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
- Active Ingredient In Cannabis Eliminates Morphine Dependence In Rats
Source 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
Less addictive than caffeine
Source Dr. Jack E. Henningfield of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Dr. Neal L. Benowitz of the University of California at San Francisco ranked six psychoactive substances on five criteria.
- Withdrawal — The severity of withdrawal symptoms produced by stopping the use of the drug.
- Reinforcement — The drug’s tendency to induce users to take it again and again.
- Tolerance — The user’s need to have ever-increasing doses to get the same effect.
- Dependence — The difficulty in quitting, or staying off the drug, the number of users who eventually become dependent
- Intoxication — The degree of intoxication produced by the drug in typical use.
The tables listed below show the rankings given for each of the drugs. Overall, their evaluations for the drugs are very consistent. It is notable that marijuana ranks below caffeine in most addictive criteria, while alcohol and tobacco are near the top of the scale in many areas.
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 protects from alcohol-induced brain damage
Too much alcohol can lead to permanent brain damage, but a new study suggests marijuana may be able to prevent this.
Published…in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, scientists from the University of Kentucky and University of Maryland concluded that a chemical in marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD) could be used to ward off alcohol-induced brain damage. (Source)
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
Study shows role of Endocannabinoid system in curing people of addiction to hard drugs
According to researchers, this study “presents an up-to-date review with deep insights into the pivotal role of the ECBS [endocannabinod system] in the neurobiology of stimulant addiction and the effects of its modulation on addictive behaviors. They state that; “A growing number of studies support a critical role of the ECBS and its modulation by synthetic or natural cannabinoids in various neurobiological and behavioral aspects of stimulants addiction.”
For the study, researchers 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.”
The study, which was conducted at the Psychiatry Research Unit at Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal in Canada, can be viewed by clicking here.
History and case studies
Cannabis has been used by doctors to treat opiate dependence since at least 124 years, according to documentation from multiple doctors dating anywhere from 1889 to 2009. One such doctor was E. A. Birch, M.D. who recorded success in treating not only opiate dependence with cannabis, but also Chloral addiction.
In 1887, while in Calcutta, India, Birch came upon a man who confided in him that he suffered from an opiate addiction. After the man’s wife reportedly died of the same addiction, the man’s use of the drug became so heavy that he was fully addicted. He couldn’t sleep without the drug, couldn’t eat at all and often contemplated suicide. After analyzing the patient, Birch prescribed a tincture containing 10 minims cannabis indica and strophanth. Birch then instructed the patient to take the tincture medicine daily as prescribed and report back in 6 weeks. After 6 weeks, the patient returned. He reported that at first his use of the drug had greatly improved, but over time he stopped taking his medication regularly and slipped back into the full intensity of his addiction. After hearing this, Birch then prescribed his patient a pill containing cannabis indica. Amazingly, in just 24 hours the cravings for the opiates were gone, the man took the pill (which lasted longer and was stronger than the tincture) as prescribed and returned to living a healthy and productive life. He never used opiates again.
Much more recently, in 2009 ScienceDaily published a report by Valerie Dauge of the Laboratory for Physiopathology of Diseases of the Central Nervous System. In this report, she and her team concluded that, when given 10 mg injections of THC (the main active ingredient found in marijuana), lab rats who were previously addicted to morphine and/or heroin gradually reduced their dependence on the drug, finally being cured. It’s hypothesized then, that opiate addiction could soon become a reason for a prospective patient to obtain a medical marijuana prescription.
Cannabis hasn’t just been used to treat those addicted to opiates either. It can also help reduce the need for opiate-based drugs in patients with chronic pain and severe pain. In several cases, patients who lived a life that would be full of pain if it weren’t for heavy-duty painkillers such as Oxy-codone, Oxy-contin, morphine, etc, were given a prescription a 2 – 4 “puffs” of marijuana periodically throughout the day. In these cases, the patients pain medications were reduced by up to half the amount they normally had to take to be pain-free. This, in turn, caused them to be less-dependent on the drugs.
Some may then raise the question of whether or not those who use cannabis to treat opiate dependence would then become dependent of cannabis. However zero – I repeat, zero – research has found that cannabis a physically addicting drug. It’s not addictive, but if someone were to use cannabis to treat opiate dependence, it would still be recommended to continue use of cannabis. Some findings conclude the reason for marijuana helping opiate addicts is that the sedative feeling of strong indicas is somewhat comparable to the high from opiates. This is why it would be recommended to continue usage of marijuana, even after months or years of sobriety from heroin, morphine or any of those drugs.