Open Access Open Badges Study protocol

Can reduce - the effects of chat-counseling and web-based self-help, web-based self-help alone and a waiting list control program on cannabis use in problematic cannabis users: a randomized controlled trial

Michael P Schaub1*, Severin Haug1, Andreas Wenger1, Oliver Berg2, Robin Sullivan1, Thilo Beck2 and Lars Stark2

Author Affiliations

1 Swiss Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction at Zurich University, Konradstrasse 32, P. O. Box, 8031, Zurich, Switzerland

2 Arud, Centres for Addiction Medicine, Konradstrasse 32, 8005, Zurich, Switzerland

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BMC Psychiatry 2013, 13:305  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-305

Published: 14 November 2013



In European countries, including Switzerland, as well as in many states worldwide, cannabis is the most widely used psychoactive substance after alcohol and tobacco. Although approximately one in ten users develop serious problems of dependency, only a minority attends outpatient addiction counseling centers. The offer of a combined web-based self-help and chat counseling treatment could potentially also reach those users who hesitate to approach such treatment centers and help them to reduce their cannabis use.


This paper presents the protocol for a three-armed randomized controlled trial that will test the effectiveness of a web-based self-help intervention in combination with, or independent of, tailored chat counseling compared to a waiting list in reducing or enabling the abstention from cannabis use in problematic users. The primary outcome will be the weekly quantity of cannabis used. Secondary outcome measures will include the number of days per week on which cannabis is used, the severity of cannabis use disorder, the severity of cannabis dependence, cannabis withdrawal symptoms, cannabis craving, the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other non-cannabis illicit drugs, changes in mental health symptoms, and treatment retention. The self-help intervention will consist of 8 modules designed to reduce cannabis use based on the principles of motivational interviewing, self-control practices, and methods of cognitive behavioral therapy. The two additional individual chat-counseling sessions in the additional chat condition will be based on the same therapy approaches and tailored to participants’ self-help information data and personal problems. The predictive validity of participants’ baseline characteristics on treatment retention and outcomes will be explored.


To the best of our knowledge, this will be the first randomized controlled trial to test the effectiveness of online self-help therapy in combination or without chat counseling in reducing or enabling the abstention from cannabis use. It will also investigate predictors of outcome and retention for these interventions. This trial is registered at Current Controlled Trials and is traceable as ISRCTN59948178.

Cannabis; Internet; Chat; Web-based; Self-help; Cognitive behavioral therapy; Motivational interviewing