A Los Angeles drug rehabilitation clinic is offering a radical approach for patients wanting to kick a dangerous addiction. The controversial program, called cannabis-inclusive treatment, is making headlines across the country for allowing patients to smoke marijuana.
High Sobriety provides a “spectrum of treatment alternatives for individuals who have been previously unable to stop using alcohol and/or other drugs after attending traditional abstinence-based settings,” according to the clinic’s website.
The New York Times features the clinic on Monday. Times reporter Matt Richtel describes the experience:
In almost any other rehab setting in the country, smoking pot would be a major infraction and a likely cause for being booted out. But here at High Sobriety — the clinic with a name that sounds like the title of a Cheech and Chong comeback movie — it is not just permitted, but part of the treatment. The new clinic is experimenting with a concept made possible by the growing legalization of marijuana: that pot, rather than being a gateway into drugs, could be a gateway out.
Dr. Mark Wallace, chairman of the division of pain medicine in the department of anesthesia at the University of California, San Diego, said that over the last five years he has used marijuana to help several hundred patients transition off opiates.
“The majority of patients continue to use it,” he said of marijuana. But he added that they tell him of the opiates: “I feel like I was a slave to that drug. I feel like I have my life back.”
The non-conventional practice certainly has its detractors.
“It’s an affront to evidence-based treatment and it has no place in recovery,” Kevin Sabet, a drug policy consultant, told Addiction Professional last month.
The Los Angeles clinic says its main goal is to prevent relapse. According to the website:
At High Sobriety, our first and foremost goal is to eliminate the risk of death from drug use. Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, pharmaceuticals, and other street drugs all have a lethal dose. Leading the death toll, killing more than all others combined, is alcohol. Cannabis has no known lethal dose. The simple truth is eliminating drugs with a lethal dose and using a drug with no lethal dose is a massive improvement, life improving, and life saving. For generations we have been told that cannabis is a “gateway” drug, at High Sobriety, we believe it is an exit drug. A medical protocol that can aid the minimization of harm and elimination of use of drugs with a lethal dose. With comprehensive mental health treatment, people can live happier and safer lives by switching from egregious, lethal drugs to safer, cannabis, creating space for strides and improvements in all areas of life.
And there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that cannabis may indeed be an exit drug. States that legalized medical marijuana report treating far fewer opioid users, according to a new study.
Hospitalization rates for opioid dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent in states after cannabis was regulated for medicinal purposes. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent.
The fear perpetrated by anti-cannabis advocates that legalized weed would lead to more cannabis-related hospitalizations is simply unfounded, according to the report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
“Medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers,” said study author Yuyan Shi, a professor at the University of California, San Diego.“This study and a few others provided some evidence regarding the potential positive benefits of legalizing marijuana to reduce opioid use and abuse, but they are still preliminary,” she added.