The idea of marijuana addiction and withdrawal remains controversial in both private and scientific circles. For an unlucky few, a well-identified set of symptoms characterizes abstinence from heavy, daily use of pot. In this respect, marijuana addiction and withdrawal does not differ greatly from alcoholism--the vast majority of recreational users and drinkers will never experience it.
For those that do, however, the withdrawal symptoms of marijuana abstinence can severely impact their quality of life. Since discussions of this topic frequently veer off into sociopolitical arguments, leaving the science behind, I offer below a sampling of the growing medical and psychiatric literature on this aspect of drug use and abuse.
Aharonovich, E., Liu, X., Samet, S., Nunes, E., Waxman, R., & Hasin, D. (2005). Postdischarge Cannabis Use and Its Relationship to Cocaine, Alcohol, and Heroin Use: A Prospective Study . American Journal of Psychiatry, 162(8), 1507-1514.
de Fonseca, F.R., Rocío, M., Carrera, A., Navarro, M., Koob, G.F., & Weiss, F. (1997, June 27). Activation of Corticotropin-Releasing Factor in the Limbic System During Cannabinoid Withdrawal . Science, 276, 2050 - 2054.
Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings. Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k6NSDUH/2k6results.cfm#Ch2
Schuckit, M.A., Daeppen, J-B., Danko, G.P., Tripp, M.L., Li, T-K., Hesselbrock, V.M., et. al. (1999). Clinical implications for four drugs of the DSM-IV distinction between substance dependence with and without a physiological component . American Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 41-49.
Tanda, G., Pontieri, F.E., & Di Chiara, G. (1997, June 27). Cannabinoid and Heroin Activation of Mesolimbic Dopamine Transmission by a Common µ1 Opioid Receptor Mechanism. Science, 276, 2048 - 2050.
Vandrey, R.G., Budney, A.J., Hughes, J.R., & A. Liguori. (2008, January 1). A within-subject comparison of withdrawal symptoms during abstinence from cannabis, tobacco, and both substances . Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 92, 48-54.
Wickelgren, I. (1997, June 27). Marijuana: Harder Than Thought? Science, 76, 1967-1968.
Wilson, R.I. & Nicoll, R.A. (2001, March 29). Endogenous cannabinoids mediate retrograde signalling at hippocampal synapses. Nature, 410, 588-592.