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Treatment for Marijuana Dependence Treatment

Approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana develop an dependence or addiction. In 2010, an estimated 13.1 million people worldwide had cannabis use disorder, including 4 million individuals in the United States (Degenhardt, PLoS One, 2013; NSDUH, 2016). Only in recent years have we begun to recognize the scale and scope of marijuana addiction—all this is to say that you are not alone.

Like any other disease, marijuana addiction can cause numerous changes in both your brain and in your body. Feeling like you don’t have control over your use can negatively impact your social interactions as well as your ability to think, work, and regulate your emotions. Physical symptoms of marijuana addiction are real and can be unpleasant. Reversing these changes requires not just recognizing that you have a problem, but also making an effective strategy to quit.

Treatment for marijuana addiction isn’t just about having the willpower to stop, or ‘flipping a switch.’ More than just having the motivation, it involves breaking a cycle of mental and physical dependence. It is a process that takes will, time, and effort. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re trying to find out exactly what that process entails. Or perhaps you’ve tried to cut down in the past, but relapsed after a few days, or weeks.

Exploring treatment options for marijuana addiction might seem daunting at first, but luckily, treatments are safe, manageable, and effective. Just by being here, you’re already making progress, by empowering yourself through knowledge about what treatment entails, and how to design a plan for success. And remember, the content on this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with a qualified physician or other medical care provider.

Do You Have Cannabis Use Disorder?

‘Cannabis use disorder’ is the proper medical term used to describe marijuana addiction. You may also have heard this referred to as marijuana dependence, or marijuana use disorder. Regardless of the name, the core element of the addiction is the same—that is to say, a physical tolerance and dependence to marijuana that interferes with other domains of your life (APA DSM-5, 2013). The occasional craving to smoke doesn’t necessarily mean you have an addiction. Needing to smoke in order to avoid certain symptoms, though, should be a warning sign that your body is dependent on marijuana to feel normal. When you don’t smoke, the constellation of physical symptoms and mental discomfort that you feel is collectively called withdrawal. The following statements are typical of someone who has either tolerance or withdrawal.

  • Tolerance: I have to use a lot more marijuana than I used to in order to feel any effects.
  • Withdrawal: I become irritable, have poor sleep, and feel physically uncomfortable if I don’t smoke regularly.

Most people who use marijuana don’t develop a use disorder off the bat. Tolerance develops insidiously, meaning you often don’t notice that you’ve doubled how much or how frequently you smoke until someone else points it out. Similarly, people oftentimes become blind to all of the ways in which their marijuana use has taken over their lives. Maybe you’ve had disagreements with loved ones, colleagues, or employers about your marijuana use. Maybe you’ve lost track of time while smoking and missed an important appointment or personal obligation. Maybe you then smoke because you feel lonely, distressed, or stressed out.

Confronting your habits surrounding marijuana can be scary but is a huge step towards getting better. Answering the following yes/no statements as honestly as possible will help you gain a sense of whether or not you have a problematic pattern of marijuana use:

  • I often end up using more, or more frequently, than I intend.
  • I have tried to cut down how much I smoke but haven’t been successful.
  • I spend a majority of my day to day thinking about, using, or obtaining marijuana.
  • I frequently have strong urges or cravings to smoke.
  • Marijuana has interfered with my responsibilities at school, work, or at home.
  • My marijuana use has created tension in my personal relationships, but I continue to smoke.
  • Marijuana has replaced my other hobbies and has made me less social.

If you said yes to at least two of the above statements, and agreed with statements about tolerance and withdrawal, you likely have cannabis use disorder. Recognizing that you have a disorder can be hard, especially when loss of self-control is part of the condition. Just remember that putting a name and diagnosis to the overall picture is empowering yourself, and that you’re doing the right thing by acknowledging a problem in your life. If you have cannabis use disorder, and want to get better, there’s no better time to find out how—just take a deep breath and keep reading.

Chronic Use (Daily or Near-Daily Use)

If you are a daily or near-daily user, or if you have used regularly for months to years, you are not alone—as marijuana use has become more common, chronic use has increased as well. Like brushing your teeth or making a cup of coffee, it becomes part of your daily routine. You might feel a need to smoke at a predictable hour or associate certain activities with the sensation of being high, be it watching television or falling asleep.

If you use every day, chances are high that you feel uncomfortable when you stop smoking, and that using makes those unpleasant feeling go away. After a long period of marijuana use, your withdrawal symptoms may be cause so much discomfort that you are motivated to use marijuana just to prevent them from occurring at all. If you’re experiencing this frustrating cycle of withdrawal and dependence, it may be worth learning more about cannabis use disorder.

Not only does chronic marijuana influence your behavior, it can have lasting consequences on your mood and state of mind. People who use marijuana every day or almost every day may be at increased risk for depressive symptoms or anxiety disorders (Keith et al. Am J Addict, 2015).

Cannabis Use Disorder Treatment Options

Just as there are many options for treating diseases like hypertension or diabetes, there are also multiple ways to tackle marijuana addiction. Treatment types range from non-pharmacologic (in other words, independent lifestyle changes, one-on-one counseling, or guided therapy) to medications.

In people who have severe withdrawal symptoms affecting their sleep or causing debilitating or persistent anxiety, doctor-prescribed medications may help. Depending on the severity of addiction, some people may benefit from more intensive treatments that may involve a stay in a hospital or treatment facility. For more information on the treatment options for CUD, jump to the section on Cannabis Use Disorder Treatment.