Last dance with Mary Jane: Cannabis abuse and what can you do about it

Highlights

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It’s okay to want to quit marijuana. You’re not alone.

The number of Americans with a cannabis use disorder has doubled since the early 2000s. In 2012-13 alone, nearly three in 10 users developed a cannabis use disorder. We’re just at the beginning of this phenomenon; as legalization increases, so will addiction rates.

Why quit?

‘Cannabis Use Disorder’ was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013. Diagnosis is on a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe.

Users can have several motivations for quitting cannabis:

  • Improving memory, concentration and attention
  • More energy in daily activities
  • Being able to control their life
  • Proving to themselves they can quit

While not as physically addictive as alcohol or opiates, physical dependence on cannabis can occur, causing heavy users to experience withdrawal when they quit.

Withdrawing from cannabis

“Cannabis withdrawal is a valid…syndrome that occurs when people who are daily cannabis users stop use,” Dr. Ryan Vandrey told the Denverite. Withdrawal can start within two days and can last for two weeks. Symptoms likely include:

  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Intense dreams or sleep difficulties
  • Hostility
  • Cravings
  • Depressed mood
  • Reduced appetites

The quick onset of withdrawal symptoms makes relapse likely; 30% of cannabis users have tried and failed to quit.

Cannabis withdrawal isn’t to be confused with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, where using marijuana causes cyclical vomiting in long-term users.

Treatment strategies

The 12 Step Program adapted to a ‘greener’ landscape, and Marijuana Anonymous chapters are now available across the U.S. However, going ‘‘cold turkey,” a key strategy of the 12 steps, might not be the best strategy for quitting marijuana.

Some addiction experts recommend tapering your use as a first step. Reducing your use by 10%  can teach you where to go next with behavioral treatment therapies.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a fantastic tool to recognize triggers that lead to substance use. By using relapse prevention techniques, people motivate themselves to overcome impulses.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) works well with CBT. Through open-ended questioning, patients build personal plans for change. Patients notice discrepancies between behaviors and goals, provoking them to strengthen their own motivation for cannabis sobriety.

Community support

With over 110,000 users, the r/leaves community on Reddit is one of the largest support groups for quitting cannabis. But Reddit isn’t the only digital option for stoners seeking sobriety. There are apps for people quitting cannabis including:

  • Grounded — Quit Weed (Apple, Google Play) is free and designed specifically to quit cannabis. It has craving logs, a sobriety counter and money trackers — much like other sobriety apps.
  • Joint Effort is a free Australian app with a reduction schedule and a journal. It encourages users to think holistically about their addiction.

Acknowledging the risks of cannabis doesn’t mean advocating for prohibition. As governments navigate the challenges cannabis poses, we must call out addiction when we see it — in ourselves or others. Marijuana isn’t just a wellness tool, and it’s high time we recognize that.