Learn / Helpful Tools for Treating Marijuana Addiction

Helpful Tools for Treating Marijuana Addiction

Kayla Gill
 March 1st, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Marijuana addiction can be challenging to manage. If you’ve just arrived at this diagnosis, you probably have a lot of questions about what to do next. For some people, finding a rehab program that specializes in cannabis use disorder is a next step that makes sense.

Marijuana is the most widely consumed recreational drug in the world. Fortunately, there are many rehab centers and resources available for you to choose from.

Prevalence of Marijuana Addiction

You may be wondering if you really need a treatment as serious as rehab for something that’s generally not thought of as a “hard” drug. Is marijuana addiction real and something to be concerned about?

The answer is that yes, marijuanna addiction is real, even if it may look different than other kinds of substance addiction. And many people benefit from inpatient rehab, as well as other kinds of treatments.

Nearly 18% of people aged 12 or older reported that they had used cannabis in the past year. About 5% of people in the U.S. (or about 14.2 million people) had cannabis use disorder symptoms1 in the past 12 months.

The main chemical in marijuana that produces most of its psychoactive (mind-altering) effects is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Over the years, cannabis has become much more potent,2 and this may complicate your attempts to stop or decrease how much you use.

Legalization of medical cannabis in the U.S. has made it easier to know how much THC you’re ingesting. Legalization has also played a role in shifting the consequences for using cannabis, and how easy it is to access it.

Because of these considerations, your marijuana use may have negative effects on your life even while you’re doing your best to manage it. The good news is that professionals have developed an understanding of what you’re experiencing and how to best support you.

Risk Factors for Marijuana Addiction

Certain demographics have a heightened vulnerability to marijuana misuse.3 For example, people who start using marijuana before the age of 182 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than people who start at a later age.

More and more older adults are using marijuana and need support for cannabis use disorder,4 along with other substance use issues.

Additional risk factors for cannabis use disorder5 include having a mental health diagnosis like anxiety or depression, as well as the following:

  • family history
  • peer pressure
  • loneliness or social isolation
  • lack of family involvement
  • drug availability

The Impact of Marijuana Addiction

Many people use marijuana without issue, but it’s important to notice whether it’s negatively affecting your life. There are short- and long-term consequences for using marijuana.

Immediate Effects

“Instead of relaxation and euphoria, some people experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic”6 when using marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“These effects are more common when a person takes too much, the marijuana has an unexpectedly high potency, or the person is inexperienced. People who have taken large doses of marijuana may experience an acute psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity,” says NIDA.


Marijuana dependence2 happens when your brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing production of, and sensitivity to, its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.

People who use marijuana frequently often report irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, or physical discomfort. These effects peak within the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks.

Cannabis Use Disorder Symptoms

The diagnosis that used to be named cannabis addiction has been changed to cannabis use disorder. Symptoms of cannabis use disorder7 include the following:

  • using more marijuana than intended
  • trying but failing to quit using marijuana
  • spending a lot of time using marijuana
  • craving marijuana
  • using marijuana even though it causes problems at home, school, or work
  • continuing to use marijuana despite social or relationship problems
  • giving up important activities with friends and family in favor of using marijuana
  • using marijuana in high-risk situations, such as while driving a car
  • continuing to use marijuana despite physical or psychological problems
  • needing to use more marijuana to get the same high
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping marijuana use

In withdrawal, you might experience irritability, nervousness, difficulties with sleep, restlessness, depressed mood, stomach pains, chills, and headaches. For some people, cannabis withdrawals cause unpleasant, vivid dreams and notice changes in their appetite.8

Long-term Effects

Over time, there’s a possibility that you’ll experience problems with attention, memory, and learning related to marijuana misuse.7 On a physical level, smoking or vaping marijuana negatively impacts lung functioning.9

Beginning to acknowledge the impacts of substance use on the rest of your life can feel challenging. Remember that you deserve care and support in that process. And it’s heartening to remember that available treatments are specifically designed to support you in changing your marijuana use in the way that’s most helpful for you.

Marijuana Addiction, Other Substance Use Disorders, and Mental Health

Cannabis use disorder is associated with other diagnoses,3 including mood disorders like depression and anxiety, personality disorders, and other substance use disorders. This means that lots of people who seek help for substance use have co-occurring disorders.

Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

People who used marijuana and already had an alcohol use disorder may be at greater risk of their alcohol use disorder getting worse. Marijuana use is also linked to other substance use disorders including nicotine addiction.

But most people who use marijuana don’t go on to use other, “harder” substances.10 In fact, cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. What this means is that substances like alcohol and nicotine also prime the brain to have a greater response to other drugs. This isn’t something that’s the case for marijuana specifically.

Marijuana and Risk of Psychosis

Cannabis-induced psychosis is a concern, particularly if you have a genetic predisposition to the experience, schizophrenia and other psychiatric diagnoses, or different types of vulnerabilities.

