Over 40 years ago, Denise Kandel introduced her gateway drug theory to the world. Recently, Kandel herself, a scientist at Columbia University, debunked that theory in a paper she published, which showed nicotine to be biologically the most potent gateway substance of all.
Since then, multiple studies have shown there is no “direct causal relationship between regular marijuana use and other illicit drug use,” as confirmed by the DEA in a 2016 report, then reiterated by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year.
Despite these and other fact-based rationale, the concept of marijuana being a gateway drug is still deeply rooted in many people’s minds and is often used by our current science-denying Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Meanwhile, one rehab center in California is aiming to change this perception by flipping it on its head and using cannabis as an “exit drug” to heal substance addicts and guide them towards full recovery.
High Sobriety is a rehabilitation center in Venice Beach, California, that offers “cannabis inclusive recovery” for its patients. It is the first-of-its-kind to integrate cannabis in addiction recovery.
Founded by Joe Schrank, a 47-year-old former alcoholic now 20 years sober, High Sobriety serves as an alternative option to those who “reject the idea that total abstinence in AA” is the only way to cure addiction.
Their website explains: “The majority of other recovery programs are staffed with ‘recovering’ addicts and alcoholics. Most of these individuals participate in a 12-Step Program, which they believe, is the one path that helped them get clean and sober.”
According to Schrank, a clinical social worker, journalist and policy advocate, the total abstinence approach only works for about 25 percent of individuals, while the remaining 75 percent, who might have used different methods in curing their addiction, are unwelcome in the overall conversation on substance abuse.
High Sobriety offers various alternatives that include cannabis-inclusive modalities. This means that users of drugs with a known lethal dose, such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, opioids and alcohol, are not asked to quit cold turkey. Instead, they replace lethal drugs with cannabis, which is not known to have a lethal dose.
“Cannabis can aid in the cleansing process, helping with discomfort, insomnia and flu-like symptoms associated with the withdrawal process, reducing or eliminating the need for other drugs,” said Schrank.
The cannabis intake is closely monitored by High Sobriety staff and is only available as a treatment to patients over 25 years old and those who have unsuccessfully taken part in abstinence-based recovery in the past.
They must also not be using drugs with a known lethal dose or side-effects with the potential to be life-threatening, such as alcohol.
The center has more than 10 prerequisites that determine if the patient complies and could benefit from the cannabis replacement approach.
After the initial cleansing period, the person can choose to continue using cannabis under medical supervision.
A study done at the University of British Columbia (UBC) confirmed what High Sobriety has found through practical application: drug users—particularly those addicted to opioids and alcohol—could benefit from using marijuana as a reverse “stepping stone” away from more dangerous substances.
The UBC study also found that “cannabis use does not appear to increase risk of harm to self or others.”