Using Cannabis on Your Path to Substance Abuse Recovery


When it comes to individualized health, it’s widely understood that cannabis possesses numerous beneficial properties. The controversial and formerly completely illegal plant (at least in the U.S.) has become more widely accepted in the years since Oregon first decriminalized marijuana in 1973. In the U.S. as of early 2020, recreational marijuana is legal for adults to purchase and consume in 11 states as well as the nation’s capital.

Marijuana reform comes with plenty of benefits to state governments, individuals, and overall public health. For example, relaxed marijuana laws give scientists greater opportunities for research into the plant’s effects, which may vary widely between individuals. Some people enjoy cannabis strains that promote relaxation while others prefer a more stimulating effect.

Cannabis for Substance Abuse Recovery

The versatility of cannabis means that it may prove to be a viable replacement for addictive pharmaceuticals, including Vicodin and Adderall. What’s more, there’s growing evidence indicating that cannabis may be beneficial in detox and drug rehabilitation settings. Proponents of using cannabis during substance abuse recovery tout marijuana’s non-addictive properties and its ability to reduce anxiety in some users.

But is cannabis truly safe in regards to recovery from mind-altering substances? In the bulk of recovery settings, complete abstinence from all substances is considered key to success. If you or a loved one is considering the use of cannabis in substance abuse recovery, there are several things to keep in mind, from legal aspects to its reputation.

Fighting the Negative Stigma Surrounding Cannabis

Following decades of stigma and the mass incarceration of marijuana users and growers in the U.S., cannabis is enjoying something of a reinvention. And legalized recreational cannabis is just the beginning, as marijuana finally begins to shed its long-held notoriety as a so-called “gateway drug.” Thirty-three states have legalized marijuana for medical use, even as the plant retains its Schedule 1 status according to the FDA. Schedule 1 drugs are those with “no proven medical benefit.”

Clearly, that classification has its faults. Cannabis is prescribed to treat a variety of medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, eating disorders, and insomnia. Research further indicates that cannabis may help combat substance abuse disorders. In fact, rather than serving as a catalyst towards further substance use, cannabis may actually be more of an “exit drug.” However, additional research is needed on the efficacy of cannabis use in substance abuse recovery.

It’s important to note that, despite its health benefits, marijuana is still a mind-altering substance. To many recovering addicts and alcoholics, the use of any drug is indicative of a relapse. Those who use cannabis as a recovery tool may face criticism from their peers, who consider it to be simply another drug. Remember that what works for one addict may not be helpful for everyone in substance abuse recovery.

The Facts on Cannabis and Anxiety

As far as mental illnesses go, anxiety disorders are considered among the easiest to treat. That’s good news for the 40 million U.S. adults living with an anxiety disorder, which is the nation’s most common form of mental illness. Anxiety manifests in a number of ways and may lead to increased heart rate, restlessness, trouble sleeping, and/or panic attacks. Depending on the severity of anxiety, the condition can be debilitating.

Similar to substance abuse recovery, the treatment of anxiety disorders typically involves a combination of group therapy and pharmaceutical intervention. But if you tend to take a more natural approach to your healthcare, the good news is that alternatives to prescription medication do exist. Marijuana leads the pack.

For starters, cannabis may be a suitable replacement for the various benzodiazepines typically prescribed to those with anxiety disorders, including Ativan. Interestingly, Ativan is also used to treat insomnia and seizure disorders, both of which can be alternatively treated with cannabis and its derivatives. In fact, some health professionals have even gone as far as to propose cannabis as an overarching replacement for addictive benzos. In substance abuse recovery, the use of addictive substances such as benzos to combat opioid or alcohol withdrawals is common but illogical. Marijuana stands out as a safer option and a welcome addition to the available options for recovering addicts.

Navigating Potential Recovery Roadblocks

Recovering from addiction isn’t a walk in the park, but its rewards are myriad. The successful completion of a substance abuse recovery program can positively impact your personal relationships and lead you down a new path — free from the shackles of substance abuse. One of the most important things to remember when starting down the path of sobriety is that everyone’s journey is different.

For an increasing number of addicts hoping to recover from substance abuse, cannabis may provide a gateway towards success. Yet it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and those in recovery should take a holistic approach when it comes to treatment options. Is your substance use the product of an untreated mental health condition, for example? According to sources, substance abuse often co-occurs with depressive illnesses and anxiety disorders, each of which must be dealt with individually during the recovery process.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re living with co-occurring disorders or a crippling addiction, recovery is possible, with or without cannabis. Unfortunately, while cannabis shows promise in recovery applications, it remains illegal at the federal level, fueling the stigma that surrounds the plant.

The Schedule 1 classification of cannabis also means that a significant portion of graduating medical students are “unprepared” to prescribe cannabis. This leaves patients to bridge the gaps and help shatter the misconceptions surrounding cannabis use in medical applications. Addicts looking to recover should explore all options, including medical marijuana, prior to starting substance abuse treatment.


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