addicted pattern of marijuana/cannabis consumption that nevertheless interferes with the ability to maintain stable, productive daily routines. The condition forms part of a larger health problem called cannabis use disorder. In a study published in September 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a team of Brazilian researchers looked at the negative influence that a well-established pattern of cannabis abuse has on the detoxification/withdrawal process that forms the beginning of any successful recovery from cocaine addiction. These researchers also looked at the negative influence of an early introduction to cannabis/marijuana intake on the same phase of the recovery process.

Cannabis Abuse and Cannabis Use Disorder

The plant-based drug cannabis has an increasingly benign reputation in the eyes of the American public, especially among younger segments of the population. Despite this fact, doctors, addiction specialists, public health officials and researchers have long acknowledged the reality that a certain percentage of even casual cannabis/marijuana consumers will develop a diagnosably dysfunctional pattern of abuse or addiction. In fact, recent figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that nearly one out of 10 people (9 percent) who use cannabis/marijuana will develop a cannabis addiction, regardless of their level of intake. In addition, people who start using cannabis/marijuana in adolescence develop addiction at the rate of roughly 17 percent, even if they’re only casual consumers. Since some of the core symptoms of non-addicted abuse and addiction can overlap, the American Psychiatric Association asks doctors to diagnose a single condition, cannabis use disorder, in all affected individuals.

Cocaine Detoxification and Withdrawal

All people addicted to cocaine have developed a chemical reliance on the presence of the drug inside their brains. When cocaine intake does not meet the brain’s minimum requirements, an individual affected by addiction will experience highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that are essentially meant to encourage a rapid return to continued drug consumption. When an addicted user starts the recovery process, he or she must deal with these withdrawal symptoms while going through detoxification, the initial stage of abstinence during which cocaine leaves the system and the brain is reintroduced to cocaine-free daily function. Even after detoxification ends and active treatment begins, the addicted user will still typically experience prominent withdrawal symptoms that can derail successful recovery if not identified and properly addressed.

Impact of Established Cannabis Abuse

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul and a second Brazilian university used information gathered from 93 women to investigate the influence that a history of well-established cannabis abuse has on the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms experienced during cocaine detoxification. The researchers also used information gathered from the same group of women to investigate the influence of early initiation of cannabis intake. All of the women involved in the study were addicted cocaine users receiving inpatient treatment for their condition. The researchers used a testing procedure called the Cocaine Selective Severity Assessment to measure the severity of these participants’ withdrawal symptoms on three separate days during two weeks of the detoxification process. Two-and-a-half years later, they also looked at the number of the initial detoxification participants who later required additional hospitalization for their cocaine consumption. The researchers concluded that a well-established history of cannabis use is linked with an increase in the intensity of withdrawal symptoms during cocaine detoxification, as well as an increase in the intensity of the drug cravings that commonly accompany withdrawal. They also concluded that initiation of cannabis/marijuana use at an early age contributes to worsened withdrawal symptoms and heightened drug craving during cocaine detoxification. In addition, the researchers concluded that, two-and-a-half years after initial cocaine detox, people with a well-established history of cannabis abuse have higher chances of requiring further hospital treatment for cocaine addiction. Overall, the study’s authors concluded that a known history of cannabis abuse should alert the administrators of cocaine treatment programs to increased risks for serious withdrawal-related problems during any course of cocaine detoxification. They also believe their work may help administrators focus the needed attention on particularly vulnerable individuals.    

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