As medical cannabis laws continue to pop up across the nation, scientists have noticed an interesting trend. In states that allow medical cannabis laws, deaths from opiate overdoses have gone down by 25%. This isn’t incredibly surprising, as the most common use of cannabis is as a pain-killer (one poll found 97% of patients using cannabis did so for chronic pain). With a safe painkilling alternative, patients need to rely on opiates less. But further investigation shows that cannabis can help with the process of addiction in several ways.
Providing a safe alternative to more dangerous medications is one way, but animal studies suggest that cannabis use may actually decrease your desire for opiates as well. In one study, adolescent mice who were exposed to thc, showed less addictive behaviors towards opiates than those who were not. Human studies show that cannabis use can ease the withdrawal process and is associated with increased success rates at quitting.
And cannabis can provide help beyond opiates. Studies suggest that cannabis can be helpful in treating addiction problems with many substances, including tobacco, heroin, alcohol and cocaine. There is less research on whether cannabis help with withdrawing off other addictive prescription drugs like SSRI’s and benzodiazepines, but anecdotal stories abound about people who have successfully used it for that purpose.
I have a success stories myself. When I needed to withdraw off benzodiazepines and SSRI’s, I used cannabis to help with the symptoms. It was a difficult process to go through but cannabis helped immensely. A good friend of mine was also withdrawing off benzodiazepine at the same time, so we decided to be support buddies as we went through the process. We were on similar doses (his was slightly lower than mine to start) and started at the same time, but I used cannabis at that time while he did not. The difference was astonishing. While I was able to quickly taper down my dose to nothing, and get completely passed the symptoms in a matter of months, he suffered with withdrawal symptoms for well over a year. This was far from a controlled study, but cannabis did seem to work to ease the symptoms of withdrawal.
Despite the evidence towards the efficacy of cannabis in addiction treatment, there are still cultural barriers for many seeking to use it as part of addiction recovery. Many still view cannabis as an addictive substance itself, and will not support it’s use by those already struggling with addictive tendencies. When seeking out help from organizations like AA or rehabilitation centers, patients are often told to avoid cannabis. While well intentioned, this push away from using cannabis may have dire consequences for those struggling with much more dangerous and chemically addictive substances. Cannabis can and has saved lives for people struggling to escape addictive patterns with deadly substances. While it has long had a reputation as a “gateway drug” into more dangerous substances, it is time to recognize that cannabis may actually be the gateway out.