Marijuana Addiction Treatment: Effects and Withdrawals

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Marijuana addiction, also known as cannabis use disorder, is a condition marked by the problematic use of cannabis that results in significant distress or impairment. It occurs when an individual continues to use the substance despite facing negative consequences in their work, social, or personal lives. As the use and legalization of marijuana continue to rise, understanding the available treatment options for those struggling with marijuana use disorders becomes increasingly important.

A variety of evidence-based treatments are available to help those who struggle with marijuana addiction. Some of the most effective treatment approaches include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy. These techniques aim to address the underlying psychological and behavioral aspects of addiction, ultimately empowering individuals to make lasting changes in their relationship with cannabis.

Individuals seeking help for marijuana addiction can find support through various settings, such as outpatient programs, rehab centers, support groups, and individual counseling sessions. It’s essential for those affected by marijuana use disorders to explore and choose the most suitable treatment option based on their needs and circumstances, leading to a better chance of recovery and long-term success.

Understanding Marijuana Addiction

The Science Behind Addiction

Marijuana addiction, also known as cannabis use disorder, occurs when a person becomes dependent on the drug and experiences difficulty quitting despite its negative effects on their life. Marijuana contains a psychoactive compound called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, leading to the release of dopamine and resulting in feelings of euphoria. Regular use of marijuana can lead to changes in the brain’s reward system, making it difficult for individuals to feel pleasure without the drug.

Marijuana use can lead to both psychological and physical dependence. Psychological dependence occurs when a person feels the need to use the drug to cope with stress, anxiety, or other mental health-related issues. Physical dependence, on the other hand, occurs when the body adapts to the presence of the drug, leading to withdrawal symptoms when use is reduced or stopped.

Effects of Marijuana Abuse

The abuse of marijuana can lead to a variety of negative consequences, some of which include:

  • Short-term effects: These may include impaired memory, altered judgment, impaired motor coordination, and increased heart rate. These effects can put users at risk for accidents and other dangerous situations.
  • Long-term effects: Continued marijuana abuse can result in respiratory problems, lowered immune system function, and memory issues. Additionally, marijuana abuse may contribute to mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and even psychosis in some individuals.
  • Social and interpersonal consequences: Marijuana addiction can lead to difficulties maintaining relationships, poor academic or work performance, and decreased participation in activities that were once enjoyable.

It is crucial to recognize the signs of marijuana addiction and seek appropriate treatment options in order to mitigate these risks and improve overall health and well-being.

Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana addiction, also known as cannabis use disorder, is a condition affecting some individuals who use the drug. The signs and symptoms of marijuana addiction can vary from person to person, but some common indicators include:

  • Using more marijuana than intended: Individuals with marijuana addiction may consume more of the drug than they initially planned to, trying to reach the desired effects.
  • Craving marijuana: An intense, persistent desire to use marijuana characterizes addiction.
  • Failing to quit using marijuana: People with marijuana addiction may have attempted to quit or reduce their usage multiple times but have been unsuccessful.
  • Spending a lot of time using marijuana: Addiction often leads to individuals spending excessive amounts of time in search of, using, or recovering from the effects of marijuana use.

Some short-term effects of marijuana use include euphoria, relaxation, drowsiness, altered sense of time, impaired memory, slowed reflexes, impaired motor skills, bloodshot eyes, increased appetite, dry mouth, and increased heart rate. It is important to remember that experiencing these effects does not necessarily indicate addiction. However, if these symptoms are combined with a continuous pattern of overuse, cravings, or unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking, marijuana addiction may be present.

Apart from the signs mentioned above, marijuana addiction can also lead to cognitive impairments, paranoia, and cause problems in various aspects of an individual’s life, such as home, school, work, and relationships. Recognizing these signs and symptoms can be crucial for seeking appropriate treatment and support for overcoming marijuana addiction.

Marijuana Addiction Diagnosis

Marijuana addiction, also known as cannabis use disorder, is a condition where individuals experience significant distress or impairment due to the problematic use of cannabis. Diagnosing this disorder can be challenging, as it requires careful assessment of the individual’s behavior, emotions, and social context.

