Should we be attempting to treat opiate addiction by using marijuana? Is this a good idea? Should we be pushing struggling opiate addicts towards this?
Some people believe that we should be. The Philly Inquirer says that “Observational studies suggest that there are fewer opioid-related deaths in states that allow medical marijuana and that fewer opioids are prescribed when medical marijuana is available for pain relief.”
So what they are seeing is that fewer people are dying from opiate overdose when we get them started on medical marijuana.
The argument here can be neatly summarized by the term “harm reduction.” We are simply trading one drug (opiates) for another drug (marijuana). In this case, the marijuana is far less fatal and deadly than opiates are proving to be.
One of the problems that I think that people do not realize in this case is that, for a real drug addict, marijuana is still a very powerful drug of abuse. Most people in the general populace do not understand that. They have their own perception of marijuana, which is based on their own experience with it, which is that they likely used it a few times in a recreational setting and then simply walked away from it.
The first time that I tried a drug in my life it happened to be marijuana. When I got high that first time I said out loud “This is what I was born to do. I am going to keep using this stuff until I die. I have found my true calling in life, and it is to get high. This is the best day of my life.”
I actually said those words out loud, and I remember saying them.
My reaction was such that I had finally found “self medicating” and I happened to have been a drug addict all along, in search of a drug. Most people do not react to marijuana that way because they are not addicts or alcoholics.
My belief is that a person is either born an addict, or they are not. I do not believe that environmental factors are going to make or break a person in terms of drug addiction. If they are not born an addict then they can overcome a bad environment and eventually walk away from the drugs or the booze. And vice versa: Someone who is born an addict but is brought up extremely sheltered is eventually going to stumble on a drug or a drink and it is going to set them off to the races. That is my belief because that is my experience, and it is also a truth that I see playing out in the people all around me. I believe that addicts and alcoholics are born, not made. I could be wrong, but that is what I gather as my own truth so far.
Based on this truth, I have a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to harm reduction.
In my own addiction, I started drinking heavily and experimenting with hard drugs eventually. My addiction continued to evolve and I experimented with more and more substances.
So if I had gone to a rehab center at the height of my addiction and they said to me “Look here, we have this new program in which you can go to therapy once a week and also use this medical marijuana in order to control and limit your other, more harmful addictions” I would have jumped right on it.
They did not have that option when I got clean and sober. So I ended up going to an inpatient rehab, going through detox, and learning how to live a completely clean and sober life. That was over 17 years ago, and I continue to remain clean and sober to this day. I also continue to keep pushing myself to learn, to grow, to evolve. To become a better and better person. To challenge myself to learn new things and to fight new battles that are worth fighting. I don’t just avoid drugs and alcohol–instead I actively create this amazing new life that I am excited to be living.
Now the question for you to consider is this:
Would I really be pushing myself to run marathons, build businesses, advance at my job, find a life partner and get married, and do all of these sorts of ambitious and exciting things if I was getting high on weed every day?
And if you are defending marijuana in your mind at this point…..really? Do you really think I would have set out to train up and then run 3 marathons if I was smoking marijuana on a daily basis?
I have smoked weed in my past. A lot. So I know what it means to be living that life, to be getting high every single day. I know what that feels like.
I also know exactly how much “guts” it took to train myself up to the point that I could run for 26 miles continuously.
Those two things are not compatible in my opinion. Maybe other people are different when they get high, but I kind of doubt it. It is fairly well documented that abusing marijuana every day decreases motivation. I have a friend in recovery who, if he was in on our conversation here, would sing out loud “lowered expectations” as a joke. We joke about it because we all know it is true: If you are smoking marijuana every day–for any reason–it is going to lower your ambition in life. Period. We laugh when he sings that because we have both been there, we were both addicts in the past, we used to be that guy sitting on the couch all day watching cartoons and getting high.
So I would challenge the folks who are clamoring for harm reduction, who are hoping that medical marijuana can replace opiate addiction, who are trying to legalize and normalize the use of marijuana.
I would challenge them to see the difference between a regular person who starts using medical marijuana, versus a drug addict who starts using it. The drug addict is going to have a different response, because for them it is all about medicating their emotions and escaping from reality. They may claim that there is a different reason, they may try to justify their marijuana use in other ways, but the bottom line is that it still becomes a huge crutch, an enormous handicap for them. Sure, the may avoid death by opiate overdose–but are we setting the bar too low for them anyway? Really, just sit around and get high all day on weed so that you don’t screw up your life with opiates? Is that setting the bar high enough? I don’t believe that it is.
There is a path to real recovery, and I don’t buy the idea that you can achieve meaningful personal growth while self medicating every day. I think there is a better path, and it all starts with inpatient treatment and a real detox program.