Study Examines New Treatment for Marijuana Dependence

A new potential treatment for marijuana dependence, and the success of network therapy, which engages family and friends in a patient’s substance abuse treatment, were two of the topics discussed at the recent annual meeting of the New York Society of Addiction Medicine. This is the second of a two-part report on the meeting, “Addiction Medicine 2013: Emerging Problems, Current Treatment.”

Researchers at Columbia University in New York are studying a new treatment for marijuana dependence.

Margaret Haney, PhD, led a study of 11 people, which has not yet been published, of a synthetic version of THC—the active ingredient in marijuana—called nabilone. Marijuana-dependent patients received either a placebo or one of two doses of nabilone.

Nabilone decreased marijuana withdrawal symptoms, such as increasing sleep and appetite, and decreased marijuana self-administration, in a laboratory model of relapse. Patients did not experience a “high” from nabilone, indicating it does not have a high abuse potential. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Dr. Haney’s colleague, Ziva Cooper, PhD, of Columbia University, Department of Psychiatry, New York State Psychiatric Institute, noted that while many people do not regard marijuana dependence as a major problem, it can lead to significant impairment or distress. “Marijuana dependence is likely to become more common as marijuana becomes legal in more states,” she said at the recent New York Society of Addiction Medicine meeting.

Marijuana potency has been increasing over the last 40 to 50 years, Dr. Cooper said. There is currently no medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of marijuana dependence. Of people who do seek treatment for marijuana dependence, many are unable to stay abstinent, Dr. Cooper observed. In one study, 71 percent returned to marijuana use within six months.

Another treatment that has shown potential for marijuana dependence is a combination of oral THC and lofexidine, a drug used in the United Kingdom for opiate withdrawal, which is not approved in the United States. In a small study, patients who took the combination treatment had decreased cravings for marijuana and cigarettes, decreased relapse rate and improved sleep compared with either THC or lofexidine alone.

Network Therapy: Involving Family and Friends in Substance Abuse Treatment

Engaging close family and friends in substance abuse counseling—a process called network therapy—can help improve abstinence rates while providing much-needed support, according to an expert at New York University School of Medicine.

Marc Galanter, MD, a psychiatrist who originated network therapy, says including family and friends provides a valuable resource for patients if they relapse, while keeping them accountable. The therapy also provides support to those affected by patients’ substance use disorders.

Dr. Galanter conducted a study, published in 2004, that found substance abuse patients who engaged in network therapy were twice as likely to be abstinent compared with those who did not engage in the treatment.

“Participants in network therapy should have a close, ongoing relationship with the patient, and should not have a substance use disorder, so they don’t undermine the course of treatment,” Dr. Galanter said at the recent annual meeting of the New York Society of Addiction Medicine.

He continues treating patients separately in addition to seeing them as part of network therapy. The friends and family members who agree to be part of network therapy must agree to be available if the patient needs help. “They secure compliance—such as making sure the patient doesn’t go to a bar,” says Dr. Galanter. They also can suggest solutions to help the patient achieve and maintain abstinence.

Patients who know their drug test results will be shared with their network will be more motivated to pass the test, because they won’t want to let their family and friends down, Dr. Galanter observed.

Network therapy can help enforce patient agreements for future behavior, he added. “For instance, a patient may agree that if he can’t become abstinent within a few weeks, he will go into residential treatment. If he backs down, it’s harder for him to dismiss what he initially agreed to if he did so in front of his network.”


31 Responses

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    May 19, 2016 at 1:41 AM

    My husband has been smoking pot for around 3 years now and he keeps telling me he is going to stop. I honestly think one of the biggest problems this day is that people see weed as harmless. While it may not be addictive on the chemical level, dependence seems to be a serious thing (as I am seeing with my husband). I am just so tired of this! Thanks for letting me vent.

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    February 22, 2016 at 9:07 PM

    My husband smokes pot a lot. It makes me tired. He constantly looks me in the eye and promises he’ll stop for sure “this time” but lies and goes behind my back and smokes with his co-workers and friends before he gets home. He thinks i don’t know and notice this but i do. He blames his stress of work and stuff on it. But even in our best moments he goes back to smoking. How can i help him? Some recommendations? Or should i leave my husband because he won’t stop smoking? Any help would be highly appreciated

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    Susan james

    January 25, 2016 at 11:23 PM

    I have been smoking weed for longer and strong er than anybody I have ever met. I started when I was 13, I am 41 now. I was severely abused as a child and pot helped me escape. I do believe if pot was not around I would have turned to something harder. I was an incredibly bright person at one time but have accomplished nothing in my life in an occupational sense. Over the years I steadily got more and more addicted. I am up to a half ounce a week! I spend crazy amounts of money on it. About 200 a month.! That’s a car payment and I need a new car. I have no idea how to be happy or how to deal with my emotions. I am stunted emotionally, I am still 13 inside. I try to quit but never get far the withdrawls are treacherous. Throbbing headaches, uncontrollable rage, nausea. Can people really claim marijuana is not physically addictive? If there was no physical addiction there would be no physical withdrawl! And it’s hell on earth. I want to know what it’s like to be happy and how to deal with my emotions. Young people please listen to me quit now while your young. The addiction gets worse and worse.

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    Sonja Shields

    November 20, 2015 at 9:00 PM

    Marajuana is addictive. It does not matter if the addiction is physical or psychological. As the parent of a 24 year old son who smokes pot daily, I have seen what happens to a person who abuses the substance. He has a job that could pay for a reasonable life style but lives at our house because he spends so much money on his addiction. We threw him out, so he moved into his car for 3 weeks before he suffered a head injury (alcohol and drug related) that landed him in the trauma ICU for 2 weeks followed by 6 months of rehab. Now that he is out of the medical setting and back at work and he has started smoking again. He tells us again that he can “quit whoever we [he] wants”, but I have to say I doubt that. I am wondering what kind of low our son would have to hit before he would admit he needs help.

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