As a recovered alcoholic who smoked non-addictive marijuana everyday for years, I would like to weigh in on the recent chatter about the potential benefits of smoking pot to ease the misery of opioid withdrawal.
Smoking pot might be a really good idea for non-addicts who have developed a tolerance or dependency on opioids and want to quit.
But an addict’s brain reacts much differently to opioids than a non-addict’s brain. Addiction is different than dependency and tolerance.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
Tolerance happens when a person no longer responds to a drug in the way they did at first. So it takes a higher dose of the drug to achieve the same effect as when the person first used it. This is why people with substance use disorders use more and more of a drug to get the “high” they seek.
Dependence means that when a person stops using a drug, their body goes through “withdrawal”: a group of physical and mental symptoms that can range from mild (if the drug is caffeine) to life-threatening (such as alcohol or opioids, including heroin and prescription pain relievers). Many people who take a prescription medicine every day over a long period of time can become dependent; when they go off the drug, they need to do it gradually, to avoid withdrawal discomfort. But people who are dependent on a drug or medicine aren’t necessarily addicted.
Unlike tolerance and dependence, addiction is a disease; but like tolerance and dependence, addiction can result from taking drugs or alcohol repeatedly. If a person keeps using a drug and can’t stop, despite negative consequences from using the drug, they have an addiction (also called a severe substance use disorder). But again, a person can be dependent on a drug, or have a high tolerance to it, without being addicted to it.
So, for people who have developed a tolerance or dependence on opioids, smoking pot may be a wonderful tool in alleviating withdrawal symptoms.
But it is my belief that you should NEVER, EVER tell an opioid addict that smoking pot might help them detox.
1. Smoking pot is illegal in most states and we’re trying to stop doing illegal stuff.
2. Pot gets you high and we’re trying to stop getting high.
3. Addicts don’t do portion control very well. If one joint helps with withdrawal symptoms, then THREE joints will REALLY HELP!
4. Addicts can be addicted to anything. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G! Nasal spray. Chapstick. Even non-addictive marijuana!
Research apparently shows that smoking marijuana cuts cravings. Those researchers must not have inhaled. Nothing will make you crave Double-Stuff Oreos like a few bong hits. In the recovery community we sarcastically refer to smoking pot instead of drinking or drugging as the “Marijuana Maintenance Program.” Here is how that worked out for me.
Before I was legally old enough to drink I knew I was an alcoholic, so I quit drinking and started smoking pot. A lot of pot. I went for years without a drink, just smoking pot just about everyday. No hangovers but I spent way too many weekends binging on The Three Stooges. After about 10 years I told myself that I no longer had a problem with drinking.
So, I started drinking AND smoking pot. You see, pot was just a substitute for my favorite drug: Alcohol. Pot was my runner-up and I was satisfied with runner-up for a long time. But not forever.
I have been clean and sober now for 18 years. I no longer crave alcohol. But sometimes I still crave pot – like last year when I went to Denver. The folks I was with – non-addicts – decided to take a field trip to a pot dispensary. I looked in the window. Jars of pot. Even pot lollipops!
I coudn’t go in and I stepped away from the window. I know where that pot lollipop would take me and I don’t want to go there ever again.