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Smoke Yourself Clean: Rehab With Marijuana

Rehab with Cannabis Cannabis Now Magazine
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now


Smoke Yourself Clean: Rehab With Marijuana

Lab, cell, animal and human trials back up use of cannabis.

While still controversial, ‘pot-rehabbing’ is becoming increasingly popular.

Patients are using cannabis to help with withdrawal off of everything from opiates to alcohol, reporting that cannabis is lessening the process’ pain, cravings and complications. There is good scientific reason to believe these reports. Scientific studies support the theory that cannabis is able to lessen withdrawal related pain, agitation, insomnia, depression and boredom. Both human trials and personal experience back up lab and cell data.

Studies suggest cannabis diminishes addiction at the cellular level, lessening cravings and addictive behavior. In a 2009 French study, adolescent mice exposed to THC showed less addictive behaviors towards opiates than those who hadn’t been exposed. Several human studies show cannabis use increases the likelihood of successful withdrawal attempts from addictive substances like tobacco, heroin, alcohol and cocaine.

A 2013 review of the scientific literature found that “cannabinoids modulate brain reward systems closely involved in stimulants addiction, and provide further evidence that the cannabinoid system could be explored as a potential drug discovery target for treating addiction across different classes of stimulants.”

While cannabis stimulates our reward centers in similar ways to these addictive substances, it doesn’t come with the same physical risks. If patients were able to replace dangerous and often deadly substances like opiates, alcohol or tobacco with a safer substance like cannabis, for many this would be a lifesaving treatment. This argument is supported by the fact that in states like Colorado, where cannabis was legalized, deaths from opiate overdoses have gone down by 25 percent. When patients have access to a less harmful alternative to their painkillers, they are able to replace or lower their use with something safer.

I know, too. I’ve been there. In 2013, I decided to try rehab with cannabis. I needed to get off the sedatives and anti-depressants my doctors had prescribed for chronic pain and anxiety. The prescriptions helped at first, but my body adjusted to them, and they stopped working and were causing other complications and side effects. My doctors advised going off of them — an incredibly painful and dangerous process, where one wrong step could lead to seizures or sudden death.

Pot-rehabbing is not standard practice, but my doctor looked over the research and anecdotal reports and agreed to the plan. I used cannabis heavily through my entire withdrawal process and it helped immensely. The cannabis eased many of the withdrawal symptoms and allowed me to progress through the process quickly. My doctors said withdrawal could take over a year but in a few short months, I was completely off both medications.

‘Pot-rehabbing’ is becoming a lot more common than it was when I tried it. As more research comes out, more doctors are warming up to the idea and starting to allow their patients to utilize this alternative medicine. Still many want more guidance about what types of strains, methods of administration and doses are best suited for patients looking to replace an addictive substance with cannabis.

A Canadian study by National Access Cannabis and Phytosciences Consultants may help answer some of these questions. The study sets out to “assess the therapeutic satisfaction of patients using prescribed cannabis” and opiates. By focusing on patient satisfaction, the study puts a scientific lens to the many anecdotal reports of cannabis’ efficacy against opiate addiction.

“Physicians need an alternative for prescription opiates to treat this population of chronic pain patients,” Dr. Pritesh Kumar, the principal investigator, explains. “Our focus primarily is not only developing breakthrough medications but solving problems that are exponentially getting worse… Prescription opiate abuse happens to be at the center of that. Right now we are at the center of an epidemic.”

According to Dr. Kumar, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that cannabis could help patients lessen or replace their opiate use, but more clinical studies are needed to create guidelines for health care providers. These results could open up the way for future studies, which in turn, could help provide specific guidelines for health care practitioners regarding how to use cannabis for withdrawal effectively.

“We are at the very first step which is very exciting and groundbreaking,” he explains “but this is really what we need to guide not only future medical policy but future clinical trials.”

Until then patients like me and the doctors willing to work with them will continue to experiment with pot-rehabbing, one patient at a time.

Originally published in Issue 23 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE.

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