Getting Help for Marijuana Addiction

Alcohol, heroin and other drugs can have HARD consequences – jails, institutions and death. Marijuana addiction is different. Marijuana addiction has SOFT consequences – lost potential, missed opportunities, limited relationships, stunted development. Different, sometimes obscure, but no less real. But getting effective help to cease using marijuana is hard to find in Oregon.

These different consequences require separate treatment resources to be successful. The language is different. Therefore, to be successful, treatment for marijuana addiction should be provided SEPARATE from alcohol, cocaine, opiates, or other drugs. The experience, culture, and physical dependence caused by marijuana is not-comparable. Mixing clients effectively reduces access to recovery and increases resistance to reduction or sustenance. Agencies which provide “substance use disorder groups” and mixed clients should be avoided.

And marijuana addicts may be different from other drug addicts because of motivation to get clean. Many alcoholics, cocaine and opiate addicts get motivated to stop using because of threat of incarceration, or significant medical issues. Marijuana addicts want to quit because they want to improve their relationship with their loved ones, improve job performance, get through school, be more social or thoughtful.

Further marijuana poses real danger for people with mental illness. So many of us have gone untreated or been mistreated by the community mental health system that we’ve turned to marijuana to sooth our pains. Like alcohol it’s immediately effective, but marijuana too often triggers relapse into depression, delusions, fears, or psychosis. Marijuana is dangerous for many people with mental illness.

Ironically, many – most – people who smoke marijuana don’t have problems with it. In that way it’s like alcohol. A percentage of people have trouble; not everyone. And the percentage for marijuana is a minority – somewhere between 15% and 25% end up with problems caused by marijuana use. Marijuana is not nicotine or dilaudid, common legal drugs with high rates of addiction – 90% or more. That minority is harmed by the drug, by their addiction.

We don’t say marijuana should be illegal. The law is the wrong tool to help people with a medical problem. Instead, we advocate for access to effective treatment for those who want to stop smoking pot. The state, in legalizing marijuana, has an obligation and the resources to provide effective treatment for those who are harmed by marijuana.

But getting treatment may be a hassle.

In 2015 marijuana proponents told Oregon voters legalizing recreational marijuana would provide dollars for drug treatment. Unsurprisingly, state and local legislators failed to protect the minority who are harmed by marijuana.

We asked Oregon’s top addiction treatment professionals at the Oregon Health Authority and at Multnomah County Mental Health and Addictions Services Division about access to marijuana-specific treatment, and outcomes from those treatments. How can people get help for marijuana? What’s the result of that drug treatment – and the public funds spent on it?

Their answer? Oregon doesn’t provide treatment for marijuana addiction. Marijuana addicts are included in the same treatment provided for alcoholics, cocaine addicts and heroin addicts. Further, Oregon doesn’t collect data on the outcome of that treatment for marijuana addicts.

Addiction treatment professionals often discount marijuana addiction. Some deny marijuana is addictive, some think it’s a medicine. These people are part of the problem. Many addiction treatment professionals themselves use marijuana or used marijuana in the past without experiencing negative consequences. They are part of the majority but uneducated – and inexperienced. Be wary. Effective treatment is provided by educated and experienced clinicians.

So you may be on your own to get well.

Ask prospective treatment agencies during your intake call, “can you connect me with a clinician in recovery from marijuana addiction?” If they’re unwilling to make the connection or demur, disconnect and call another agency.

Look and listen for agencies which use language like “addiction” and not “substance abuse.” Look for agencies which talk about recovery, hire people in recovery, and refer to outside long-term community groups to provide continuing support for recovery.

Try Marijuana Anonymous. This is a twelve-step program based on Alcoholics Anonymous.

Marijuana Anonymous – Portland, Tigard, Salem, and Bend Meetings

Below is a good overview of marijuana science and treatment from Dr. Kai MacDonald, medical director at Lasting Recovery, an outpatient clinic in Southern California.

Here are some useful peer-reviewed texts on treatment for marijuana addiction.

Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment
Alan J. Budney, Ph.D., Roger Roffman, D.S.W., Robert S. Stephens, Ph.D., and Denise Walker, Ph.D. – 2017

Attributes of long-term heavy cannabis users: a case-control study (PDF)
Gruber, Pope, Hudson, Yurgelun-Todd – 2003

Psychosocial interventions for cannabis use disorder (PDF)
Cochrane Drugs and Alcohol Group – 2016

Available Treatments for Marijuana Use Disorders – from NIDA

The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids – The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research (PDF)

Above is a massive review of clinical literature on marijuana treatment as of January 2017 – perhaps the largest ever mustered.

Is Marijuana Medicine?

Maybe. But almost 95% of state-approved medical marijuana patients in California weren’t sick in a way marijuana might help.

An Analysis of Applicants Presenting to a Medical Marijuana Specialty Practice in California
Helen Nunberg, MD, MPH, Beau Kilmer, PhD, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, PhD, and James Burgdorf – 2015

Is Marijuana Dangerous for Teens?

There has been a substantial increase in teen use of marijuana in states which have legalized medical or recreational marijuana. Watch this documentary, made in Portland about Cleveland High School students who smoke marijuana.

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