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Marijuana is being used to treat opioid addiction

Originally posted on 19th June 2017, Updated on 24th January 2019

Over recent years, there have been an increasing number of challenges to many traditional views, which adopt an “all-or-nothing” approach to any situation.  The most recent of these has been posed by an LA rehabilitation clinic, which has been using marijuana to wean people off harder drugs. 

As is to be expected, this approach has caused quite some degree of controversy for various reasons, many of which revolve around the fact that some people still see marijuana as being as dangerous as the likes of heroin and cocaine and the fact that others think it is pointless to go into rehab to deal with one form of drug addiction only to leave using another drug.

The clinic in question, however, the High Sobriety clinic, believes that it is an appropriate, reasonable and pragmatic approach to dealing with the serious and problem of addiction in general and opiate drug addiction in particular.

opioid-addiction-crisis-rob-portman-legislative-crusadeIIf you stopped someone in the street and asked them to name substances to which a person could become addicted, there’s a good chance they’d be able to name the infamous hard drugs and alcohol (and possibly state marijuana as well).  Rather ironically, according to data from the UK Addiction Treatment (UKAT) Centres, the ongoing rise in addiction cases is largely fuelled by perfectly legal substances, particularly alcohol and prescription medication, with the latter being particularly dangerous since people can often make the assumption that such drugs are completely safe because they were prescribed them by a qualified GP (who may not be fully aware of their dangers either).  While many people could probably recognise the name opium and be aware of its addictive qualities, it seems that fewer people are aware that a number of modern medicines are opiates, natural derivatives of opium, or opioids, essentially the synthetic counterpart of opiates.  These include very common drugs such as codeine as well as the likes of morphine.  Tranquillisers and anti-depressants are also on UKAT’s list of substances where levels of drug addiction are growing.  UKAT’s data is backed by research undertaken by the University of Roehampton, which indicates that many people are wrongly prescribed anti-depressants and/or stay on them for much longer than the recommended time.  According to this study, coming off these drugs can have brutal side effects, including bringing on the depression for which they may have been prescribed in the first place.

Why is Marijuana being used to treat opioid addiction?medical-marijuana-fact21

There are two common reasons for which people can be prescribed drugs with addictive properties, one is pain and the other is emotional disorders such as depression.  Marijuana can address either or both of these in an organic way.  While the issue of THC (which relieves pain, according to this study, but also brings on a high) is still controversial, the healing properties of marijuana extend way beyond that and even the mainstream medical establishment now recognises the benefits of cannabidiol, which is legal in some places where marijuana itself is still illegal, including the UK.  Cannabidiol also has pain-relieving properties and helps to treat emotional conditions.  This is why it (or high-CBD marijuana strains) can be used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from arthritis and cancer to depression.  In short, marijuana can provide an alternative treatment for the conditions for which patients are typically prescribed opiate-based drugs.

Recognising this not only builds the case for medical marijuana as a means to prevent opiate addiction in the first place, but also provides a way forward for those who are already dealing with drug addiction.  People who have developed drug addiction as a result of needing effective pain relief for chronic disorders such as arthritis and cancer are currently trapped between a rock and a hard place in that they still need effective pain relief, even if it causes other issues.  Likewise, people who are prescribed opiate-based drugs for mental conditions could well benefit from the reassurance of knowing that there is a non-opiate alternative available to them if they ever feel they need it.

How is Marijuana helping opioid addicts recover?prescription-legal-weed-pot-marijuana

Anyone who has ever tried to give up smoking by going cold turkey will know just how hard it can be.  In fact, anyone who has just been around a smoker going cold turkey will probably have a good idea how hard it can be.  Because of this, medical companies developed a range of products to help deal with nicotine cravings of which by far the most successful has been the e-cigarette.  The e-cigarette encapsulates the modern approach to addiction management.  It does deliver nicotine (which is unhealthy) and, objectively speaking, is still a bad habit, it’s just a whole lot less bad than traditional smoking.  It can help smokers wean themselves off tobacco so that they can give up completely, or, failing that, can at least help them to do less damage to themselves.  Likewise, those dealing with alcohol addiction may be prescribed chlordiazepoxide (probably better known by its trade name Librium) as an exit drug, even though chlordiazepoxide is known to cause physical dependency.  It is seen as a calculated risk and, essentially, the lesser of the two evils.  The use of marijuana to treat opiate addiction is much in the same vein.  In very simple terms, the gap between opiate addiction and being free of opiate addiction can be a chasm – the use of marijuana as a gateway drug can provide a means to cross it.

The growing case for medical marijuana

Even the U.S., for decades, the world’s anti-drugs enforcer is coming around to the idea of medical marijuana, with it being effectively legal in several states, in fact the U.S. is now arguably leading the world in the use of marijuana to treat both physical and mental conditions and now addiction.  Notwithstanding this, in theory, the legalities surrounding marijuana use in the U.S. are still complex, with it being technically illegal throughout the country.  In fact, marijuana is still largely illegal across the world and there can be severe penalties for its possession.  The tide is, however, turning.  Canada legalised the use of medical marijuana a few years ago and Mexico has just done so.  In the UK, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that she is open to the idea of medical marijuana, which is already a reality in the Netherlands and Portugal.  As is so often the case, it may be economics, which sets the wheels of change in motion, particularly in the UK, with its expensive NHS.  The thought of having a more affordable option to expensive drugs may well be enough to make those in power change their stance on medical marijuana.

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