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Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment

Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment

Substance abuse – and other dependence disorders – has been on the rise among adults and teenagers in the United States, especially in the last decade, with a corresponding increase in persons seeking substance abuse treatment. Studies show that in New Jersey, there is a struggle to meet demands for substance abuse treatment despite being home to over 250 drug and alcohol rehab centers.

Although it is the most common illicit drug in Europe and the US, marijuana dependence is often underdiagnosed because its effects seem less severe compared to other substance dependence disorders. 

Causes of Marijuana Dependence

Prolonged and excessive use of readily available and highly potent marijuana, combined with the commonly held misconception that using marijuana is not dangerous, has led to marijuana dependence. Socioeconomic factors and the effects of acculturation are suspected to have contributed to marijuana use – and subsequent dependence – among youths leading to a proliferation of substance abuse treatment centers hoping to redress the trend.

Symptoms of Marijuana Dependence

Marijuana dependence has some classic indications which can either be subtle in nature or very obvious. Some of these indicators include:

  • Dedicating a lot of time to looking for, and buying marijuana;
  • Withdrawing socially from friends and family;
  • Failing to quit use despite having a desire to do so
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon quitting usage

Treatment of Marijuana Dependence

Conquering marijuana dependence typically requires total abstinence from the drug as it is impossible to avoid getting addicted if one uses occasionally. Pharmacological and psychosocial options have both been used in substance abuse treatment to varying degrees of success. 

Pharmacological treatment of Marijuana Dependence

While substance abuse treatment can include medical attention, insufficient data exist to identify a single, consistently effective pharmacological treatment for marijuana dependence. Medications play a significant role in adjunctive treatment for some of the withdrawal symptoms experienced. Studies conducted found that short-term dose tapering with artificial cannabinoids combined with replacement therapy proved effective in reducing cravings, anxiety, nausea, etc.

Psychosocial treatment for Marijuana Dependence

Studies agree that psychosocial therapy plays an important role in the treatment of marijuana dependence. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and contingency management (CM) have undergone an exhaustive evaluation and have shown promise in treatment for marijuana dependence.

In adults, a combination of MET and CBT-based treatments are likely to be more effective than either one used in isolation. A substance abuse treatment program that incorporates all three approaches – CBT, MET, and CM – yields the highest possibility of positive outcomes, especially when the rate of abstinence from marijuana is used as a yardstick for measuring treatment efficacy. 

In the case of adolescents and young adults, focusing on behavioral-based interventions proved effective in the treatment of adolescent marijuana abuse. Combining MET, CBT, CM, with an inclusion of specific family-based programs (e.g. multidimensional family therapy (MDFT), family support network intervention) has a very high likelihood of enhancing the efficacy of treatment.

Future of Marijuana Dependence Treatment

The potentials of using pharmacotherapies that block marijuana’s addictive effects as either primary or secondary treatment options are currently being explored. The inclusion of effective and efficient innovative technologies – like computers and the internet – in treatment delivery, staff training, and aftercare, is also an area that requires attention.



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