Anti-Depressant Withdrawal Can Be Dangerous. Cannabis Is Not. - RxLeaf
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Anti-Depressant Withdrawal Can Be Dangerous. Cannabis Is Not.

Philip Ghezelbash
serotonin, cannabis, medical cannabis, anti-depressants, withdrawals, cannabis withdrawals, SSRIs, antidepressant withdrawals, symptoms, anxiety, depression

How do the withdrawal symptoms of cannabis compare to pharmaceutical anti-depressants?

Anti-depressants can save lives, but these pills can also ruin them. The side effects and withdrawals of anti-depressants can be severe and are not spoken about nearly enough. But how do those symptoms compare to cannabis withdrawals?

Anti-depressants are a group of drugs used for the treatment of symptoms of depression. The most common class of anti-depressants are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, also known as SSRIs.

SSRIs primarily work by decreasing serotonin re-uptake in the brain. Decreasing serotonin re-uptake leaves more serotonin available to the brain. Serotonin helps brain cells communicate and regulate mood, appetite, memory, learning and libido. For many years, low levels of serotonin in the brain have been thought to cause depression. So, doctors believes SSRIs are the solution.

serotonin, cannabis, medical cannabis, anti-depressants, withdrawals, cannabis withdrawals, SSRIs, antidepressant withdrawals, symptoms, anxiety, depression

Withdrawal Symptoms of Anti-Depressants

Anti-depressant withdrawal is possible if you abruptly stop taking an SSRI. Here are some of the most commonly reported withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia, or vivid dreams
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Depressive symptoms, including suicidal thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Flu-like symptoms

Any substance that is modifying your neurochemistry in a meaningful way will cause a backlash when use is suddenly stopped. There is no such thing as a free lunch, as they say.

It’s important to consider that sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between anti-depressant withdrawal symptoms and the return of depression itself. This can be enough for patients to return to medication.

Cannabis for Depression

Cannabis and depression is a complex subject matter. The research on the effectiveness of cannabis for depression is conflicting. Some research shows that compounds in cannabis exert anti-depressive effects. Some research also reports that heavy chronic cannabis consumption can exacerbate depressive symptoms.

Which strain of cannabis one consumes is also an essential factor to consider for treating depression. Sativas tend to be a better option for depressive symptoms as they uplift one’s mood, and cause a vibrant and energetic high.

The terpene and flavonoid profile of cannabis strains also matters. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are over 400 chemical compounds in cannabis, besides THC and CBD, responsible for its medicinal properties. Limonene is one terpene that is highly recommended for managing depression. Strains high in limonene include Ghost Train Haze, OG Kush, and Hindu Kush.

Cannabis Withdrawal Symptoms

According to research, symptoms of cannabis withdrawal typically occur within 24-48 hours of stopping and peak around day five. One study, looking at 469 cannabis consumers trying to quit, found that 30 percent of these people reported a difficult time managing withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, 78 percent of heavy consumers failing to quit successfully.

serotonin, cannabis, medical cannabis, anti-depressants, withdrawals, cannabis withdrawals, SSRIs, antidepressant withdrawals, symptoms, anxiety, depression

What Happens in the Body During Cannabis Withdrawal?

Cannabinoid receptors start to revert to normal function within two days of abstinence. Receptors fully return to normal function within four weeks of abstinence.

The THC content of the cannabis consumed regularly will also affect the severity of withdrawals. Reliance on any kind of chemical will cause withdrawal – caffeine in coffee, for instance. Some cannabis withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Boredom
  • Vivid dreams
  • Increased appetite
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Increased cravings

In a previous article, I wrote about the withdrawal symptoms of cannabis. I provided evidence showing that cannabis can cause withdrawals in some people. It received significant backlash from the community, which (justafiably) prefers to avoid any suggestion that cannabis may be addictive.

Despite cannabis being natural and much safer than opioids, anti-depressants, and other medications, chronic consumption can cause withdrawal. Your body will return to a homeostatic state that relies on endocannabinoids. This can be felt in symptoms of physical withdrawal. 

Are There Similarities Between Cannabis and Antidepressant Withdrawal?

It seems that there are similarities between the withdrawal symptoms of anti-depressants and cannabis. These similarities include anxiety, depression, flu-like symptoms, sleep disruption, and others.

It’s difficult to say whether the anti-depressant or cannabis withdrawals are going to be worse. There doesn’t seem to be specific research answering this question.

What is clear is that both cannabis and anti-depressant withdrawals don’t come close to the severity of substances, such as cocaine, cigarettes, or alcohol. An individual’s response to stopping the consumption of cannabis or anti-depressants highly depends on the individual. Factors, including frequency of use, total months/years of use, genetics, age, the severity of depression, other mental health disorders, other substances being used, and several other factors, will all dictate one’s withdrawal response.

CBD doesn’t have any known withdrawal symptoms. The only exception would be the onset of pain after ceasing the consumption of CBD. If you take CBD to help decrease pain, that pain would likely return after not taking CBD anymore, which may seem like a withdrawal symptom.

serotonin, cannabis, medical cannabis, anti-depressants, withdrawals, cannabis withdrawals, SSRIs, antidepressant withdrawals, symptoms, anxiety, depression

Do Doctors Overprescribe Antidepressants?

Although anti-depressants are clinically useful in extreme cases of depression, the consensus among professionals regarding the frequency of prescription is changing. Many medical professionals and researchers agree that anti-depressants are overprescribed. Some would even argue that the lack of publicity about the side effects of anti-depressants is in part due to the financial incentives of pharmaceutical companies.

Overall, it seems that both cannabis and anti-depressants can cause withdrawal symptoms. Some of these are similar. To minimize cannabis withdrawal symptoms it may be a good idea to slowly decrease the amount you consume. Stopping cold turkey, especially after chronic long-term consumption, may increase the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

That said, if you’re considering decreasing or going off anti-depressants, then please speak to a medical professional first.

Philip Ghezelbash

Philip Ghezelbash is an ex-personal trainer with a science background who currently operates New Zealand's only health specialized writing studio. He is passionate about presenting complex science in an easy to digest manner and is a firm believer that cannabis has substantial potential to be used as a medicine for degenerative disease.

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