How to Treat Marijuana Addiction

Treatments for marijuana addiction mainly include behavioral and psychological therapies. More on the protocols and evidence based practice of treating addiction to marijuana here.

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ARTICLE SUMMARY: Marijuana addiction is characterized by psychological need for weed, despite negative consequences to a person’s finances, health, work or home life. New treatments that show promise and success are based in psychotherapy.


Me? Addicted?

Admitting you have a problem with marijuana can be hard. The topic is controversial, even if you’re ready to talk about your marijuana use. But the bottom line is this: marijuana addiction is nothing to be ashamed of. Addiction is a medical condition, a chronic brain disease. In fact, heavy use can change the way you brain works.

Maybe you’ve noticed some changes over the years. It’s common for marijuana to:

  • cause nagging health concerns
  • get in the way of relationships
  • causes you to give up personal aspirations
  • kill your motivation

While many marijuana users claim that marijuana is NOT addictive, they often misunderstand how addiction is diagnosed. And they deny that marijuana can be abused. In fact, marijuana changes the brain; it impairs a person’s ability to form memories, recall events, and shift attention from one thing to another. Still, you may feel ambigious about quitting.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the facts. Before you begin treating addiction to marijuana, you must first accept the actual problem. We’re not here to preach. But, we do want to let you know what your options are. Finally, if you have a question…please write to us in the comments at the end. We try to respond to all real-life comments with a personal and prompt response.

Marijuana Facts Booklets

Facts and Statistics

Recent data suggest that 30 percent of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. This 2015 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association not only pointed out problem use…but reported that overall prevalance of marijuana use is on the rise. It is THE most commonly used “illicit” substance in the U.S.

Further, marijuana addictions have increased in all age groups in the past few decades. This is most likely caused by legalization, increased availability, lower age of intiation of use, and increased potency of THC. And to be honest, many Americans are smoking weed regularly. Especially men.

The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that:

  • 24 million Americans 12 or older are current users (8.9% of the population).
  • 4 million Americans 12 or older could be diagnosed with a marijuana use disorder in the past year (1.5% of the population).

The 2016 Monitoring the Future Study reported that:

  • Marijuana is much more prevalent than any other illicit drug for adolescents.
  • One in seventeen 12th graders smoke weed daily.
  • Perceived risk of using marijuana has continued a steep decline since the mid-2000s.

Meanwhile, estimates of rates of addiction are controversial, because it is possible to be dependent on marijuana without being addicted. Further, studies suggest that around  9% of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it, even more who begin using in their teens (17%). Why such a dramatic difference? This 2008 study reported that people who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.

Marijuana use disorder occurs in roughly 9-10% of people who use marijuana regularly. Risk of a problem increases the longer you smoke weed.

Signs of a Problem

If you are not yet sure whether you or a loved one is addicted to marijuana, it can help to identify some of the common signs of problem behavior. These can include:

  • Be stoned or high more than one to two hours per day on a regular basis.
  • Begin to take more risks while stoned, such as driving or caring for children.
  • Craving marijuana when not using it.
  • Feeling uncomfortable if not high.
  • Hanging out only with people who smoke marijuana.
  • Increasing doses over time (developing tolerance to THC).
  • Losing control over intended use.
  • Losing interest in family, school, work.
  • Not able to complete big tasks or commitments.
  • Problems with concentration or memory loss.
  • Trying to cut back or quit smoking weed and failing (especially multiple times).

Are you or a loved one exhibiting any of these signs? If yes, you may want to consider professional help. One of these characteristics on its own may not indicate addiction, but the pattern of behaviors may signal a problem.

Clinical Diagnosis

The clinical term for weed addiction is “marijuana use disorder”.  A drug problem with marijuana occurs when you experience clinically significant impairment caused by the recurrent use of marijuana, including all these three criteria:

  1. Health problems.
  2. Persistent or increasing use.
  3. Failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home..

Marijuana use disorder is officially diagnosed using criteria outlined in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, called the DSM-V. A review of the clinical relevancy of this criteria can be found here. Basically, there is a long laundry list of signs and symptoms, of which at least 2 must occur within a 12-month period before someone is diagnosed with marijuana use disorder:

  • Continued use despite knowledge of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem(s).
  • Continued use despite persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use cannabis.
  • Recurrent use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Recurrent use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • You often take marijuana in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • You experience a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control cannabis use.
  • You give up or reduce important social, occupational, or recreational activities.
  • You spend a great deal of time in activities necessary to obtain weed, use weed, or recover from its effects.
  • Tolerance.
  • Withdrawal.

This landmark study published in the 2007 December issue of Addiction Science & Clinical Practice reported that, on average, adults seeking treatment for marijuana use disorders have used marijuana nearly every day for more than 10 years and have attempted to quit more than six times.

Psychiatric Disorders

People who smoke marijuana may have an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. This may be based on a genetic based vulnerability, a C/C variant found in the AKT1 gene or a variant of the gene for catechol-O-methyltransferase(COMT). Furthermore, some people who smoke weed reguarly can report suidicial thinking or mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

Why such a connection?

The endocannabinoid system in the brain is thought to regulate mood and reward. So, researchers have a theory that brain changes resulting from early use of marijuana trigger mental health or psychotic episodes. Still more research is needed to verify that such links exist and to better understand them.

Is Withdrawal a Real Thing?

Yes, it is possible to go through withdrawal from marijuana.

