Learn / Helpful Tools for Treating Marijuana Addiction
Marijuana addiction can be challenging to manage. If you’ve just arrived at this diagnosis, you probably have a lot of questions about what to do next. For some people, finding a rehab program that specializes in cannabis use disorder is a next step that makes sense.
Marijuana is the most widely consumed recreational drug in the world. Fortunately, there are many rehab centers and resources available for you to choose from.
You may be wondering if you really need a treatment as serious as rehab for something that’s generally not thought of as a “hard” drug. Is marijuana addiction real and something to be concerned about?
The answer is that yes, marijuanna addiction is real, even if it may look different than other kinds of substance addiction. And many people benefit from inpatient rehab, as well as other kinds of treatments.
Nearly 18% of people aged 12 or older reported that they had used cannabis in the past year. About 5% of people in the U.S. (or about 14.2 million people) had cannabis use disorder symptoms1 in the past 12 months.
The main chemical in marijuana that produces most of its psychoactive (mind-altering) effects is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Over the years, cannabis has become much more potent,2 and this may complicate your attempts to stop or decrease how much you use.
Legalization of medical cannabis in the U.S. has made it easier to know how much THC you’re ingesting. Legalization has also played a role in shifting the consequences for using cannabis, and how easy it is to access it.
Because of these considerations, your marijuana use may have negative effects on your life even while you’re doing your best to manage it. The good news is that professionals have developed an understanding of what you’re experiencing and how to best support you.
Certain demographics have a heightened vulnerability to marijuana misuse.3 For example, people who start using marijuana before the age of 182 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than people who start at a later age.
Many people use marijuana without issue, but it’s important to notice whether it’s negatively affecting your life. There are short- and long-term consequences for using marijuana.
“Instead of relaxation and euphoria, some people experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic”6 when using marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
“These effects are more common when a person takes too much, the marijuana has an unexpectedly high potency, or the person is inexperienced. People who have taken large doses of marijuana may experience an acute psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity,” says NIDA.
People who use marijuana frequently often report irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, or physical discomfort. These effects peak within the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks.
In withdrawal, you might experience irritability, nervousness, difficulties with sleep, restlessness, depressed mood, stomach pains, chills, and headaches. For some people, cannabis withdrawals cause unpleasant, vivid dreams and notice changes in their appetite.8
Over time, there’s a possibility that you’ll experience problems with attention, memory, and learning related to marijuana misuse.7 On a physical level, smoking or vaping marijuana negatively impacts lung functioning.9
Beginning to acknowledge the impacts of substance use on the rest of your life can feel challenging. Remember that you deserve care and support in that process. And it’s heartening to remember that available treatments are specifically designed to support you in changing your marijuana use in the way that’s most helpful for you.
Cannabis use disorder is associated with other diagnoses,3 including mood disorders like depression and anxiety, personality disorders, and other substance use disorders. This means that lots of people who seek help for substance use have co-occurring disorders.
People who used marijuana and already had an alcohol use disorder may be at greater risk of their alcohol use disorder getting worse. Marijuana use is also linked to other substance use disorders including nicotine addiction.
But most people who use marijuana don’t go on to use other, “harder” substances.10 In fact, cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. What this means is that substances like alcohol and nicotine also prime the brain to have a greater response to other drugs. This isn’t something that’s the case for marijuana specifically.
Cannabis-induced psychosis is a concern, particularly if you have a genetic predisposition to the experience, schizophrenia and other psychiatric diagnoses, or different types of vulnerabilities.
According to a group of researchers in the Department of Psychosis Studies at King’s College London, people who use marijuana and carry a specific variant of the AKT1 gene are at increased risk of developing psychosis. People with the AKT1 gene who used marijuana daily were 7 times more likely to develop psychosis than people who used marijuana infrequently or not at all.
Another study found elevated levels of psychosis among adults who had used marijuana in adolescence and also carried a specific variant of the gene for catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT).
If you’re struggling with your relationship with marijuana and also experiencing mental health challenges or problems with another substance, there are a number of rehab programs and treatment approaches that are tailored to your unique needs.
