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?