Is Weed the Secret to Beating Opiate Addiction?
In the U.S., 46 people die each day from opioid overdose—and that number isn’t doing anything but growing. Could marijuana be what’s missing from addicts’ recovery?
Kevin had been addicted to heroin for six years when he used marijuana to complete his final detox 20 years ago.
Searing back pain, restless legs, nausea, and sleepless nights—the tortuous symptoms of an opiate withdrawal—had made detoxing off the drug nearly too painful for the native Midwesterner to bear. With the introduction of cannabis, things changed. “The headaches and body aches seemed lessened,” Kevin says of his experience. “Yes, I was still sick, but it made everything just a little more tolerable, and every little bit helps in that position.”
At a time when America is searching for solutions to a burgeoning opiate problem that kills 46 Americans a day, a new tool for jumpstarting the fragile recovery process is emerging: medical cannabis. Proven to alleviate symptoms of serious medical conditions including cancer, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, and glaucoma, cannabis is beginning to gain notice as an effective alternative to synthetic painkillers.
In a study published last month in the Journal of the America Medical Association, access to medical cannabis was associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates. States with medical marijuana laws showed almost 25 percent less average annual opioid overdose deaths than states without laws. While some addiction specialists argue that switching from opiates to marijuana is “like changing seats on the Titanic,” success stories of users like Kevin paint a picture of how impactful it can be.
“I had detoxed several times before I finally got off heroin for good in 1994,” he says, recalling years of Narcotics Anonymous meetings which required him to abstain from all drugs. “Each time I [detoxed], I used cannabis while I used heroin. It definitely helped with the process of withdrawal,” he says. “Once I stopped using heroin for good, I never used cannabis again.”
On top of providing relief from the physical pain associated with opioid withdrawal, Kevin says it helped his emotional state of mind as well. “Getting as stoned as I possibly could—which at times seemed difficult—was a way to cope with my situation. I think psychologically, just doing something gave me some sort of solace.”
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