Vall d'Hebron studies the effectiveness of online interventions for cannabis addiction in young people

The study, led by Anna Beneria, specialist physician of the Mental Health Service, concludes that these methodologies have shortcomings and proposes the implementation of improvements in the follow-up of young people.


A collaborative study between the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and Orygen Youth Health (Melbourne, Australia) shows that the methodologies used so far to treat cannabis addiction in adolescents and young people have shortcomings. The research, led by the clinical psychologist Anna Beneria, specialist physician of the Mental Health Service of the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and researcher of the Psychiatry, Mental Health and Addictions group of Vall d'Hebron Research, proposes new processes that contribute to a better follow-up for patients and a greater reduction in the consumption of this psychotropic drug. The results have been published in the journal Early Intervention in Psychiatry  and have counted with the participation of CAS Vall d'Hebron, the CIBER of Mental Health (CIBERSAM), the University of Calgary (Canada) and the University of Melbourne (Australia).

The aim of the study was to analyze the effectiveness of online cannabis interventions (OCI), a set of actions aimed at patients involving interpersonal contact between patient and expert or interactive therapy to reduce cannabis consumption. This takes advantage of the regular use of technology in adolescents and young adults to improve access to mental health resources in this group and reduce the negative consequences that the consumption of this substance can have in the long term.

In this sense, the work makes a systematic review and meta-analysis of the existing publications on this topic to analyze the effectiveness of OCI for adolescents and young adults. The research included 17 studies that were analyzed in the investigation, which in total involved 3,525 participants.

The study detected heterogeneity among the scientific literature generated and revealed that online interventions do not significantly reduce cannabis use in adolescents and young adults. Thus, the researchers believe that these interventions require more structure, and it has also been shown, both in this and in other studies where online treatments for other disorders such as depression or anxiety have been evaluated, that for digital mental health interventions to be effective, it is necessary for there to be a clinician behind the online intervention. Therefore, close contact with the clinical psychologist is important. 

"We believe that more specific and targeted interventions would be needed to promote behavior change among young people with regard to cannabis use. These interventions could include daily follow-up, receiving support among youth to improve adherence to interventions, and including the view of other people close to them, such as family members," says Beneria. Including peer support in treatment has also been found to improve adherence to treatment.

Although online therapies are apparently a very good resource in the area of addictions, empirically valid interventions that offer a reduction in online consumption have not yet been obtained and, therefore, it would be necessary to promote more resources to guarantee the improvement of these interventions. Studies on this type of interventions as well as strategies for their improvement are key to break down the barriers of access to resources, and to serve people from all over the territory without the need for them to travel. 

Cannabis use among young people

According to data from the United Nations (UN) in 2019, cannabis is the third most consumed drug worldwide, behind only tobacco and alcohol. Likewise, adolescents and young people are the age group with the highest consumption, accounting in Europe for 17.1 million people between 15 and 34 years of age. According to the ESPAD (European Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs) 2019 report, in Spain, 23% of young people had consumed cannabis at some time in their lives and 12% had done so in the last 30 days.

The use of this substance in young people can lead to alterations in the brain that result in cognitive problems and problems with learning and can impact personal relationships, so that they become long-term psychological and behavioral consequences.


Beneria A, Santesteban-Echarri O, Daigre C, Tremain H, Ramos-Quiroga JA, McGorry PD, Alvarez-Jimenez M. Online interventions for cannabis use among adolescents and young adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Early Interv Psychiatry. 2021 Aug 31. doi: 10.1111/eip.13226.

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