The United States has been experiencing a surge in opioid addiction for over two decades, and the emergence of other drugs has also fallen into that mix. Today, these addictions have entered crisis mode. Our nation is truly suffering from an epidemic. Cocaine and opioid based drugs are just two of the most difficult addictions to overcome because of the way they alter the brain. Though traditional abstinence has usually been the method used for treating drug addiction, this does not seem to have a great track record since abstinence is rarely achievable for many addicts and eventually leads to relapses, says Dr. Nora Volkow director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (PBS 2017; Scutti 2017).
Because there is no known lethal dose of cannabis, marijuana may be the answer for people who have difficulties remaining abstinent in the long haul, says Joe Schrank, program director and founder of High Sobriety, in Los Angeles. Schrank says that this concept is a part of the “harm-reduction theory.” This theory plays on the notion that reducing the harm to your body is the more realistic goal option for many addicts, and incorporating marijuana into a regimen may act as a bridge to getting and staying off hard drugs. “Abstinence is a hard thing for people to do, and I don’t know that we give people enough space to grow and develop,” Schrank said (Scutti 2017). To many, however, this method of treatment appears hypocritical; there are many mixed feelings about treating drug addiction with marijuana within the community of addiction specialists (Scutti 2017).
What exactly is marijuana and how could this Schedule I controlled substance help addicts overcome other drug addictions?
Cannabis Sativa, the plant source of marijuana: natures botanical miracle, some might say. It can thrive in almost any climate, persevering through cold or hot weather. The hearty and fibrous stalks of the cannabis were, and still are in some areas of the world, one of the main sources of raw materials used for production of ship sails, pots, rope, fabrics and much more. Likewise, cannabis oil has also been used to keep lamps lit on dark nights.
Eventually, its myriad of intoxicating effects came to be discovered through ingestion and was then used for various ceremonial purposes, medicinal applications–healing properties brought on by non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) benefits, (Butterfield 2016; NIH 2015)–and sheer relaxation. Marijuana became entwined in the daily lives of many cultures and ill patients seeking its relieving effects.
One of the many chemical compounds of the cannabis, found in high concentrations in the female cannabis flower, is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (Butterfield 2016). THC is the main ingredient known to produce psychoactive and intoxicating effects (Butterfield 2016; Levinthal 2008). A, so called, state of “high” (Levinthal 2008, p.182), can be achieved by smoking, or ingesting food or drink products containing THC. The effects range from various states of ecstasy, sexual excitation, increased appetite, decreased discomfort and pain, to the very opposite of these experiences depending on the amount of THC in one’s system. Research has revealed that the effects are directly linked to the dosage that is inhaled into the lungs or consumed. According to research studies, regular marijuana use is known to produce only mild psychological dependence, but no physical dependence has been observed with moderate use. Carcinogenic effects are likely to occur when marijuana is combined with other ingredients that consist of harmful components (additives in the cigarette form, for example), and this may ultimately damage the lungs and other organs, so it is empirically legitimate to establish that marijuana is not in line with other hard and very addictive drugs such as opiates, cocaine or amphetamines (Levinthal 2018).
Yasmin Hurd, the director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said that CBD is one of the most prized compounds of marijuana when it concerns treatments for addiction. Furthermore, based on some of her previous controlled studies, CBD reversed some of the brain damage caused by heroin, specifically damage to the glutamatergic receptors. However, it has yet to be discovered how and exactly why CBD has this effect (Scutti 2017).
In yet another study as to how marijuana can help crack addicts, a group of researchers led by M-J Milloy, an infectious disease epidemiologist and research scientist at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, analyzed 124 drug users on a self-report basis of their habits of smoking or injecting crack before, during and after cannabis use.
According to the study, crack significantly decreased only after a period of cannabis use. The participants reported having to use only about half of their original crack amount. This is consistent with Schrank’s evaluations based on the “harm-reduction theory” (Scutti 2017).
Many European countries and vast parts of Canada have legitimately accepted harm reduction as a way to promote policies that enable drug addicts to live better and healthier lives verses subjecting addicts to punishment on the sole basis of having a problem. While the need for future studies exists, many specialists agree that this is a matter worth exploring and a conversation worth continuing because, marijuana may just be the key to treating a wide range of addictions.
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Scutti, S. (2017, May 17). New potential for marijuana: Treating drug addiction. CNN. Health. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/17/health/addiction- cannabis-harm-reduction/index.html