Cannabis Reduces Withdrawals: Research recognizes treatment potential, but state laws still don’t
By Bailey Rahn
Treating drug addiction with more drugs is a controversial methodology. Somehow addictive medications like methadone and suboxone manage to dodge stigma, while non-addictive alternatives such as cannabis therapy still await validation. Medical marijuana has withstood repeated scientific trials, but social and legal reproach still inhibits serious medical endorsement.
Recent clinical studies have revealed the value of medical cannabis for treating chronic pain, particularly as a supplement for stronger opiate painkillers. Considering the rising prevalence of painkiller abuse, an increase in supplementary marijuana prescriptions could reduce people’s chances developing opiate addictions.
But what about those already addicted to opiates? Can cannabis therapy help longtime addicts kick addiction once and for all? Even for well-established addictions, emerging research leans in favor of cannabis’ utility; yet, the taboo of treating drug addiction with drug replacement still inhibits many medical professionals from fully signing on. For this reason, cannabis therapy is seen as a supplementary tool, a mere aid to the pharmaceutical canons of drug rehab: methadone, suboxone, &c.
But according to the following studies and testimonies, marijuana may be qualified to enter the ranks of anti-addiction medication.
A study conducted by ValÃ©rie DaugÃ© and others at the Laboratory for Physiopathology of Diseases of the Central Nervous System recently demonstrated the potential of cannabis therapy to relieve morphine dependence. The experimenters injected morphine-addicted rats with THC, resulting in suppressed behavioral, biochemical, and molecular dependence. Researchers expect cannabis therapy to have a similar neurological effect on humans, and consequently open new doors for heroin recovery.
Dr. Sean Breen at Medical Cannabis of Southern California describes a patient who was able to overcome his opiate addiction by using cannabis therapy to relieve his withdrawal symptoms:
“Today was his last day of using subutex and he plans on using cannabis to manage any withdrawal symptoms that he experiences after finally stopping all opiate medications! Amazingly the effects of cannabinoids can reduce or eliminate the majority of symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Cannabis can reduce anxiety and agitation, improve sleep and helps normalize the digestive tract.”
A meta-analysis of experiments conducted at Columbia University analyzed the behavioral effects of cannabis on recovering addicts. One trial showed that cannabis users are more likely to adhere to their naltrexone treatment for heroin addiction. Another experiment found that cocaine addicts (who were also diagnosed with ADHD) similarly exhibited higher treatment retention rates with moderate cannabis use.
Testament to these results is a recovered heroin addict who shares his struggles with heroin and methadone addiction:
“The marijuana helped me to sleep and eat and provided strength to continue detoxification. With the help of marijuana, I weaned myself off methadone in about four months. To this day I have continued to smoke marijuana, about three cigarettes per day and have never felt the desire to return to either heroin or methadone. My conclusion, based on this experience, is that marijuana is a potent medicine in the treatment of withdrawal from both heroin and methadone.’
For many, the behavioral changes brought about by medical marijuana are enough to break addiction patterns and habits. More severe addictions may require medical cannabis to be taken in conjunction with other drugs. The bottom line: doctors, researchers, specialists, and former addicts are slowly coming together to realize the potential of medical marijuana as an alternative to the high-risk treatment medications currently offered to counter withdrawal symptoms.
Bailey Rahn is an editor at the Seattle-based website Alltreatment.com, a drug news and rehabilitation resource website.