Can Marijuana Treat Severe Drug Addictions?
Sep 6, 2017 - 5:27:36 PM
The Logic Behind Using Marijuana to Treat Severe Addiction
Drugs like cocaine and opioids are extremely addictive, and severe drug addictions almost always have the potential for deadly consequences. The medical consequences of cocaine addiction include seizure, stroke and bleeding the in the brain. Long-term opioid use can cause hormonal dysfunction and immunosuppression, and it can lead to a fatal overdose. Crystal meth can also lead to very serious side effects from long-term use, including delusions, hallucinations, irreversible heart and brain damage, stroke, and coma.
Cannabis is being studied for its potential to mitigate symptoms of addiction and withdrawal. Its status as a Schedule I drug has created some controversy over whether it should be used to treat addiction for other Schedule I drugs. However, the side effects of marijuana are not nearly as severe as other drugs like cocaine or heroin.
Traditional interventions for addiction involve abstinence and prescription medications to help wean a person off of drugs. Unfortunately, success rates with traditional methods are low. For example, in an Irish Medical Journal study, 99 of 109 people who achieved sobriety from heroin relapsed. Of the 99 who relapsed, 64 did so within one week of gaining sobriety.
It is possible that current programs are asking too much of the severely addicted by expecting them to maintain total abstinence after a short rehabilitation program. Marijuana treatments offer an alternative with a drug that may be considered a “lesser of two evils.”
Supporting Research for Marijuana as Addiction Treatment
A review article published in Trends in Neurosciences notes that studies involving animal models have shown promising improvements in heroin-seeking behavior and opioid withdrawal symptoms. The article also notes that human evidence is severely lacking due to marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug.
A 2013 Addiction Biology study shows that cannabidiol inhibited the rewarding effect of morphine in rats. The study did not show the same positive results for cannabis and cocaine.
Another study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that cannabidiol normalized heroin-induced impairment in the endocannabinoid system and glutamate receptors. If we were to assume the same results in human treatment programs, cannabis might help prevent some of the damaging neurologic effects of heroin use.
Marijuana for Addiction Treatment in Practice
One rehabilitation center is already using marijuana to help treat people with severe addiction. High Sobriety in Los Angeles, California offers cannabis as a treatment option for residents with previously unsuccessful abstinence-based recovery attempts. According to the High Sobriety website, “Cannabis can aid in the cleansing process, helping with discomfort, insomnia, and flu-like symptoms associated with the withdrawal process, reducing or eliminating the need for other drugs.” Under medical supervision, cannabis continues to be an option for patients in the post-cleansing phase.
More research must be done to determine whether marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for severe addiction, but early studies show promising results.