Drug Addicts Are Kicking Dope With A Little Help From Weed

LA's High Sobriety clinic is rethinking recovery by bringing cannabis into the equation.

Treating addiction is tricky business for everyone involved. For addicts, the avenues for rehabilitation range from faith-based organizations utilizing the “12 steps” model to expensive rehab facilities that define recovery as being synonymous with complete and total sobriety. There's also court-ordered rehabilitation where relapse could have patients back in front of a judge and facing drug charges once more. There are others still that only admit patients after they’ve overdosed, or “hit rock bottom." 

For the most part in the recovery industry, programs require patients to abstain from any and all substances. Some even expel users if they don’t maintain total sobriety, which means a positive test for something as innocuous as weed could have them starting back at square one.

Though one notion starting to gain traction is harm reduction. In regard to marijuana, some see the less harmful drug as a way of treating addictions to harder, actually deadly substances.

“From my perspective as a social worker who’s steeped in the world of addiction, the value of cannabis is that you can’t die”

Sure, weed is a drug all the same and there's the risk of addiction. However, being hooked on pot is not a matter of life and death, and withdrawal from the herb doesn’t generally have users reaching the same suicidal, or physically painful, dopesick lows as say, crystal meth or heroin.

“From my perspective as a social worker who’s steeped in the world of addiction, the value of cannabis is that you can’t die,” Joe Schrank of Los Angeles-based recovery center High Sobriety, which integrates cannabis into its treatment program, said to Extract. “If we can use it to help people not get HIV, not get Hep B, not inject crazy stuff that they don’t even know they’re getting, not overdose and die, why wouldn’t we do that?”

At High Sobriety, Schrank’s “cannabis-inclusive” program has helped more than 50 crack cocaine and opioid addicts get clean from the poison, he says. The cannabis-inclusive approach also focuses more the non-psychoactive, non-addictive cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD)––as opposed to the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)––which is believed to contain compounds that can help patients curb anxiety brought on by withdrawals.

According to U.K.-based drug policy innovation hub Volteface, which explores alternatives to current drug policies, CBD could potentially make the withdrawal period more bearable:

“Anxiety is a key component of addiction. An important feature of CBD is that it reduces anxiety and negative emotional states implicated in addiction. As well as anxiety disorders and addictions being highly comorbid, anxiety is also a common symptom of withdrawal that can lead to relapse. CBD has been shown to be an effective anxiolytic;. . . From a neuroimaging perspective, CBD reduces blood flow in areas associated with anxiety e.g. amygdala and hippocampus suggesting its use as a treatment for the anxiety associated with withdrawal is viable.”

"So it's a harm-reduction theory," Schrank told CNN. “If you smoke the wrong rock of crack, your heart stops," he said. "It's very, very, very dangerous. I've had so many clients who were in treatment and seemingly doing well, and then they dropped dead," Schrank said. "If rehab worked so well, why is the success rate like 5 percent? We're definitely doing something wrong."

Another examination on cannabis’ value as an addiction treatment is a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The study, which was conducted by UC San Diego researchers, found that states with medical marijuana laws saw a decrease in the frequency of opioid overdoses. As KINDLAND has previously covered:

“Medical marijuana legalization was associated with 23 percent and 13 percent reductions in hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse and OPR overdose.”

“The study’s authors looked at hospital discharge data to reach their conclusion. Positively, data such as that obtained in the UCSD study is influencing legislators to re-think prevention measures and their tactics to put a dent in the crisis among their constituents.”

As drug laws see a national shift and new state marijuana laws are enacted, it will certainly be interesting to watch and wait for any new cannabis-included treatment options.