Addiction, Medical Marijuana

Cannabis as an Exit Drug, Choosing Life

Cannabis as an Exit Drug: Choosing Life

Sean was brilliant. I knew this the moment I met him. Wise beyond his 26 years, we met the day he was released from jail for drug sales. He was studying the menu from Chili’s because he was applying for a job there the next day. He knew it was a long shot. Sure, he was brilliant, but he had the huge scarlet letter of “drug felony” that prevented him and many like him from reaching their potential. Sean wasn’t able to get to a stable place. Unemployment, unstable housing, troubles family issues created a need for self medication that only heroin could treat. As an active substance consumer, Sean’s chances for stability grew fewer and fewer. Mental health treatment was only for those who were able to remain abstinent. An inability to do that brought on more probation violations and time behind bars. All that punishment did nothing to curb his need for opiates and escape. It ended the way it ends for so many, his mom finding him in his apartment, a fatal dose of opiates the last attempt at lessening the pain.

For those of us who have lost a loved one to opiate overdose, the idea of offering cannabis as a substitution therapy is a no brainer. Myself, Sean’s family and friends, would gladly accept regular cannabis use if it meant that Sean could still be here. That was 20 years ago. Now the research is supporting this idea of cannabis as a treatment for hazardous opiate use.

Studies conducted at McGill University and the University of California, San Francisco show that patients on opiates for neuropathic pain were able to reduce their opiate use when cannabis was introduced into their pain protocol. Additional research from Humboldt State University shows that those in treatment who use cannabis have just as good outcomes as those who do not, and the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that states with active medical cannabis programs had a 25% decrease in opiate related mortality versus states that do not. In both the US and Canada, research shows a high level of cannabis substitution among medical cannabis patients, often because of concerns about dependence and overdose related to opiates.

The abstinence only paradigm has not only failed as a treatment protocol, it has failed our families and our citizens who struggle with substance use, sending the message that it is better to die of overdose, then to substitute a non lethal drug for a lethal one. This stops now.



Author: Amanda Reiman PhD MSW