According to this 1996 study published in the medical journal, Addiction, about 15%of people who acknowledge moderate-to-heavy use reported a withdrawal syndrome when coming off weed. Typical symptoms are nervousness, sleep disturbance, and appetite change. In fact, the marijuana withdrawal syndrome resembles detox from other drugs, particularly tobacco. The most ommon symptoms reported during marijuana withdrawal include:

  • anger
  • craving
  • decreased appetite
  • depression
  • difficulty sleeping
  • irritability

In fact, these symptoms can be so uncomfortable that they cause people to go back and smoke weed again. Many people who go through a period of withdrawal have reported that symptoms impact their attempts to quit; they turn to marijuana or other drugs for relief.

Most symptoms of marijuana withdrawal begin within 24 to 48 hours of abstinence, peak within 4 to 6 days, and last from 1 to 3 weeks. Still, significant individual differences occur in the intensity, severity, and duration of symptoms.  So, every case of marijuana withdrawal is unique.

On average, adults seeking treatment for marijuana use disorders have used marijuana nearly every day for more than 10 years and have attempted to quit more than six times.

Is Rehab Necessary?

No, rehab is not always necessary when treating addiction to weed. According to NIDA, treatment options remain the same. In fact, marijuana use disorders appear to be very similar to other substance use disorders, although the long-term clinical outcomes may be less severe.

However, time in rehab can ALWAYS help anyone who is battling an addiction.

Treatment with Medications

At the moment, there are no medications available to treat the symptoms of physical dependence marijuana, however, researchers are actively seeking new treatments. So far, the medication buspirone has shown some potential for treating marijuana addiction, but this therapy requires additional study.

Still, treating marijuana addiction begins with a detox phase during which the body is rid of accumulated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Can you be physically addicted to weed?  Yes, evidenced by the manifestation of clinical symptoms during withdrawal. While many withdrawal symptoms are psychological in nature, others are physical.

Some people experience more mild symptoms of marijuana withdrawal that can be treated at home with over the counter medications (such as headaches or nausea), while heavy users are advised to seek medical assistance, especially for trouble with mood disorders and sleeping problems.

Treatment with Psychotherapy

Behavioral and psychological therapies occur after detox. The purpose of these treatments is to help the individual maintain abstinance and adopt a healthy lifestyle. The most common behavioral treatments include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational Enhancement therapy (MET)
  • Contingency Management (CM)

All of these have shown promising results with this kind of drug addiction. Additionally, marijuana addiction respond to psychological therapy in individual and/or group settings. The main goal of psychotherapy is to identify the psycho-emotional reasons for marijuana use and the resolution of the same without the need for drug abuse.

Stages of Treatment

Typically, marijuana addiction therapy occurs in three main stages:

STAGE 1: Detox, if necessary.

STAGE 2:  Psychotherapy and/or behavioral therapy.

STAGE 3: Continued support through group or individual work.


Generally, services for marijuana problems cost the same as treatment for other drug problems. Services are generally divided into inpatient and outpatient treatment. Counseling can continue in the weeks and months (or years) after you initially get help. Here’s a breakdown of average cost:

Counseling: $50-150 per hour

Inpatient rehab: $500-700 per day

Outpatient rehab: $100-150 per day

Getting Help

So, where can you go to receive treatment? Professional settings which assess, refer, offer, and/or manage treatments for addiction include:

Addiction Treatment Centers: These centers include both inpatient AND outpatient clinics. Better known as rehab, these professional centers offer both behavioral and pharmacological treatment and follow up aftercare.

Detox Clinics: These types of clinics specialize in helping patients detox from drugs while treating the physical withdrawal symptoms and providing medical assistance when needed. While not always necessary for marijuana addiction, severe cases of depression or anxiety should be medically managed during withdrawal.

Clinical Psychologists and Psychiatrists: These specialists are trained in identifying and later treating drug addictions by means of behavioral treatments or psychotherapy. Seeking help form a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist is highly recommended for heavy users or for those in denial.

Addiction support groups: Spending time talking to people who share your experience and offer mutual support and advice is beneficial for those who seek a drug free life. It is highly recomended that you join a suport group to learn principles of addiction recovery. This can include Ration Recovery, SMART Recovery, 12 step groups, or religious recovery groups.

Social Workers: You can seek help from a social worker if you wish to be referred to an affordable and suitable treatment program or if you want to look for financial aid for addiction recovery.

TIP: When looking for a treatment option, consider you own needs and preferences. The best type of treatment for you is the one that takes your personal needs and preferences into account and meets them accordingly. Additionally, there are plenty of specialized drug treatment facilities across the United States that provide help for substance use disorders. If you consider seeking professionl help for your marijuana addiction, investigate treatment centers in your area that come recommended by doctors and community references.

How to treat marijuana addiction questions

Let us know if you have any questions or comments about treating marijuana addiction. We will try to respond with a personal and prompt reply. help for marijuana addicts

References Sources: Budney AJ, Roffman R, Stephens RS, Walker D. Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment. Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2007;4(1):4-16.
The Society for the Study of Addiction: An evaluation of the history of a marijuana withdrawal syndrome in a large population
NCBI: Marijuana Dependence and its Treatment
SAMHSA: Brief Counseling for Marijuana Dependence
State of Colorado: Good to Know: Marijuana
NCBI: A placebo-controlled trial of buspirone for the treatment of marijuana dependence.
NCBI: Pharmacological Treatment of Cannabis Dependence
State of New Jersey: Medicinal Marijuana Program
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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