Treatment for Cannabis Abuse

Peter Lear, LCSW, RYTBy Peter Lear, MSW, LCSW, RYT

Cannabis remains the most widely used and abused substance in the United States and Europe. While some people question whether or not a person can become addicted to marijuana or abuse it, the majority of research indicates these conditions do exist. The data is compelling: cannabis abuse causes significant impairments in people’s functioning. Marijuana abuse appears very similar to other substance dependence disorders, although it is likely to be less severe. Nonetheless it can cause problems at work, difficulty in relationships, physical illness, low self-esteem, and it can prevent a person from maturing. In effect difficulties and the unpleasant emotions that accompany them are opportunities to develop greater mastery in one’s life. When a person turns to any substance as a means of coping, that person is denied the opportunity to grow from that experience. In effect difficulties and the unpleasant emotions that accompany them are opportunities to develop greater mastery in one’s life.

People abuse marijuana for a myriad of reasons, including mood problems, anxiety, trauma, and a disconnection from others.

Treatments can vary and should be tailored to the individual, based on what is driving a person to abuse marijuana. Evidenced based treatments include Motivational Interviewing (MI), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR).

MI addresses ambivalence about quitting and seeks to strengthen motivation to change. Therapists use a non-confrontational counseling style to guide the client toward commitment and action to change. Therapeutic techniques include exploration of the pros and cons of drug use, accepting resistance to abstinence as part of the process, and forging goals and plans to achieve them.

CBT focuses on teaching clients skills relevant to quitting marijuana and dealing with attendant difficulties that may accompany this process. Individuals learn to deal with cravings by using self-management skills to avoid marijuana use or learn to cope with drug use triggers. They also learn drug refusal skills, problem-solving skills, and lifestyle management. Each session involves analysis of recent marijuana use or cravings, development of planned responses to situations that may trigger use or craving, training on a coping skill, role-playing or other interactive exercises, and practice assignments.

EMDR uses bilateral brain activity to process traumatic situations that caused lasting anxiety. Sessions begin by creating inner resources, or coping skills in preparation for when the client is ready to process the trauma(s). After the trauma is processed much, if not all of the anxiety will be gone, thus eliminating the need to use marijuana.