Cannabis therapy has been used in addiction recovery for more than 100 years.
From “Marijuana in Medicine” by Tod H. Mikuriya M.D. (1969):
“Because cannabis did not lead to physical dependence, it was found to be superior to the opiates for a number of therapeutic purposes. Birch, in 1889, reported success in treating opiate and chloral addiction with cannabis, and Mattison in 1891 recommended its use to the young physician, comparing it favorably with the opiates.”
- Opioid Sparing Effect of Cannabis as Adjunct Medication
- Cannabis Reduces Opioid Dose in the Treatment of Chronic Non-Cancer Pain
Pain is the number one reason people seek medical attention, and patients seeking pain relief are the most prevalent group employing cannabis medicines. Chronic pain seriously interferes with the quality of life for many patients. For some, strong prescription pain medications (opioids) have provided them relief. Unfortunately several problems can follow with the use of opioids on a long term basis. Patients may soon develop a tolerance to the analgesic effects, thus requiring ever increasing doses. Chronic use of opioids also causes unwanted side effects that include such problems as constipation, feeling drugged, nauseated, and depressed.
Countless self-reports from chronic pain patients who use cannabis for pain management show a common theme. These patients report that they are able to either significantly decrease their dose of opioids or discontinue opioid use completely. They also report the benefit of no longer having to deal with opioid side effects such as constipation, nausea or depression.
A typical observation by patients is that their use of cannabis doesn’t necessarily take away the pain, but that they are no longer preoccupied with the pain; they are able to ignore it. Research is beginning to show that there is a synergy between cannabinoids and opioids and thus, a patient could decrease the amount of opioids necessary to manage pain due to the opioid sparing effect of cannabis. Since opioids carry the risk of overdose along with other unwanted side effects, adding cannabis to their treatment regime allows patients to achieve more comfort with a lower amount or no opioid medication. (Source)
Non Habit Forming
Mikurya found Cannabis to be non habit forming as well…
“.. . there is positively no evidence to indicate the abuse of cannabis as a medicinal agent or to show that its medicinal use is leading to the development of cannabis addiction. Cannabis at the present time is slightly used for medicinal purposes, but it would seem worthwhile to maintain its status as a medicinal agent for such purposes as it now has. There is a possibility that a re-study of the drug by modern means may show other advantages to be derived from its medicinal use.”
From TIME magazine – 1931:
“…in spite of the legends, no case of physical, mental or moral degeneration has ever been traced exclusively to marijuana… Because of its non-habit-forming character, doctors have recently been experimenting with the drug as an aid in curing opium addiction.”
More studies have uncovered similar results, finding only scant evidence of physical dependence and withdrawal in humans:
When human subjects were administered daily oral doses of 180-210 mg of THC – the equivalent of 15-20 joints per day – abrupt cessation produced adverse symptoms, including disturbed sleep, restlessness, nausea, decreased appetite, and sweating. The authors interpreted these symptoms as evidence of physical dependence. However, they noted the syndrome’s relatively mild nature and remained skeptical of its occurrence when marijuana is consumed in usual doses and situations. 1 Indeed, when humans are allowed to control consumption, even high doses are not followed by adverse withdrawal symptoms. 2
Signs of withdrawal have been created in laboratory animals following the administration of very high doses. 3 Recently, at a NIDA-sponsored conference, a researcher described unpublished observations involving rats pretreated with THC and then dosed with a cannabinoid receptor-blocker. 4 Not surprisingly, this provoked sudden withdrawal, by stripping receptors of the drug. This finding has no relevance to human users who, upon ceasing use, experience a very gradual removal of THC from receptors.
~ So, why do we hear so much about the increasing number of “marijuana addicts? ~
The most avid publicizers of marijuana’s addictive nature are treatment providers who, in recent years, have increasingly admitted insured marijuana users to their programs. 5 The increasing use of drug-detection technologies in the workplace, schools and elsewhere has also produced a group of marijuana users who identify themselves as “addicts” in order to receive treatment instead of punishment. 6
In December 2009 new findings emerged as to the benefit of cannabis as a treatment for alcoholism:
Substituting cannabis in place of more harmful drugs may be a winning strategy in the fight against substance misuse. Research published in BioMed Central’ open access Harm Reduction Journal features a poll of 350 cannabis users, finding that 40% used cannabis to control their alcohol cravings, 66% as a replacement for prescription drugs and 26% for other, more potent, illegal drugs.
Amanda Reiman, from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, carried out the study at Berkeley Patient’s Group, a medical cannabis dispensary. She said, “Substituting cannabis for alcohol has been described as a radical alcohol treatment protocol. This approach could be used to address heavy alcohol use in the British Isles – people might substitute cannabis, a potentially safer drug than alcohol with less negative side-effects, if it were socially acceptable and available”.
Reiman found that 65% of people reported using cannabis as a substitute because it has less adverse side effects than alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs, 34% because it has less withdrawal potential and 57.4% because cannabis provides better symptom management. She said, “This brings up two important points. First, self-determination, the right of an individual to decide which treatment or substance is most effective and least harmful for them. Secondly, the recognition that substitution might be a viable alternative to abstinence for those who can’t or won’t completely stop using psychoactive substances”.
Speaking about legalization of cannabis, Reiman added,
“The economic hardship of The Great Depression helped bring about the end of alcohol prohibition. Now, as we are again faced with economic struggles, the US is looking to marijuana as a potential revenue generator. Public support is rising for the legalization of recreational use and remains high for the use of marijuana as a medicine. The hope is that this interest will translate into increased research support and the removal of current barriers to conducting such research, such as the Schedule I/Class B status of marijuana”.
Harm Reduction Journal – full text study
Marijuana found to discourage use of hard drugs
A ground-breaking study of 4117 marijuana smokers in California reveals that the ‘Gateway Theory’ probably had it backwards. Instead of enticing young people to use other drugs, this study suggests that marijuana may have the opposite effect.
This first-ever clinical examination of a large number of medical marijuana applicants depicts a population that is remarkably normal. The percentages earning bachelors’ degrees and doctorates are nearly identical to the national numbers. They are, in the main, productive citizens with jobs, homes and families who smoke marijuana weekly or daily – and have in some cases for decades.
For the vast majority of these applicants, their use of cannabis ultimately led to a decrease in the use of tobacco, alcohol, and hard drugs. Asked to compare their current alcohol consumption with their lifetime peak, over 10% claimed to be abstinent and nearly 90% claimed to have cut their drinking in half.
They also report using cannabis as self medication for stress and anxiety – with fewer side effects than the legal pharmaceutical alternatives.
As children, a significant percentage of the male applicants had been treated for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Today their routine morning use of minimal amounts of cannabis strongly suggests that it enhances their ability to concentrate by allowing them to focus on one problem at a time.
See also: Twin study fails to prove ‘gateway’ hypothesis