According to a group of researchers in the Department of Psychosis Studies at King’s College London, people who use marijuana and carry a specific variant of the AKT1 gene are at increased risk of developing psychosis. People with the AKT1 gene who used marijuana daily were 7 times more likely to develop psychosis than people who used marijuana infrequently or not at all.

Another study found elevated levels of psychosis among adults who had used marijuana in adolescence and also carried a specific variant of the gene for catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT).

If you’re struggling with your relationship with marijuana and also experiencing mental health challenges or problems with another substance, there are a number of rehab programs and treatment approaches that are tailored to your unique needs.

Treatments for Marijuana Addiction

Why reduce or stop using cannabis? In one study, participants reported that they had 3 main reasons for decreasing or stopping their marijuana use:11

  1. Self-incompatibility: Using marijuana wasn’t in line with their values and life goals.
  2. Social incompatibility: Friends and family held values that weren’t consistent with marijuana use.
  3. Mental health concerns: Using marijuana caused or worsened their depression or anxiety.

Maybe these reasons resonate with you too, or maybe you have different reasons for wanting to make a change. Science supports the efficacy of certain treatments for this condition.

Something to keep in mind: in one study that focused on outcomes of marijuana use treatment, interventions for cannabis use disorder12 had the best short-term effectiveness when they lasted more than 4 sessions and over a month’s time, as compared to more brief, lower‐intensity interventions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy for cannabis use disorder13 “targets the (perceived) functional role that cannabis use plays in a patient’s life and seeks to alter the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms precipitating use. Patients are taught skills to aid cannabis reduction/cessation and maintain this change. This could involve, for example, teaching patients to identify situations likely to trigger motivation to cannabis use and how to avoid them, or how to address the thoughts and emotions underlying the motivation to use.

“Other components of CBT include building drug refusal skills and problem-solving skills, and making healthy lifestyle modifications. The main goals of CBT are to increase patient self-efficacy to resist cannabis use and expand their repertoire of coping skills.”

An individualized approach to treatment planning may increase effectiveness of CBT for marijuana use treatment.13 It involves using your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to identify what situations put you at the highest chance for relapse.

To learn more about this approach, see our list of rehabs that offer individualized treatment for marijuana addiction.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational enhancement therapy for cannabis use disorder12 is set up to mobilize your internal resources to help you make change and engage fully in treatment. This approach gives you a space to explore feelings of resistance that may be coming up, and strengthen your sense of self-efficacy.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

In rational emotive behavior therapy,14 the therapist works through a set of target problems with you and helps you decide on your goals for the course of treatment. You work together to discover emotions, behaviors, and beliefs related to those problems based on your values and goals. The goal is for you to apply what you learn in session to real-life situations.

Contingency Management

Contingency management13 is an approach that allows you to track how often you use marijuana and compare that to a goal. Based on whether or not you use marijuana each day or week, you either earn rewards, or they are removed. During future days, you have more chances to keep earning rewards.

Parent involvement in contingency management15 procedures can also be helpful for teens who are trying to reduce or stop their marijuana use.

Community-Based Strategies

Your substance use, and positive changes you make, happen within your environment. A community-based strategy approach16 uses support strategies such as celebratory events, involving people in decision-making, and building available resources.

Medication Interventions

Currently, the FDA hasn’t approved any medications to treat cannabis use disorder, but research is active in this area.

Some medication-based treatments for marijuana addiction17 target sleep issues, a big part of marijuana withdrawal. “Medications that have shown promise in early studies or small clinical trials include the sleep aid zolpidem (Ambien®), an anti-anxiety/anti-stress medication called buspirone (BuSpar®), and an anti-epileptic medication called gabapentin (Horizant®, Neurontin®) that may improve sleep and, possibly, executive function.”

In addition, THC, antidepressants, buspirone, N-acetylcystine, and mood stabilizers have been studied, and may be helpful in some cases. However, they may not be significantly more effective than a placebo.18

Finding a treatment that works well for you is possible. By making changes at the psychological, physical, or community level, you open up the possibility for new patterns of behavior.

Long-Term Recovery from Marijuana Addiction

What to Expect in Recovery

There are positive changes that start to happen after you reduce or stop using marijuna. For example, young people between the ages of 16 and 26 showed increased performance on sustained attention tasks after stopping their cannabis use19 for 2 weeks.

Participants in another study showed improvements in memory after 1 month of not using marijuana.20 Treatment of cannabis use disorder also improves depressive symptoms21 in adolescents.

Setting Yourself up for Success

Once you’re better able to manage your cannabis use, it’s important to arrange your environment to make yourself as successful as possible.

In one study, participants shared 3 main helpful strategies for maintaining their change of stopping or decreasing their marijuana use:11

  1. Cognitive strategies: They weighed the benefits and costs of use, identifying reasons that cannabis use might be incompatible with their goals and values, and also identifying the mental health consequences of use.
  2. Social shifts: They spent less time with marijuana users and more time with non users.
  3. Stimulus control/avoidance: They spent less time at places and in situations that used to be associated with cannabis use, and more time on new hobbies and in places where wellness is emphasized, like the gym.

