Treatment Options for Marijuana Dependency in a World of Legal Pot

marijuana treatment options

What to do when you are addicted to pot

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in eight states and the District of Columbia, while another 22 states have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form.

The result has been a nationwide “Gold Rush” of sorts: online vendors, head shops and medical marijuana dispensaries, quick to mine any opportunity for more revenue, now tout the wonders of pot for anything from chronic pain and Crohn’s disease to anxiety and opiate addiction (not to mention a carefree “good time”). 

Yet the growing popularity of marijuana, whether for medical or recreational use, also carries a dark underside: Marijuana addiction, or what we in the clinical world call “marijuana use disorder,” disproportionately affects men in this country.

Men Are More Vulnerable to the Health Dangers of Marijuana

Statistically, more men use pot than women. For example, in Colorado (where recreational marijuana is legal), 17 percent of men — versus 10 percent of women — had used marijuana in the past month, according to a report by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

On a national scale, the trend is similar. Marijuana use disorders have roughly doubled since 2002, by conservative estimates, and reportedly are twice as common among men than women.

Pot is known as a “gateway drug,” meaning its use can lead to experimentation with other drugs and/or alcohol abuse. Men who use marijuana have higher rates of other substance use problems. The same research indicates they have higher rates of antisocial personality disorders (also known as “dual diagnoses”).

Men who suffer from these disorders have at least two major disadvantages on the road to recovery. On the one hand, the severity of the disorder among men is generally higher than it is among women, and on the other, men are less quick to enter treatment, according to a 2004 study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

That reality is regrettable, especially because marijuana use disorders are as treatable as any other type of addiction.

Marijuana Treatments That Can Help You Find Recovery

As an addiction clinician, I’ve seen firsthand how treatment has helped many of my male clients find freedom from marijuana. Research has revealed certain therapies to be effective for clients with marijuana use disorders:

  • Dual diagnosis treatment – Like other drugs of abuse, marijuana is often used to “self-medicate” the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental disorder, such as a personality disorder. In fact, a high number of clients with marijuana use disorders have a treatable co-occurring mental condition. Dual diagnosis treatment is therefore the gold standard of care, consisting of both medications and behavioral therapies that treat the dual diagnosis in question.
  • Sleep aids and other medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms – Sleep problems are common during withdrawal from marijuana — and one reason why a medically supervised detox is best for anyone looking to get clean. During inpatient detox and treatment, doctors can prescribe medications to alleviate these symptoms and others. For example, some researchers believe that the nutritional supplement N-acetylcysteine may relieve marijuana cravings. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for marijuana cravings is an area of medicine that is still relatively young, so there’s no doubt more findings are yet to come.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on correcting and replacing thoughts and behaviors that feed the addiction cycle and impede recovery, by contributing to relapse. Much of CBT’s emphasis is on identifying and overcoming the cognitive and emotional triggers of relapse, many of which are stress-related.
  • Motivational interviewing – This is a type of client-directed counseling designed to generate the internal motivation necessary to sustain lasting behavioral change (such as abstinence from marijuana). In this context, the therapist takes a collaborative, active listening approach that encourages the client to articulate their life values and goals (or their positive incentives to get sober), with the goal of moving the client towards greater self-efficacy in their recovery.
  • 12-step groups such as Marijuana Anonymous – In addition to professional medical treatment, consider attending a 12-step therapy group. A peer support network can do wonders for anyone struggling with addiction, whether it’s marijuana or any other drug.

When administered together as part of a comprehensive plan of treatment, these medical and behavioral interventions have helped many people find recovery in a world of increasingly legal pot.

Anna Ciulla is the Chief Clinical Officer at Beach House Center for Recovery. Anna oversees the supervision and delivery of client care, including the daily operations of clinical, behavioral, nursing and medical departments. Anna has an extensive background in psychotherapy and clinical management and she writes about topics related to addiction and co-occurring disorders. Learn more about Beach House’s programs, including treatment options for marijuana addiction and dual diagnosis, on their website.