Sex differences in cannabis withdrawal symptoms among treatment-seeking cannabis users

Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2015 Dec;23(6):415-21. doi: 10.1037/pha0000053. Epub 2015 Oct 12.


Over 300,000 individuals enter treatment for cannabis-use disorders (CUDs) in the United States annually. Cannabis withdrawal is associated with poor CUD-treatment outcomes, but no prior studies have examined sex differences in withdrawal among treatment-seeking cannabis users. Treatment-seeking cannabis users (45 women and 91 men) completed a Marijuana Withdrawal Checklist (Budney, Novy, & Hughes, 1999, Budney, Moore, Vandrey, & Hughes, 2003) at treatment intake to retrospectively characterize withdrawal symptoms experienced during their most recent quit attempt. Scores from the 14-item Composite Withdrawal Discomfort Scale (WDS), a subset of the Marijuana Withdrawal Checklist that corresponds to valid cannabis withdrawal symptoms described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; APA, 2013) were calculated. Demographic and substance-use characteristics, overall WDS scores, and scores on individual WDS symptoms were compared between women and men. Women had higher overall WDS scores than men, and women had higher scores than men on 6 individual symptoms in 2 domains, mood symptoms (i.e., irritability, restlessness, increased anger, violent outbursts), and gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e., nausea, stomach pain). Follow-up analyses isolating the incidence and severity of WDS symptoms demonstrated that women generally reported a higher number of individual withdrawal symptoms than men, and that they reported experiencing some symptoms as more severe. This is the first report to demonstrate that women seeking treatment for CUDs may experience more withdrawal then men during quit attempts. Prospective studies of sex differences in cannabis withdrawal are warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cannabis / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Irritable Mood / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / therapy*
  • Marijuana Smoking
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Young Adult