Apr 21, 2016 9:40 AM

UW Researchers Are Looking for Cannabis and Tobacco Abusers

Marijuana has already proved its effectiveness for treating many debilitating conditions and diseases including HIV and cancer. Now scientists are looking for ways of marijuana addiction treatment. While pot addiction is a rare encounter among weed users, tobacco smoking seems to be a contributing factor. Thus, researchers at the University of Washington are searching for people who want to give up both cannabis and cigarettes.

The Innovative Programs Research Group created at UW is hiring adults aged 18 and older who want to undergo a free treatment as a part of a trial for marijuana and tobacco abuse. The researchers are going to conduct an investigation in adults who are constantly consuming both substances.

There are high rates of cigarette smoking among regular marijuana users. Various studies received results of tobacco addiction ranging from 40 to 90 percent, depending on the population. This fact is of great concern because cannabis patients who smoke tobacco tend to have poorer outcomes and a higher risk of recurring conditions. Thus, the group of researchers led by Denise Walker want to help these patients by focusing on tobacco usage while participants will try to quit weed consumption.

People who express their wish to take part in the investigation will be separated into two groups. The first group will receive simultaneous therapy for tobacco and cannabis for 12 weeks while the other participants will be treated for cannabis for 12 weeks and then will get another 12 weeks of tobacco dependence treatment. The study participants will have to come to an office in the University District twice a week and submit to a urine test for THC and other drugs.

Participants with marijuana-fee results will get a Visa card with remuneration. The reward will increase for each subsequent cannabis-negative sample. Patients can earn up to $435, but only those who will quit cannabis and submit negative samples by the end of the treatment.

The researchers will use different methods of treatment including cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing unhelpful thinking and behavior. Patients undergoing this therapy will be attending sessions with a therapist who will help them effectively respond to negative thinking. Motivational enhancement therapy seeks to encourage self-motivation in patients based on motivational interviewing and other similar techniques.

At the beginning of this study, the patients will go through an intake screening assessment and a brief counseling session. Participants will receive the treatment primarily via computer and will have to complete interactive sessions aimed to stimulate motivation and skills necessary for achieving goals. This method was created and successfully tested by Alan Budney, a professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth College, who collaborates with the UW scientists.

In 2010, the Innovative Programs Research Group had already conducted a similar investigation before Washington legalized recreational cannabis use. Despite marijuana's then-illegal status, study participants were motivated to quit marijuana because of they could not control their cannabis use, not because of the possible legal problems.

There is an increasing number of states with legal marijuana, and UW researchers are concerned about marijuana addiction treatment. However, the majority of pot consumers can easily stop using marijuana, though some of them may suffer from negative symptoms like irritability, lack of appetite, and insomnia. Despite researchers currently thinking that only 9% of weed consumers will develop some kind of dependency, the National Institute on Drug Abuse registered more than 4 million Americans who are addicted to cannabis in 2014.

If you are one of those who are interested in participating in the study, you can contact Lauren Matthews, the project director, at uwmatts@uw.edu or 206-616-3235.

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