Marijuana For Addicts: The Case For Cannabis’s Place in a 12-Step Program

Photo by Nico Escondido

Drugs are commonplace in recovery circles, and are considered indispensable tools for addicts, by the addicts themselves and their counselors alike—provided they are the right drugs.

It’s hard to imagine a 12-step meeting without coffee and cigarettes—nicotine and caffeine the constant companions of many, including people escaping other “harder” intoxicants—and as many recovering alcoholics can attest, replacing the calories from alcohol with sugar is a rite of passage.

As writer Katie MacBridge recently observed in Rolling Stone, recovering addicts achieve sobriety when they abstain from “the recreational use of ‘mood-altering’ substances.” Annoying purists (is there any other kind?) may point to the above paragraph and question why it’s alright for an addict to pepper his or her brain and body with a steady barrage of low-level stimulants, but there’s a much bigger issue at play than denying someone a coffeehouse buzz. 

Like the rest of us, addicts need drugs. As MacBridge points out, addicts with a legitimate need for treatment for an underlying medical condition such as chronic pain or anxiety are left with a hard choice: find a way to bear life while suffering the pain, or try to take something for it and gamble with slipping back into chemical dependency.

The third choice: use non-psychoactive marijuana. This sounds absurdly simple, yet it’s a revolutionary proposition.

Cannabis is almost universally abhorred by recovery specialists, 12-step program sponsors and addiction researchers, who point out that the point of using marijuana is to achieve the high—and when someone is high, decision-making processes are altered and the chance for a return to bad old habits is increased. There’s also the very real fact, uncomfortable for marijuana legalization advocates, that cannabis can be addictive, too. (Just look up your local chapter of Marijuana Anonymous if you’re not convinced.)

In recovery circles, the recent phenomenon of opiate addiction being treated with medical marijuana—a rare glimmer of hope in the darkness of America’s continuing serious problem with heroin and pain pills—is a bug, not a feature.

But one of marijuana’s biggest selling points is cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD, one of the marijuana plant’s many active cannabinoids, is the cannabinoid famously associated with halting otherwise-intractable epilepsy in children, without any high. 

Though the major, wide-ranging review of cannabis’s stance in the medical pantheon released yesterday showed limited evidence for its efficacy in treating afflictions like anxiety and PTSD, many sufferers of those maladies swear by CBD as a tonic—and, when faced with a choice between highly addictive and habit-forming drugs like Xanax or Valium or low-THC, high-CBD cannabis, logic alone suggests weed is the safer and smarter move.

In other words: People recovering from alcohol or drug addiction already take drugs, from a cup of coffee to a smoke to an Advil or a pill for pain, anxiety or depression. If there’s a form of marijuana out there that won’t set them back on the road to self-destruction, why not make it available?

The short answer for now is that we don’t know what will work and what won’t. Decades of prohibition mean there’s much more marijuana around than there is indisputable knowledge as to what it does and how to use it. 

But as Rolling Stone said, even the National Institutes on Drug Abuse is cautiously optimistic about CBD’s benefits. CBD “appears to be a safe drug, with no addictive effects” and signs that it has real medical value, NIDA Director Nora Volkow wrote in 2015.

It may not be long before high-CBD cannabis is just as common at recovery meetings and 12-step programs as that stereotypical coffee pot.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

1 comment
  1. i think it’s because when you smoke weed you get high, and when you take an advil or drink a cup of coffee or smoke a cigarette you don’t get high. I’ve never once in my life watched someone chug a cup of coffee and say “i’m so high” right now. On the other hand i think there literally movies about “how high” weed gets you. i’m all for it smoke some weed if it helps you stop shooting dope, but in an already established fellowship of people not trying to get high, weed does not belong

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