One common diagnostic criterion for marijuana addiction is the presence of at least two problematic issues within a 12-month period related to cannabis use. These issues can include:

  • Inability to meet work, social, or familial obligations due to substance use
  • Continued use of cannabis despite experiencing negative consequences
  • Development of a tolerance, requiring more substance for the desired effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to reduce or stop using marijuana

To diagnose marijuana addiction, healthcare professionals typically use standardized questionnaires and assessments. Some examples of these screening tools include:

  • The Cannabis Use Disorders Identification Test (CUDIT)
  • The Marijuana Problem Scale (MPS)
  • The Marijuana Craving Questionnaire (MCQ)

Additionally, healthcare professionals may gather information about the individual’s medical and psycho-social history, as well as their pattern of cannabis use. This information can help determine whether the person’s cannabis use is negatively affecting their life and if they meet the criteria for a marijuana use disorder.

Once a diagnosis is made, the healthcare professional can recommend appropriate treatment options to address the marijuana addiction and any underlying mental health concerns. Treatments for marijuana addiction include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy.

It is important to approach marijuana addiction diagnosis with a neutral and non-judgmental perspective. Diagnosing this disorder involves accurate and thorough assessment, taking into account the individual’s specific needs and background. By identifying a marijuana use disorder early, individuals can receive the proper support and treatment necessary for recovery.

Types of Treatment for Marijuana Addiction

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment allows individuals with marijuana addiction to receive therapy, counseling, and support while continuing to live in their own homes. Typically, outpatient programs consist of group or individual therapy sessions several times a week. Participants learn coping strategies, relapse prevention skills, and about the effects of marijuana on their mental and physical health.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment involves individuals living in a residential treatment facility for a specific period of time, usually 30, 60, or 90 days. This setting provides 24-hour support, supervision, and care from licensed professionals. Inpatient programs incorporate various therapies, including individual and group counseling, to address the psychological and behavioral aspects of addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular choice for treating marijuana addiction. CBT focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns that contribute to substance use. Through CBT, patients can develop healthier coping mechanisms, decision-making skills, and effective communication strategies. This form of therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing marijuana use and preventing relapse.

Medical Detoxification

Although marijuana withdrawal is generally less severe than that of other substances, some people may still experience physical and psychological symptoms. Medical detoxification is a supervised process wherein individuals receive medical care and support to help manage withdrawal symptoms. Health professionals may monitor vital signs and administer medications to alleviate discomfort and reduce the risk of complications. Not every person with marijuana use disorder requires medical detox, but it can be beneficial for those with severe or long-standing addiction.

Pros and Cons of Various Treatments

When it comes to marijuana addiction treatment, there are several options available, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. This section will explore some of the most common treatment approaches, highlighting their pros and cons.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management, are often used to treat marijuana addiction.


  • These therapies aim to address the underlying thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to substance use.
  • They can be tailored to individual needs and delivered in various settings (e.g., individual, group, or family sessions).
  • Behavioral therapies have a strong evidence base, demonstrating effectiveness in reducing marijuana use and improving mental health outcomes.


  • The success of these treatments relies heavily on the individual’s motivation, commitment, and engagement in the therapeutic process.
  • Some individuals may find it challenging to open up about their thoughts and feelings, limiting the effectiveness of the therapy.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

While there are currently no FDA-approved medications specifically for marijuana addiction, some medications can help to manage withdrawal symptoms or co-occurring mental health disorders.


  • Medications can alleviate withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for individuals to stop using marijuana.
  • They can address co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety or depression, which may contribute to substance use.


  • There is a lack of approved medications specifically for marijuana addiction, limiting the options available.
  • Medication can come with side effects, and some individuals may not respond well to certain medications.

Support Groups

Peer support groups, such as Marijuana Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, can provide a valuable network of encouragement and guidance for individuals dealing with addiction.


  • Support groups offer a sense of community and shared understanding, helping individuals feel less alone in their recovery journey.
  • They can provide valuable coping strategies, encouragement, and resources for maintaining abstinence.


  • The success of support groups is largely dependent on the individual’s commitment to attending meetings and engaging with the group.
  • Some people may not feel comfortable sharing their experiences in a group setting.

Overall, the choice of treatment for marijuana addiction depends on various factors, including individual needs, preferences, and available resources. A combination of therapies, medications, and support groups may be most effective in addressing addiction and promoting long-term recovery.

The Role of Family in Treatment

Family involvement in the treatment of marijuana addiction can significantly contribute to the initiation, progress, and maintenance of recovery. Actively engaging family members in an individual’s addiction treatment can help address underlying relational issues, enhance communication, and reestablish trust among family members.

When family members are involved in the treatment process, they become valuable sources of support and motivation for the individual struggling with marijuana addiction. This support network can provide emotional backing during the early stages of treatment when challenges and withdrawal symptoms may seem overwhelming. Moreover, family members can help hold the individual accountable for their actions, monitor progress, and foster a healthy environment conducive to recovery.

