Legal Marijuana Poses An Insidious Threat To Recovering Addicts

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James Merse Freelance Writer
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“I lost everything due to the use of pot,” Michael*, a recovering addict, told me. “I lost touch with my family. Pot became [my] drug of leisure. [I spent] holidays traveling and getting stoned. I was stoned from Hawaii to Italy, from Palm Springs to Napa Valley.”

Michael went on to make a recovery, but marijuana has also made a recovery in the minds of most Americans, becoming a common recreational – and taxable – vice. As it becomes more readily available and cheaper, it becomes more enticing and could throw a person in recovery into an internal tailspin.

As of January this year, 61 percent of Americans say they are in favor of legalizing the recreational use of the drug, nearly double the support legal weed had in 2000.

In nine states and the District of Columbia, marijuana is already legal for recreational use and medical marijuana is currently legal in 29 states.

Legal recreational marijuana has so much support these days that the Maine House of Representatives overturned a governor’s veto against legalized marijuana, with overwhelming support – a vote of 109 to 39 – and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) flipped her position on the substance.

Those in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction are facing the legalization of a gateway drug that introduced hundreds of millions to euphoria, which can be a very tempting situation, but some say marijuana can actually help addicts recover.

Can Cannabinoids Carry Addicts Out of Hell?

“Most recovery programs encourage total abstinence from all mind-altering substances, both legal and illegal,” said Jacilyn Bondy, LPC, LCDC, who specializes in treating substance abuse and addiction in San Antonio. “The use of mind-altering drugs lowers our inhibitions and impacts the functionality of the prefrontal cortex, responsible for logic and decision-making.”

But a small number of addiction specialists not only embrace the use of marijuana, but also support the idea of those addicts self-medicating with the substance.

“Rather than reach for a bottle or needle, they can reach for a vape pen or joint. Vaping even helps patients stop smoking cigarettes. This form of self-medicating is okay and encouraged. It can be a great alternative to going into a hospital for detox,” said Matthew Roman, MD, a ‘Medical Marijuana Doctor’ with Nature’s Way Medicine in Wilmington. “Doing it at home on your own has its risks, but it can be far cheaper and often just as effective.”

In parallel to Dr. Roman’s views is Ascher Shmulewitz, MD, PhD, Interim CEO of Therapix Biosciences Ltd.

“Medical cannabis is just one treatment alternative for various medical conditions, [but] it is not a magic drug,” Dr. Shmulewitz said. “A patient should be seen regularly by [his or her] physician and receive traditional medicine methods including procedures and pharmaceutical drugs.”

But another physician, Kavita Sharma, MD, of Manhattan Pain and Sports, noted her hesitance when it comes to medical marijuana.

“I am hesitant to refer out for medical marijuana if the patient has a known addiction because we simply don’t know enough about the safety of using [it] with patients who are abusing other substances,” Dr. Sharma said.

For Most Addiction Treatment Programs, Weed is Not on Formulary

I will admit I was both shocked and appalled that licensed physicians would go on record and publically advocate for addict to swap one drug out for another. But fortunately, most addiction professionals agree that marijuana is not an option for those trying to recover from addiction to any other substance and many were not shy with their opinions on the matter.

“There is some fake news stating that marijuana can treat [those living with] opiate addiction,” said David Marlon, Regional Vice President of Nevada for the American Addictions Centers and CEO of Solutions Recovery. “This is untrue, not evidence-based and not FDA approved. Its use may also exacerbate symptoms associated with psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.”

In support of Marlon’s view is Mirza Baig, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon in The Woodlands, who noted – and affirmed my own personal view – that replacing one addiction with another is what happens when a person is treated for their addiction-to-anything using marijuana.

“Legal [marijuana or other OTC drugs] – or any addictive substance – is best managed with proper oversite and counseling,” said Dr. Baig. “Addiction is a complex problem that’s best handled with a multidisciplinary approach to reducing dependency.”

Frankie Norstad, addiction expert and host of the Little Miss Addict podcast, is an addict with 14 years of clean time, and interviews other addicts for her popular podcast.

“The legalization of weed doesn’t mean it’s suddenly not a drug. Alcohol is a very legal a drug,” Norstad noted. “If someone wants to relapse because weed is now legal, chances are they were going to relapse anyhow,” she added.

Replacing one drug for another in active addiction is a key element in the NA literature when it comes to self-identifying as an addict. Furthermore in order to be considered clean in NA – and most other recovery programs – swapping opiates, meth, cocaine or any other substance for marijuana is simply not acceptable, and has proven to result in poor recovery outcomes.

“I am completely opposed to cannabis being used in any capacity, at any time with respect to those seeking total abstinence from mind altering substances — which is what sobriety is,” said Todd Crandell, LPCC-S, LICDC, Founder & President of Racing for Recovery. “Sobriety is not obtained from using a certain drug of choice like cannabis to recover and stay sober.  I have found in those I counsel that the eventual usage of drug of choice most of the time occurs again.”

Alcohol Is Everywhere, and Marijuana is Next

“At the end of the day, whether you’re addicted to chocolate or heroin, you can find it with ease if you know where to look,” said Wes* from Sacramento. “As you enter recovery and grow as a sober individual, you just develop blinders and methods of self-preservation.”

“On a daily basis of living your sober life you will come across the option to [legally purchase] alcohol numerous times per day,” Wes added. “Fill up on some gas? There are 100 little $1 shooters for your taking at the register! Need to get your Rx? Why not get a jug of wine to wash it down with! It’s literally everywhere and it’s encouraged to consume these libations for joy and normalcy.”

Truth be told, smoking marijuana is largely considered normal as well, with many Americans viewing it as a rite of passage during one’s youth.

“[But] alcoholics have had access to their drug-of-choice legally since prohibition and they’ve had to learn to adapt and persevere over an industry and mentality that is against the grain,” Wes noted.

For those addicts working their recovery program and coping with the legalization of marijuana, the silent storm rages on. Only time will tell if the fringe few that support using marijuana to treat other addictions will pay off.

The truth is, for those living with the progressive illness of addiction, the ends are always the same: jails, institutions, and death; using marijuana is not living clean, and puts recovering addicts one step closer to these ends.

*Some surnames in this piece have been eliminated to protect the identity of recovering addicts that wish to tell their story anonymously.

If you are struggling with addiction, resources are available. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are a great place to start. Speak up, speak out. Suffering in silence can only lead to sorrow.

James Merse is a freelance opinion writer from Northern New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesMerse

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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James Merse