Why reduce or stop using cannabis? In one study, participants reported that they had 3 main reasons for decreasing or stopping their marijuana use:11
Maybe these reasons resonate with you too, or maybe you have different reasons for wanting to make a change. Science supports the efficacy of certain treatments for this condition.
Something to keep in mind: in one study that focused on outcomes of marijuana use treatment, interventions for cannabis use disorder12 had the best short-term effectiveness when they lasted more than 4 sessions and over a month’s time, as compared to more brief, lower‐intensity interventions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for cannabis use disorder13 “targets the (perceived) functional role that cannabis use plays in a patient’s life and seeks to alter the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms precipitating use. Patients are taught skills to aid cannabis reduction/cessation and maintain this change. This could involve, for example, teaching patients to identify situations likely to trigger motivation to cannabis use and how to avoid them, or how to address the thoughts and emotions underlying the motivation to use.
“Other components of CBT include building drug refusal skills and problem-solving skills, and making healthy lifestyle modifications. The main goals of CBT are to increase patient self-efficacy to resist cannabis use and expand their repertoire of coping skills.”
An individualized approach to treatment planning may increase effectiveness of CBT for marijuana use treatment.13 It involves using your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to identify what situations put you at the highest chance for relapse.
To learn more about this approach, see our list of rehabs that offer individualized treatment for marijuana addiction.
Motivational enhancement therapy for cannabis use disorder12 is set up to mobilize your internal resources to help you make change and engage fully in treatment. This approach gives you a space to explore feelings of resistance that may be coming up, and strengthen your sense of self-efficacy.
In rational emotive behavior therapy,14 the therapist works through a set of target problems with you and helps you decide on your goals for the course of treatment. You work together to discover emotions, behaviors, and beliefs related to those problems based on your values and goals. The goal is for you to apply what you learn in session to real-life situations.
Contingency management13 is an approach that allows you to track how often you use marijuana and compare that to a goal. Based on whether or not you use marijuana each day or week, you either earn rewards, or they are removed. During future days, you have more chances to keep earning rewards.
Your substance use, and positive changes you make, happen within your environment. A community-based strategy approach16 uses support strategies such as celebratory events, involving people in decision-making, and building available resources.
Currently, the FDA hasn’t approved any medications to treat cannabis use disorder, but research is active in this area.
Some medication-based treatments for marijuana addiction17 target sleep issues, a big part of marijuana withdrawal. “Medications that have shown promise in early studies or small clinical trials include the sleep aid zolpidem (Ambien®), an anti-anxiety/anti-stress medication called buspirone (BuSpar®), and an anti-epileptic medication called gabapentin (Horizant®, Neurontin®) that may improve sleep and, possibly, executive function.”
In addition, THC, antidepressants, buspirone, N-acetylcystine, and mood stabilizers have been studied, and may be helpful in some cases. However, they may not be significantly more effective than a placebo.18
Finding a treatment that works well for you is possible. By making changes at the psychological, physical, or community level, you open up the possibility for new patterns of behavior.
There are positive changes that start to happen after you reduce or stop using marijuna. For example, young people between the ages of 16 and 26 showed increased performance on sustained attention tasks after stopping their cannabis use19 for 2 weeks.
Participants in another study showed improvements in memory after 1 month of not using marijuana.20 Treatment of cannabis use disorder also improves depressive symptoms21 in adolescents.
Once you’re better able to manage your cannabis use, it’s important to arrange your environment to make yourself as successful as possible.
In one study, participants shared 3 main helpful strategies for maintaining their change of stopping or decreasing their marijuana use:11
Navigating substance misuse can be difficult. Your journey up to now is unique and the support you receive should make sense for you.
Many rehab programs offer specialized programs to help you change your relationship with marijuana and build new habits. Taking the next step is possible, and there are lots of tools available to help you find stability and hope.
If you want to learn more about programs that treat this issue, you can browse our list of rehabs that treat marijuana addiction here.
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