Treating Alcoholism With Pot?
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Treating Alcoholism With Pot?


At first, the Guardian Liberty Voice headline “Medical Cannabis Used to Treat Alcoholism” caught my eye. And then it made me laugh.

The Myth behind Marijuana Maintenance

And I don’t mean that in a patronizing way. It’s just that if you have spent any time around 12-step recovery circles, you’ve heard the term “marijuana maintenance,” a tongue-in-cheek expression used in reference to people who are looking to get sober from alcohol (or harder drugs) but are still smoking pot. It’s not that people in recovery are morally against this method; it just that most don’t consider it a method at all. Transferring an addiction from one mind-altering substance to another, as a lesser-of-two-evils-kind of remedy, completely misses the point of what recovery is about—that is, finding inner peace by way of a connection with a higher power. This isn’t to say that a person can’t find inner peace or a connection with a higher power while still using drugs, it’s just not the way we do it.

Upon further investigation, it seems that what the article is addressing is two-fold: is marijuana an effective drug to use during the withdrawal period from alcohol? And is marijuana an effective drug to use to treat alcoholism? These are two completely different things, though I’m not sure the author thinks so.

Pick Your Poison

As stated in this story, the late Dr. Mikuriya, a psychiatrist and well-known public advocate for the legalization medical marijuana, felt that since cannabis is frequently used as a painkiller, it could be used in lieu of opiates to treat the pain related to alcohol withdrawal. His argument was that medicinal marijuana is safer than narcotics because it’s not as addictive. And he makes a great point. People who are being administered drugs to detox from booze should have a choice of opiates, benzos or pot as their preferred pain reliever. But my guess is that you might be hard pressed to find someone who’s going to chose Mother Nature over Mother Opiate when their body is convulsing from alcohol withdrawal­.

But treating the pain associated with alcohol withdrawal is one thing and treating alcoholism—a lifelong disease that affects a person’s mind, body and spirit—is quite another. According to this report, a study conducted in Berkeley, California back in 2009 showed that 40 percent of 350 patients said they used pot for the purpose of “dulling alcohol cravings.” And I am sure this worked great but again, dulling cravings has nothing to do with treating alcoholism; it’s simply easing the discomfort of the physical addiction.

Best to Do More Research

The article added that in the study, 26% of 350 patients said they were also using cannabis to dampen their desire for harder illegal drugs—a nice temporary solution but in my experience, not sustainable. Still, if you’re successful at making the transition from crack smoking to pot smoking and you are now productive at work, present in your relationships and have gained back the respect from your friends and family, then more power to you. There isn’t a clean or sober person out there who would have ever stopped using if their life had been manageable.

But don’t get excited to have the bong passed to you from your rehab clinician just yet. The Guardian Liberty Voice says that some researchers remain unconvinced. Further analysis completed by Dr. Meenakashi Subbaraman, an associate scientist and postdoctoral fellow at PHI’s Alcohol Research Group, concluded that the evidence for the efficacy of medical cannabis to treat alcoholism is altogether inconclusive.

So if you are looking for a quick and easy homeopathic solution to your drinking or bath salt problem, I’m sure blazing up all day is probably a safe alternative. Just know that you may well be missing the miracle.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.