Marijuana is a drug that is promoted as being non-addictive. During the 1990s treatments for dependence on the drug doubled, which may suggest otherwise. Interestingly, only five clinical trials have actually examined the effectiveness of these treatments.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat a marijuana addiction, yet it produces relatively high relapse rates among patients. A 2000 Budney, Higgins, Radonovich and Novy study showed that adding abstinence-based, voucher-based incentives could produce greater levels of abstinence than CBT alone.
Their follow-up 2006 study compared the impact of these vouchers alone, CBT alone and a combination of the two on marijuana use. The results showed that those participants who received abstinence-based vouchers reported significantly more weeks of abstinence during treatment than those who engaged in CBT treatment only. There was no statistical difference between those in treatment with vouchers only and those in CBT and receiving vouchers.
While the study did aim to better assess treatment options, it was skewed in its design, with most participants being white males seeking psychotherapy from a university-based clinic and a small number of participants. Even with these limitations, this study still indicates that abstinence-based vouchers can be an effective intervention, whether CBT is involved or not. Length of treatment time could also be an issue. In this particular study, less than half of participants were able to maintain abstinence for more than two weeks after treatment.
Additional research could examine the factors that must be present in order to deliver effective treatments that also lead to ongoing abstinence. Perhaps the most important is whether a patient desires to stop using marijuana. The motivation for cessation is as important as the treatment itself.
Some treatment programs have reported a dramatic increase in the number of clients seeking treatment for a primary marijuana addiction. Residential rehab may be necessary in cases where environmental triggers (e.g. friends all smoke marijuana) make it difficult to stop using for any length of time.