In what sounds like a cure-is-worse-than-the-illness-type situation, a U.S. agency funded a study which looks at nicotine as possible treatment for cannabis withdrawal. 

To point out the obvious, nicotine is much more addictive than cannabis. In fact, cannabis is not found to be physically addicting at all while the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notesthat most of the 34 million Americans who smoke cigarettes are addicted to nicotine. “The majority of smokers,” the agency writes, “would like to stop smoking, and each year about half try to quit permanently. Yet, only about 6 percent of smokers are able to quit in a given year.”

Cannabis addiction is far less severe, relatively speaking, with withdrawal symptoms lasting only a few weeks and generally consisting, at worst, of change in mood, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and anxiety.

And yet, a study funded by NIDA is looking into what happens when you swap out cannabis with nicotine, specifically nicotine patches. Published in the journal Psychopharmacology in February, the studyfound the technique “promising.”

It may be able to help withdrawal symptoms,” said Dr. David Gilbert, research Professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and lead author of the study.

There are, however, some downsides, which Gilbert himself readily admits. For instance, the nicotine patch increased nausea among subjects by 20-25%, a fact which “may offset any potential beneficial effects” and be “problematic in future studies.”

Additionally, because one of the primary symptoms of cannabis withdrawal is anxiety, treatment with a stimulant such as nicotine might not be the most useful way to offset symptoms. “If you’re already anxious, that’s not going to help,” Dr. Margaret Haney, an addiction specialist and Professor of Neurobiology at Columbia University Medical Center, told Leafly.

All that isn’t to say that cannabis withdrawal isn’t a real problem for some people. Although the drug is not physically addictive, in Dr. Haney’s experience, “I would argue that the more significant withdrawal symptoms are the more psychological ones.”

Maybe just don’t try to get off the stuff by getting hooked on nicotine. You could, for instance,tryto taper off or use deep breathing to reduce anxiety symptoms.

Photo via Flickr/Allen Broome