Dabs in Rehab? Welcome to High Sobriety

Dabs have taken center stage in the cannabis expo scene, particularly in California, where Dabbenport Extracts makes its home.

Dabs in rehab sounds like an contradiction to some, but an emerging philosophy of harm reduction for people struggling with addiction has some clinics offering cannabis-assisted treatment.


Welcome to this surprise gathering of your family and (what’s left of) your friends. You’ve noticed we’re looking at you stone-faced or with practiced concern — and that it is not your birthday. Indeed, we are not here to celebrate. And yes, that’s a packed suitcase (of yours) waiting by the door.

You’ve guessed it: this is an intervention, and yes, you are going to rehab. What’s that? One more dab before you go? Absolutely — and bring the rig with you. It’s marijuana-friendly rehab!

The concept of marijuana as a tool for harm reduction — giving someone making destructive choices a less-destructive choice to make — is not new, and a growing body of science suggests that cannabis is an adequate substitute for opiates. But weed in rehab?

Many addiction specialists scoff, but such a thing exists in Los Angeles. And while it’s been only a few months, the patients at High Sobriety (yup, that’s the actual name) — addicts struggling with substances like alcohol and heroin — swear they’ve been able to wean themselves off of those harder, more destructive drugs thanks to supervised cannabis use.

Founded by Joe Schrank, a former counselor at Promises — the famous rehab-for-the-stars clinic in Malibu, California — High Sobriety flips gateway theory on its head.

“For generations we have been told that cannabis is a ‘gateway drug,’” the clinic states on its website. “[A]t High Sobriety, we believe it is an exit drug.”

Schrank recently allowed The New York Times into the clinic for a brief tour. The clinic’s first patient, a 27-year old heroin addict, previously bounced in and out of rehab multiple times without success — at a cost of $300,000 to his family. Allowing him cannabis is the only thing keeping him at this particular clinic — and off harder drugs.

“If it wasn’t for cannabis,” Schrank said, “he’d have bolted in the middle of the night.”

Not everyone buys into the logic. Among the skeptics, count Dr. Howard Samuels, a former co-worker of Schrank’s at Promises.

“I’m in a state of shock,” Samuels told LA Weekly. “We all know in the treatment field that weed is such a dangerous drug for the emotional stability of our youth.”

Another addiction specialist, UCLA’s Dr. Lara Ray, believes giving marijuana to someone addicted to drugs is “potentially quite dangerous.”

“Folks who have a propensity to abuse one substance will likely abuse another,” Ray said.

Which is kind of the point. The tired tropes of stale coffee and boxes of doughnuts at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings exist for a reason — as do the piles of cigarette butts outside the door of the church basement where the meetings are held: substitution therapy is nothing new, and if cannabis is what keeps an addict in treatment rather than on the street, what’s the harm?

Michael Welch, a recovering heroin addict and one of High Sobriety’s main investors, told the Times total abstinence just isn’t something every addict can achieve.

“Every single treatment center knows it, and we know it,’’ he said. “Some of us have had the same clients, five, 10, 15 times over. We say: ‘We just can’t reach Billy, we just can’t reach Joe.’”

While scientists and addiction specialists disagree on whether the theory is sound, they agree there is a dearth of research into marijuana’s efficacy as an “exit drug.”

In the meantime, there are some logical arguments to be made: too much cannabis will not lead to a fatal overdose like too much heroin. Cannabis does aid eating and sleeping — two things amphetamine abusers have a hard time doing.

And it’s safer. For anyone at their wit’s end with a recurring substance abuse problem, that may be good enough.

TELL US, could cannabis-based harm reduction help people struggling with addiction?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

3 Comments

  1. Debbie Mayberry

    November 12, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    I am a compulsive gambler and also a medical cannabis patient. I have been at inpatient treatment for my gambling addiction and through advocacy have been allowed to continue the use of my cannabis while doing my program. I utilized cannabis to come off 19 routine pharmaceuticals including 60-90mg oxycodone daily and 3mg Ativan daily. I am so grateful for those that have listened. Now my dilemma is finding a place in transitional housing. I am looking at opening up a new house in Oregon for gamblers in recovery where if you are a cannabis patient you can continue to use your medication. Any suggestions?

  2. Nik michaud

    May 20, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    I am the 27 year old at H.S., and have been here for a little over 3 months now. Cannabis has actually been an exit drug for me, and though I know its not THE solution per se, it certainly is a critical component in my being able to semi-comfortably navigate the obstacles of my life (depression, anxiety, ptsd). I hope that other people who read this that are also struggling with sobriety find some semblance of hope. If abstinence has been attempted in futility – there are other options. Harm reduction = reducing harm = moving towards something better. Im grateful that Joe Schrank has made this possible for people in this country – people are dying and could be living.

  3. Kel

    March 31, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    I am a heroin recovered addict, it’s been 3 years as of Tomro, I have smoked weed since I got out of treatment, tested clean every single month and have no cravings to use heroin. I am also almost off suboxen as well by the end of the year… It isn’t always perfect or fun but atleast I have my life back.

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