A screening is a testing procedure designed to identify people affected by a particular physical or psychological condition. A brief intervention is a short procedure designed to educate people involved in dangerous behaviors and encourage the adoption of safer behaviors. Public health officials and addiction specialists frequently use these procedures to identify and help people involved in substance abuse. In a study scheduled for publication in September 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the U.S. and Australia assessed the effectiveness of screening and brief interventions for altering the ways in which young adults use marijuana.
One of the best-known forms of screening for the use of marijuana and other substances is the urine drug test. Urine tests work because most mind-altering substances eventually get broken down inside the body and collected for excretion along with the other waste products found in urine. A far less invasive form of substance screening relies on the individual to accurately report his or involvement in the use of one or more substances, and also relies on the individual to report his or her frequency of substance intake. Typically, this form of screening includes the use of in-person or remotely administered questionnaires. In addition to directly addressing issues of substance use, screening questionnaires can also probe a range of factors that could either increase or decrease a person’s chances of developing serious, potentially diagnosable substance-related problems.
During a brief intervention, a doctor or another healthcare professional takes as little as five minutes or as long as half an hour to do such things as educate a patient or client on the facts about a particular form of substance use, provide guidance on the best ways to avoid developing serious substance-related problems, encourage a change in harmful substance-related behavior and suggest resources for additional help. Some brief interventions utilize a behavioral therapy technique called motivational interviewing, which is designed to help people overcome resistance to entering or continuing treatment for substance problems. Some interventions also rely on techniques adapted from cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy designed to help clients/patients identify and change their problematic behaviors.
Impact on Young Adults’ Marijuana Use
In the study slated for publication in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Boston University and Australia’s University of Newcastle looked at the potential effectiveness of a combination of screening and a brief intervention called eCHECKUP TO GO in changing the ways in which young adults use marijuana. The eCHECKUP TO GO program uses an Internet-based approach to provide critical information on ways to diminish involvement with the drug and reduce exposure to marijuana-related harms. Out of 1,080 people who voluntarily took a screening questionnaire at a university health center, the researchers identified 123 individuals who used marijuana once or more each month. Some of these individuals received the eCHECKUP TO GO intervention, while others did not. In addition, some of the participants received the intervention at the university health center, while others received it at a remote location.
After conducting follow-up examinations three and six months later, the researchers concluded that participation in eCHECKUP TO GO did not lead to a lower frequency of marijuana use in any of the study participants. However, the participants who received the intervention did experience a significant reduction in their likelihood of viewing marijuana use as an acceptable activity within their peer groups. In addition, the participants who received the intervention at the university health center (as opposed to a remote location) experienced a moderate reduction in their chances of encountering marijuana-related harm.
Broadly speaking, the study’s authors believe their work indicates that there are no major hindrances to administering marijuana screenings in a health center environment and following up those screenings with a computer-based brief intervention that does not require the direct involvement of a healthcare professional. They also believe that such interventions may lead to important changes in users’ perceptions of the acceptability of marijuana intake and help some individuals decrease the negative outcomes of their marijuana use. However, the authors note that their study was too small to provide definitive results. They recommend the pursuit of future, well-designed research conducted on a larger scale.