Making a Positive Change

Navigating substance misuse can be difficult. Your journey up to now is unique and the support you receive should make sense for you.

Many rehab programs offer specialized programs to help you change your relationship with marijuana and build new habits. Taking the next step is possible, and there are lots of tools available to help you find stability and hope.

If you want to learn more about programs that treat this issue, you can browse our list of rehabs that treat marijuana addiction here.

  1. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). What is the scope of cannabis (Marijuana) use in the United States? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-scope-marijuana-use-in-united-states []
  2. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). Is marijuana addictive? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive [] [] []
  3. Hasin, D. S., Kerridge, B. T., Saha, T. D., Huang, B., Pickering, R., Smith, S. M., Jung, J., Zhang, H., & Grant, B. F. (2016). Prevalence and correlates of dsm-5 cannabis use disorder, 2012-2013: Findings from the national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions–iii. American Journal of Psychiatry, 173(6), 588–599. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.15070907 [] []
  4. Choi, N. G., & DiNitto, D. M. (2019). Older marijuana users in substance abuse treatment: Treatment settings for marijuana-only versus polysubstance use admissions. Journal of substance abuse treatment, 105, 28-36. []
  5. Risk of using other drugs | health effects | marijuana | cdc. (2021, November 17). https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects/risk-of-other-drugs.html []
  6. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). What are marijuana’s effects? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-are-marijuana-effects []
  7. Addiction | health effects | marijuana | cdc. (2021, September 9). https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects/addiction.html [] []
  8. Hesse, M., & Thylstrup, B. (2013). Time-course of the DSM-5 cannabis withdrawal symptoms in poly-substance abusers. BMC Psychiatry, 13(1), 258. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244X-13-258 []
  9. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). What are marijuana’s effects on lung health? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-are-marijuanas-effects-lung-health []
  10. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). Is marijuana a gateway drug? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-gateway-drug []
  11. Stea, J. N., Yakovenko, I., & Hodgins, D. C. (2015). Recovery from cannabis use disorders: Abstinence versus moderation and treatment-assisted recovery versus natural recovery. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29(3), 522. [] []
  12. Gates, P. J., Sabioni, P., Copeland, J., Foll, B. L., & Gowing, L. (2016). Psychosocial interventions for cannabis use disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 5. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD005336.pub4 [] []
  13. Litt, M. D., Kadden, R. M., Tennen, H., & Petry, N. M. (2020). Individualized assessment and treatment program (Iatp) for cannabis use disorder: Randomized controlled trial with and without contingency management. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors : Journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 34(1), 40–51. https://doi.org/10.1037/adb0000491 [] [] []
  14. Ellis, A., & MacLaren, C. (2008). Rational emotive behavior therapy. The quick theory reference guide: A resource for expert and novice mental health professionals, 127-139. []
  15. Contingency management + parent participation = further benefits to adolescents? (n.d.). Recovery Research Institute. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.recoveryanswers.org/research-post/contingency-management-parent-participation-further-benefits-to-adolescents/ []
  16. The community as the patient: How to promote community recovery. (n.d.). Recovery Research Institute. Retrieved from https://www.recoveryanswers.org/research-post/the-community-as-the-patient-how-to-promote-community-recovery/ []
  17. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). Available treatments for marijuana use disorders. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/available-treatments-marijuana-use-disorders []
  18. Nielsen, S., Gowing, L., Sabioni, P., & Le Foll, B. (2019). Pharmacotherapies for cannabis dependence. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1). []
  19. Wallace, A. L., Wade, N. E., & Lisdahl, K. M. (2020). Impact of two-weeks of monitored abstinence on cognition in adolescent and young adult cannabis users. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society : JINS, 26(8), 776–784. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1355617720000260 []
  20. Schuster, R. M., Gilman, J., Schoenfeld, D., Evenden, J., Hareli, M., Ulysse, C., Nip, E., Hanly, A., Zhang, H., & Evins, A. E. (2018). One month of cannabis abstinence in adolescents and young adults is associated with improved memory. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 79(6), 17m11977. https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.17m11977 []
  21. Arias, A. J., Hammond, C. J., Burleson, J. A., Kaminer, Y., Feinn, R., Curry, J. F., & Dennis, M. L. (2020). Temporal dynamics of the relationship between change in depressive symptoms and cannabis use in adolescents receiving psychosocial treatment for cannabis use disorder. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 117, 108087. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsat.2020.108087 []

Return to Resource Library

Our Promise

How Is Recovery.com Different?

We believe everyone deserves access to accurate, unbiased information about mental health and addiction. That’s why we have a comprehensive set of treatment providers and don't charge for inclusion. Any center that meets our criteria can list for free. We do not and have never accepted fees for referring someone to a particular center. Providers who advertise with us must be verified by our Research Team and we clearly mark their status as advertisers.

Our goal is to help you choose the best path for your recovery. That begins with information you can trust.