Integrating Cannabis Into Addiction Treatment
Even before the opioid crisis was declared an ‘epidemic,’ thousands of people were already facing pain medication addiction. Over the last decades, there has been a surge in the number of overdoses and deaths related to opioid use. And after decades of research, there is no quick cure for addiction or sure-fire way to discontinue drug use.
People addicted to drugs may go through rehabilitation or enroll in groups like Narcotics Anonymous. Some may try to discontinue fully, or go ‘cold turkey,’ while others use medication-assisted treatments like Suboxone®. In one rehabilitation facility in California, however, people are using medical cannabis to help them discontinue opioid use, and seeing welcomed changes in their quality-of-life.
High Sobriety is a cannabis-inclusive recovery environment based in Los Angeles that permits the use of medical cannabis to aid in addiction recovery. High Sobriety’s Director of Research and Development, Sherry Yafai, MD, to explains more about her work and how she started practicing cannabis medicine.
Dr. Yafai is an emergency medicine physician whose journey to cannabis had a personal origin. Two of her family members received medical cannabis recommendations, which opened up a lot more questions that could be answered. After six months of digging into the research, Dr. Yafai realized that she needed to get involved in medical cannabis to provide better information to patients that sufficiently addressed needs.
Medical Cannabis Practices Helping Addiction
She opened The Releaf Institute, her medical cannabis practice, and shortly thereafter began working with High Sobriety. Whereas all types of cannabis were originally permitted for use on High Sobriety’s campus, upon Yafai’s arrival, the program implemented tighter regulations on cannabis products.
Dr. Yafai meets with each resident upon entry into the program and once per week thereafter to check their progress. In addition to traditional methods of recovery utilized in sober living environments, residents also choose to participate in intensive outpatient therapy at an outside facility and visit with Yafai at her clinic. This integrated method seems to be working well for many of her patients.
Yafai also often sees High Sobriety residents through her separate medical practice. A substantial amount of data supports the use of cannabis as an ‘exit drug‘ for opioids. Medical cannabis contains numerous pain-killing compounds that can induce analgesic effects and therefore be used instead of opioids, which have a much higher risk of abuse and misuse.
As such, in some states with legalized medical cannabis, patients can use cannabis for chronic pain. Recent statistical data has also shown a significant reduction in overdose deaths related to opioids where medical cannabis use is legalized. A more recent urgency to quell the opioid epidemic has led several states to issue emergency policies that encourage the use of medical cannabis for people who are addicted to opioids.
Traditional Methods of Recovery
Despite this progress in acknowledging the potential benefits of medical cannabis as an exit drug, people with addiction often face a backlash from those accustomed to traditional methods of recovery. Many subscribe to the belief that people with addiction cannot claim to be ‘sober‘ or ‘clean‘ if using any substance, including cannabis. This stigma can be very challenging for those looking for support from a community in recovery.
It comes down to a better understanding that we all may need something different when it comes to our health: When we learn to stop shaming each other for our differences and for our handicaps and our needs, that’s really when we are going to come up a long way…empathy is at the core of this.
So how do we amplify this message on the potential benefits of medical cannabis for addiction and recovery? It is recommended to bring together the physician community to increase education and awareness. Physicians are not well-versed in medical cannabis and the reason is that it’s not in our medical school requirements.
We need to go to the medical boards and demand that physicians take courses, that they get educated. It is recommended that physicians also look to cannabis industry training and for the future of medical cannabis in addiction? We can do better and this is the start of doing better.
Let us know what you think.