In certain cases, family therapy may be incorporated into the treatment plan for marijuana addiction. During these sessions, professionals work not only with the individual but also with the entire family unit. By addressing and resolving conflicts, improving communication, and understanding the addiction, family members can better support their loved one through the journey towards sobriety.

It’s important for family members to educate themselves about the nature of marijuana addiction, including potential signs of use or relapse, the impact of the substance on the brain, and methods for supporting sobriety. By gaining knowledge, they are empowered to offer informed help and become active participants in the recovery process.

The role of the family in marijuana addiction treatment is pivotal, as their support, understanding, and encouragement can significantly improve the likelihood of successful recovery. Actively involving family members in the treatment process and fostering a supportive home environment contribute greatly towards the healing and well-being of the individual.

Long-Term Strategies for Recovery

Relapse Prevention

It is crucial to develop a solid relapse prevention plan when overcoming marijuana use disorder. One effective approach involves cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT equips individuals with the necessary skills to identify and cope with triggers, maintain abstinence, and address maladaptive thinking patterns.

Another long-term strategy is contingency management, which focuses on rewarding individuals for maintaining sobriety. By providing incentives for positive behaviors and withholding rewards for drug use, contingency management helps establish new habits and reinforces a substance-free lifestyle.

Ongoing Support

Maintaining a strong support network is imperative for long-term recovery from marijuana addiction. Engaging in motivational enhancement therapy can help individuals strengthen their commitment to change and boost their motivation to stay sober. This therapeutic approach involves building self-efficacy and setting achievable recovery goals.

In addition, attending support groups and engaging with peers facing similar challenges can foster a sense of belonging and encouragement. Surrounding oneself with individuals committed to sobriety can help maintain a positive environment conducive to long-term recovery.

Implementing these long-term strategies can greatly improve the chances of successfully overcoming marijuana use disorder and maintaining a healthy, substance-free life.

Resources for Help

There are various resources available for individuals struggling with marijuana addiction. One option to consider is seeking help from professionals through marijuana addiction helplines. These toll-free, confidential helplines are available 24/7 and can assist in finding affordable and personalized drug treatment programs.

Another avenue for support is SMART Recovery. This organization offers tools and resources to help individuals cope with urges and cravings, as well as manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to drug use. Attending meetings and connecting with others in similar situations can provide valuable insights and a strong support network.

If you prefer a more medical approach, there are a few medications that have shown promise in treating marijuana use disorders. Some of these include:

  • Zolpidem (Ambien ®) – a sleep aid
  • Buspirone (BuSpar ®) – an anti-anxiety/anti-stress medication
  • Gabapentin (Horizant ®, Neurontin ®) – an anti-epileptic drug

It is also worth exploring outpatient MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment) clinics that specialize in treating marijuana addiction. These clinics typically combine medication and counseling services to treat addiction comprehensively.

For families and loved ones of individuals coping with marijuana addiction, there are resources available to provide support and guidance. A good starting point is seeking out family therapy or counseling services that specialize in substance use disorders.

In conclusion, it is vital to remember that help is available. Reach out to any of these resources and take the first steps towards recovery and a healthier, substance-free lifestyle.

Marijuana Addiction Treatment Final Thoughts

In the realm of cannabis addiction treatments, it is important to approach the issue with a confident, knowledgeable, and neutral perspective. Studies have shown that psychotherapeutic techniques remain the foundation of treatment for cannabis dependence, as currently no drugs have been approved due to the lack of scientific evidence. With existing psychotherapy methods, the rates of abstinence achieved are still only moderate.

Emerging evidence points to the potential role cannabis itself may play in mitigating opioid use disorder. Although this area of research is still in its infancy, the relative safety profile of cannabis warrants further exploration to determine if it can serve as an adjunct or alternative treatment option.

It is essential to recognize the signs of marijuana abuse, such as increased drug usage to achieve desired effects, cravings, and neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home. Identifying these signs in a timely manner can facilitate early intervention and create a supportive environment for those struggling with cannabis use.

The path to recovery from marijuana addiction includes professional help, self-motivation, and commitment from the individual in addition to support from family members and friends. It is crucial to consider each person’s unique circumstances and develop a personalized treatment plan that can be modified as needed to ensure progress toward sobriety.

By staying informed and engaged in the latest research, professionals, individuals, and communities can work together to develop effective strategies and interventions for addressing the complex issue of marijuana addiction and treatment.

Last Updated on September 29, 2023 by Megan Mbengue, BSN, RN, CHPN

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