Now that marijuana is legal in some form in more than half of U.S. states, many questions are raised. First, if marijuana is legal, can it really be that harmful and even addictive? And, second, is it possible to use marijuana to treat other forms of drug addiction? Here is what is known about marijuana addiction as well as the ways that the drug is being used by some as a treatment in drug addiction recovery.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
The addictive properties of marijuana have become a subject of controversy, but there is evidence showing that about 30 percent of marijuana abusers will become addicted to the drug. The chances of developing a marijuana addiction increase 70 percent if a person begins using the drug during adolescence.
THC, which is the mind-altering component to the drug, activates certain receptors in the brain that cause users to experience mood changes, impaired memory, and altered senses. Often, an abuser will build up a tolerance to the drug, become dependent, crave the drug, and then suffer some form of withdrawal once the drug is taken away.
Marijuana as a Treatment vs. a Possible Prevention Measure
Since marijuana can be addictive, it might seem counterproductive to use it in addiction recovery. Using one addictive drug to get off of another simply does not make sense long-term. There are a few things that do make sense, however, particularly when it comes to opioid addiction.
What some studies are finding is that the use of prescribed marijuana for some medical conditions, especially for pain issues, can help prevent an opioid addiction from developing in the first place. Many addicts begin their addiction with a prescription for painkillers, and medical marijuana might be a suitable and safer substitute.
Using Marijuana in Addiction Recovery
Despite the concerns, there are some that believe in using marijuana as a form of harm reduction to treat addiction. The thinking is that some addicts with the most severe addictions are not ready for full abstinence, and a harm reduction program with a less harsh drug like cannabis makes sense. It bears noting, however, that there are no scientific or long-term studies to back up these methods.
The main concern today in recommending marijuana as a viable addiction recovery treatment is that there are no studies to support its use. Quite the opposite is true. One paper found that using marijuana for cocaine withdrawal actually worsened symptoms and intensified cravings.
To help settle and study the matter further, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is now funding several projects that will investigate the use of synthetic THC for the treatment of addiction. The NIDA is are also providing grants for other projects that will test cannabidiol for the treatment of methamphetamine addiction and relapse prevention.
As of today, the issue of whether or not marijuana can be used as a treatment in drug addiction recovery remains unsettled. Most traditional addiction treatment programs, including The Recovery Village, work on an abstinence-based model.