Treatment of Cannabis Use Disorder: Current Science and Future Outlook

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Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States. Rates of cannabis use and cannabis use disorder (CUD) have increased in the past decade, paralleling changes in the legal and political climate favoring legalization. Almost 20 million people 12 years or older report past-month cannabis use, and 8 million report daily or near-daily use. Concurrently, the perception that cannabis use poses a significant risk of negative consequences has decreased. Contrary to this perception, heavy cannabis use is associated with cognitive impairment, increased risk for psychotic disorders and other mental health problems, lower education attainment, and unemployment. Clinical trials of various treatments for CUD have likewise increased, focusing primarily on psychotherapy treatments, specifically motivational enhancement therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and contingency management. Their findings suggest that a combination of these three modalities produces the best abstinence outcomes, although abstinence rates remain modest and decline after treatment. More recently, pharmacotherapy trials have been conducted as adjunctive interventions to psychosocial treatment. N-acetylcysteine and gabapentin are two of the most promising medications, although no pharmacologic treatment has emerged as clearly efficacious. In this review, we provide a detailed summary of clinical trials that evaluated psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for treating CUD and discuss emerging areas of clinical research and cannabis-specific barriers to treatment.

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