Medication May Help Teen Marijuana Addiction

With some states legalizing marijuana, the drug has never been more accessible.

Nine percent of the 4.2 million Americans who use the drug become addicted – unless they start young.

Teen smokers face a 17% chance of getting hooked, according to the National Institute On Drug Abuse.

In many cases, marijuana addiction can be overcome through traditional strategies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or family therapy wherein individuals learn new patterns of thoughts and behaviors to assist them in abstaining. But clinicians are also searching for alternatives.

Dietary Supplement and Medication

Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina have discovered that an over-the-counter dietary supplement regularly taken for other purposes may also help marijuana users overcome their addiction.

The medication, called N-Acetylcysteine (NAC), is the first drug that has ever been successfully used in a study to decrease the number of teens who were using marijuana. An adult study is in the works.

Double-Blind Test

The study included 116 individuals between the ages of 15 and 21 who were then split into two groups. In a double-blind test, one group was given the medication while the second group received a placebo.

The participants were all entered into cessation counseling. In addition, they were paid increasing amounts of money for each clean drug test. The first clean test paid $5, the second paid $7 and the third paid $9. If a participant failed the drug test, they were required to start over on the pay scale.

The Results

The participants who received the medication in addition to standard cessation counseling were twice as likely to have a clean drug test.

The researchers believe that the effectiveness of the drug is related to the way chronic drug use affects the production of the chemical glutamate in various areas of the brain. While previous studies have examined this effect in animal models, this is the first study to find similar evidence in a medication trial with humans. NAC is commonly used to treat patients who have overdosed on painkillers.

The study, which was published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

The authors of the study cautioned against treating the results as evidence of a miracle drug to treat marijuana addiction. The researchers insist that treating addiction is complicated, and that therapy is generally necessary to help address the underlying causes that led to the development of a drug addiction.

Help With Addiction

With the increased availability of marijuana, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the complexities of treating marijuana addiction. In addition, it is critical that clinicians possess tools to help teens overcome their addiction. While various forms of therapy can be effective in many cases, there are situations in which NAC may be a necessary addition to the treatment strategy.

Parents who suspect that their teen is struggling with a marijuana addiction should seek help from a physician or a treatment clinician at a substance abuse treatment center.

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