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In The Weeds: Marijuana Use & Eating Disorders

Senior Director of West Coast Clinical Programming Kelly Souza, MA, PsyD has been working in the field of mental health for the past 14 years in various settings. In this week’s blog post, Dr. Souza shares about marijuana use and eating disorders.

Marijuana use has become an increasingly important element of eating disorder identification and treatment.

With the legalization of marijuana expanding all over the world, the likelihood that an individual faced with an eating disorder (ED) is also facing a cannabis use disorder (CUD) is high.

The types of cannabinoid products on the market today are multi-faceted and important to understand prior to diagnosing an individual with CUD. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 33 states and recreational marijuana is legal in 10. Furthermore, the distribution of CBD products are much higher as they are sold online by retailers claiming they are derived from hemp and therefore legal.

In order to identify a comorbid relationship between an ED and CUD, it’s essential to understand the link between the two. Both are linked by common underlying factors that influence the response to stress. Individuals who are fighting either one of these disorders are more likely to have experienced trauma and PTSD symptoms.

Adolescents are most vulnerable to cannabis use disorder. They seek excitement, have poor decision making skills and are at a critical maturity period. Brains develop well into one’s mid-20’s and cannabis affects the development of the prefrontal cortex and synaptic pathfinding. Adolescents are at an increased risk of psychiatric symptoms, lower educational attainment, unemployment and the use of more illicit drugs. It is associated with a decline in IQ and an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

Statistically, it takes 60% longer to recover from substance use disorder if the use started before the age of 15. Monitoring and catching this use early is the best way to prevent addiction in the future. This does not mean that there are no treatment options for those that are struggling to overcome their abuse of cannabis.

Despite the commonalities, ED and CUD are different illnesses with different treatment needs.

Therefore, a co-occurring treatment method is created to manage both eating and cannabis urges. The initial focus of treatment is to re-establish normalized pattern of eating and cannabis use in sobriety. Following this initial diagnosis, there are three methods of treatment.

  1. Motivational Enhancement Therapy

    Used to build on internal motivation for change through developing and expressing empathy. This therapy helps the individual develop self-efficacy and accepting their thoughts and reality.

  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Relapse Prevention)

    Used to identify cognitive distortions and engage in restructuring of thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

  3. Contingency Management

    Focuses on tangible rewards to reinforce positive behaviors.

As with any disorder, treatment plans aren’t always successful and there is a chance of relapse in both ED and CUD. In order to best manage these challenges it’s essential warning signs are identified early and a prevention plan is put in place before leaving treatment. At Monte Nido & Affiliates, treatment programs strictly prohibit marijuana use and clients are given personalized treatment plans upon entering. Prevention plans are put into place prior to discharge in order for clients to pursue a healthy life moving forward.

For more information about Monte Nido please call 855.265.1958visit our website and connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.