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Readers open to idea of marijuana-inclusive treatment

February 28, 2017
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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From the moment I first learned of High Sobriety, a recently opened West Los Angeles center that offers cannabis-inclusive treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, I knew its methods would pique the interest of Addiction Professional readers.

High Sobriety representatives declined our interview request, but the idea of using marijuana to detox as an alternative to more common medication-assisted therapy programs remained intriguing. Cali Estes, PhD, founder of The Addictions Coach in Miami, Fla., made the case for marijuana being safer in recovery than Suboxone or methadone. Kevin Sabet, a drug policy consultant who previously served as senior advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, was fervent in his disagreement, calling the practice “an affront to evidence-based treatment.”

The messages from both parties were impassioned, so it was not entirely surprising that AP readers were similarly stoked when the story was posted last week. Between comments on our website, social media and email, this feature easily has generated more feedback than any piece I’ve written since arriving at Addiction Professional last spring.

While one reader on Twitter said “giving pot in treatment is like giving alcohol,” many others were open minded about the practice.

The use of opiate-based medications “operates by keeping the light on for addicts... albeit a bit dimmer,” commenter mwelty said on our site. “For many it is only a matter of time before they give in to the teasing effect of these opiate derivatives and go back to full-blown use. For some this may result in getting ‘booted out’ of their recovery program for non-compliance… and for others it may mean going to jail.”

On Monday, I received an email from one more reader: Joe Schrank—the founder of High Sobriety in West Los Angeles—who alerted me to a blog post he and his research team crafted in response to Sabet’s characterization of their practices in our story.

The following sample from Schrank’s post is a portion of a statement made by Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW, clinical and research advisor for High Sobriety:

“Those of us who work with people dependent on opiates see the hopelessness that comes from repeated failures to live up to the mantra of sobriety touted by the treatment centers they access. We also see the myriad of pharmaceutical drugs being given to those treating trauma with substances, including anti-psychotic, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. To embrace that protocol while brushing off the use of a therapeutic plant to address a very real life and death situation is inhumane.”

In addition to her role with High Sobriety, Reiman is a faculty member in the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare and an affiliate scientist with the Alcohol Research Group. Previously, she served as manager of marijuana law and policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for drug policy reform and favors the legalization of marijuana.

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The more severe affront to the recovery community is the continued enslavement by physicians of possibly over 1.6 million people they addicted to opioids, benzos and now will continue to hold them captive as they make even more money with their medication assisted "treatment". Between that and the theory of harm reduction which the marijuana detox group seems to be pushing, physicians and the drug companies will have a financial field day for many years to come while addicts (yes I use the word) continue to die and families continue to be destroyed. We can clearly see how successful methadone has been just like Antabuse, naltrexone (been around since the 80's) buprenorphine and all the other miracle cures the drug and medical community trot out periodically. First addict them with needless prescriptions then hold them hostage.....what a racket! They should be in jail where they belong...Joan D.

Well Tom; no one can ever accuse you or AP of avoiding controversy.
I think that until treatment for substance use disorders has the impact we hope for we need to be open to all responsible approaches.
I have some awareness of the work that people engaged in the controversy have done. They are solid professionals. What I do hear in their arguments is the assumption of an acute care approach to treatment for substance use disorders. A Recovery Management model would keep people engaged in the process for a long time (like forever/meaning even periodic check-ups). Let's say that the withdrawal from opiates is managed by using cannabis. That patient needs to be monitored for a significant period of time. Is a dependency on THC replacing opiates? If so the person is still in treatment. It can be managed.
Same can be said for Suboxone.
I think that the question needs to be "how well is this person functioning?" "Are interventions needed and which ones."
It seems likely a person functioning on low levels of THC or suboxone is clearly preferable to a person seeking drugs on the street.

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Tom Valentino

Senior Editor

Tom Valentino

@ValentinoWrites

Tom Valentino has more than 12 years of experience in the newspaper and communications...

The opinions expressed by Addiction Professional bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the publication.