More people in the U.S. are using cannabis than any other illegal drug, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. As a result, recovery from cannabis use is a serious and growing problem. Currently, people are being treated for cannabis dependence, but these treatments are not getting optimum results. At the present time, it is estimated that about 5 million people are using cannabis on a daily basis in the U.S. and these are the ones seeking treatment for the most part. The amount of people dependent on cannabis and the number seeking out recovery from cannabis use has gone up dramatically in recent years.

Previous studies done on cannabis users who were trying to stop without outside help have revealed that the main reasons they were trying to stop had to do with health concerns, self-control, self-image and self-efficacy. The main strategies they were using to quit were seeking out social support, changing their environment and seeking some sort of help.

This particular study set out to recruit cannabis users who used daily and planned to quit or at least reduce their use. The recruits joined a 6-month non-treatment study, completing an initial survey detailing their typical use pattern. From there they phoned in every morning for 3 months to discuss their previous day’s cannabis use. They also talked about their attempts to reduce their use or abstain altogether from cannabis. These discussions included their intentional attempts as well as their non-intentional attempts. They also reported any withdrawal symptoms and talked about their use of alcohol and/or tobacco, as well as overall drug use. Subjects then answered questions on a follow-up survey given 6 months out so researchers could figure out abstinence rates long-term to measure the recovery from cannabis use.

This study reinforces findings of prior studies, which include: (a) cannabis users attempting to quit on their own make a lot of rapid transitions from their usual use, reducing and abstinence; (b) they tried to reduce cannabis use more often than trying to abstain; (c) attempts to reduce and quit their use are short-lived with few achieving abstinence long-term; (d) alcohol and illicit drug use does not go up significantly with abstinence; and (e) few users think they need or seek treatment.

In addition, some interesting findings were that (f) most cannabis users made no preparations ahead of time prior to trying to quit; (g) on days when they were abstaining from cannabis they used tobacco and alcohol less than on days when they were using cannabis; (h) they had symptoms of withdrawal even during short attempts to quit; (i) reduction and abstinence did predict less dependence on cannabis; and (j) having activities planned during times when they were trying to quit predicted greater success at abstaining.

The results of this study show that most cannabis users try multiple times to reduce their use or quit and in the journey of recovery from cannabis use these attempts continue on over time. Many studies on cannabis reduction or abstinence focus in on one single attempt to reduce or quit using cannabis, and many studies don’t follow subjects after they’ve relapsed. In this study,

as with almost all previous studies, the vast majority of subjects attempting to change their cannabis use, fail. But, failed attempts to quit did predict an increase (not a decrease) in the probability that they would attempt to quit again at a later date. Therefore, a failed attempt to reduce or quit cannabis use indicates an increase, not a decrease, in their interest in changing. Do not give up!

The results of this study suggest that concerned individuals should focus not necessarily on the result of the first attempt to reduce or quit, but also on subsequent attempts at changing after a relapse. It is best to think of recovery from cannabis use as a process that will involve failed attempts so treatment may very well encompass a number of attempts at changing. This is consistent with our stages of change approach to recovery. If you are ready to work on recovery from cannabis use, please give us a call now!

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