Using Marijuana to Treat Addiction

Using Marijuana to Treat Addiction

Cannabis:  A Gateway to Recovery?

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.

gateway representing recovery through using marijuana to treat addictionAs the failed cannabis prohibition effort continues to die a slow death, some interesting new growth is emerging in the wake.  One Cannabis friendly treatment center, High Sobriety, is already up and running in California and it may be a prelude to a much larger movement in the treatment of addiction.

Also see: The Urgency of Drug Policy Reform 

Rather than seeing cannabis as a gateway to addiction (a view without research to support it), those involved in marijuana-friendly treatment see it as a gateway to recovery.  As harm reduction continues to compile mounds of empirical support, the attitude towards an approach like transitioning someone off heroin with cannabis appears to be shifting from insanity to rationality.

In response to using marijuana to treat addiction, we can expect a volume surge on the oft-championed argument that the approach is just replacing one drug with another.  However, those championing the so-called “cross-addiction” argument seem to forget that replacing one drug with another is the most common method applied in addiction treatment today.

Go to any responsible detox facility for alcohol and you will immediately be put on highly addictive benzodiazepines.  Go to detox for heroin or oxycontin and your opiate of choice will be replaced by an opioid like suboxone.  Most of our treatment involves putting people on different drugs but we just call them medications instead to soften the idea.  Using marijuana to treat addiction may be the first step in shifting the treatment landscape towards the use of natural plant medicines to promote recovery.

A recent article in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse showed dramatic, positive results using psilocybin to treat both nicotine and alcohol dependence.  Psilocybin continues to accumulate positive research results in treating addiction and many of the common co-occurring factors such as depression and anxiety.  Ibogaine is another plant medicine and it is becoming an increasingly popular method of treating opioid use disorders.  With cannabis already breaking into the world of recovery and other, more powerful plant medicines accumulating increasing amounts of empirical support, the use of these once demonized substances as credible, safe, and effective methods of treatment seems to be a matter of when, not if.

The Future of Using Marijuana to Treat Addiction

Yes, using plant medicines within an integrated treatment model is using a substance to treat substance use.  But, that’s what we already do, and right now we do it with drugs that are far more damaging and addictive.  The risk of addiction to plant medicines is minimal.  Yet, the go-to drugs in alcohol detox (benzodiazepines) and opioid replacement therapy (methadone, suboxone) are powerfully addictive and withdrawal from them can be highly uncomfortable or even fatal in the case of benzodiazepines.  Using ibogaine or psilocybin to interrupt addiction and cannabis as a bridge to a new lifestyle may sound like the ravings of madmen now, but it may just be the norm in 50 years.


**Author’s Note:  The terms marijuana and cannabis are used interchangeably in this article.  Marijuana is the more common term and thus is utilized to help people find this information in a search engine.  However, we prefer the term cannabis due to its medical connotations and lack of associated stigma. 

Are you interested in an alternative approach to recovery? Whether your goal is to explore harm reduction, or abstain completely, our doctoral level providers can help you explore your options and choose a path that’s right for you. Call us today!