Marijuana: Treatment and rehabilitation

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 5:05 pm

Experts are divided on whether or not heavy, long-term marijuana use causes the same kind of addiction that opium or crack does. Evidence shows that daily marijuana use over time can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as aggression, irritability, and stomach pains; these are hallmarks of addiction. Also, long-term use can cause some of the same destructive brain changes as those found in other types of drug addictions. Studies in
1997 showed that THC causes a dopamine release in the brains of rats equivalent to that seen with heroin. It is estimated that more than 120,000 people seek treatment for marijuana dependence each year, indicating that at the very least marijuana use can become an overwhelming compulsion that is extremely difficult to break.
After alcohol and nicotine, marijuana is the drug on which more people become dependent than any other. Dependence is greatly increased by the additional abuse of another drug (particularly alcohol) and the presence of psychiatric disorders. In addition, young people seem especially vulnerable to marijuana dependence. In a
1998 study, out of a group of 229 adolescents already dependent on one substance (usually alcohol), 83% of those who tried marijuana six or more times became dependent on it as well. Most of these young people also showed symptoms of antisocial/behavioral problems.
The first step in treating marijuana dependence is detoxification. This is a series of medical and nutritional therapies designed to help the patient through withdrawal symptoms by eliminating drugs from the body. Once detox has been accomplished, psychological counseling and education programs help users face life without depending on drugs. However, success is not guaranteed. Users relapse frequently, sometimes merely shifting their dependence from marijuana to alcohol or another drug.

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