Could cannabis be used to treat opioid addiction?

Cannabis can work wonders when overcoming opioid withdrawal

Cannabis has long been labelled as an evil narcotic among conservatives who’ve likely never used it and get all of their information from the Bible and/or other archaic sources (see Quran, Torah, ancient Vedas etc.). Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General of the USA, is one such person, and a while back he stated that cannabis is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

STUDY: 97% of medical cannabis patients use fewer opioids for pain management

Jeff has clearly never seen Trainspotting or any other movie that chronicles the horrors of opioid addictions. I’ve been a pot smoker for seven years and I’ve had to give it up a few times in that period, but never have I seen a baby crawling along the roof towards my painfully-withdrawing-fetally-positioned self, its head spinning round and round like some diabolical roulette wheel while my insides ache and ants crawl under my skin. I get a little snappy, but that’s about it.

What I’m trying to say is that Jeff is wrong, and that cannabis is a much milder drug, with much less impact on one’s life than say heroin or oxycodone. Hell, a recent study in the States even showed that pot smokers are happier and more successful than their un-stoned counterparts.

MORE: Scientists are developing an ‘anti-heroin vaccine’ that now works in monkeys

Jeff is also clearly unaware that certain treatment facilities in the USA have started using cannabis as a way to treat opioid addiction. The idea is that cannabis helps those who are opioid dependent to transition through the most difficult parts of opioid withdrawal and make it through to the other side.

Dr Cali Estes is a psychologist who is currently using cannabis treatments to help her patients deal with various opioid addictions, and according to her, this practice has been happening for a while.

“I’ve been in the addiction industry for 21 years,” she told The Cannabist Show, “and we’ve always used marijuana to combat heroin and opiates, but now that they’re becoming legal it’s much easier.”

Dr Estes maintains that using cannabis is an effective alternative to the conventional methods which involve the use of other opioids. “Conventionally you go to detox, where you come in on one drug and go out with ten little bottles of other things…and you get put on Suboxone, which is a low grade opiate. So our country treats the opiate epidemic with opiates, which makes no sense.” She and a host of other therapists want to help their patients get off opiates with something that’s “simpler, gentler and more natural…and that’s cannabis, which works 10 times better than Suboxone, methadone etc”.

And they’ve had good results: about 90% with this method according to Dr Estes. Opiate detox is a horrendous, drawn-out affair, and therein lies the problem with the conventional method. During this period, addicts experience “vomiting, nausea, restless leg syndrome, foggy brain, they can’t formulate a sentence…and they feel that way for weeks”. Having a hit of an opioid replacement like Suboxone or methadone clears those symptoms, but it essentially resets the opioid dependency. Cannabis, on the other hand, treats the symptoms of opioid withdrawals and allows those suffering to carry out the full detox.

It should be noted that it’s not cannabis alone that helps these people kick their opioid addiction. You can’t just start smoking pot and say farewell to heroin. There is therapy and the like involved, but cannabis is a “lesser, simpler way of managing that detox”. As such it is situated as an excellent alternative to the current method of fighting fire with fire.

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