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Rehab Clinics Are Using Cannabis to Help Drug Addicts Recover

Anecdotal evidence from California clinics backs up data about opioid addiction in legal weed states.

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A new study published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that hospitals in legal weed states have seen a drop in patients checking in for opioid abuse, suggesting that greater availability of cannabis might help curb the nation’s opiate epidemic. And now, to push the concept even further, a New York Times report reports that some rehab clinics and doctors in California are openly using marijuana as a tool to help addicts on their path to recovery.

“There’s no scientific reason to believe that somebody is better off being completely miserable and sober than using cannabis occasionally, or even fairly regularly, as an adult and being functional and happy and productive,” Dr. Amanda Reiman, an unpaid consultant with High Sobriety, an LA rehab clinic that openly embraces cannabis use, told the New York Times. “Using cannabis is a relatively safe practice.”

High Sobriety welcomes cannabis use by their patients, each of whom pay $25,000-$80,000 a month for a private room and treatment. High Sobriety co-owner Michael Welch, a former addict himself, believes that the inherent flaws found in traditional 12-step programs result in ridiculously high recidivism rates - something he thinks cannabis can help.

“Every single treatment center knows it, and we know it,’’ Welch said. “Some of us have had the same clients, five, 10, 15 times over. We say: ‘We just can’t reach Billy, we just can’t reach Joe.’”

Instead of giving up on relapsing patients or putting them back into the same program that failed them, High Sobriety is willing to replace heroin with cannabis, even if it turns into a long-term habit, and they aren’t alone.

Dr. Mark Wallace, chairman of the division of pain medicine in the department of anesthesia at the University of California told the Times that he’s been using cannabis for about five years to treat addicts for opioid dependence.

“The majority of patients continue to use it,” Wallace conceded about his patients’ marijuana use, but compared to their lives on opiates, the doctor says he only hears good things like “I feel like I was a slave to that drug. I feel like I have my life back.”

But because cannabis remains a Schedule I narcotic under federal guidelines, some addiction professionals aren’t as liberal about ganja. Dr. Mark Willenbring, a psychiatrist who works with addicts, told the Times he wasn’t convinced, and had strong words for the idea that cannabis could help addicts recover.

“I’m not prone to making exaggerated or unqualified statements and in this case I don’t need to make any: It doesn’t work,” Willenbring said. “Like trying to cure alcoholism with Valium.”

But in California and the more than 20 states that have some form of legal cannabis access, doctors, and addicts alike, are willing to try anything that might help kick the hard stuff - even if that means keeping a bong in the sober house.