“… the state of being abstinent from alcohol and drugs while developing a strong character based on honesty and unselfish values is called ‘recovery…’ legitimizing smoked marijuana as a ‘medicine’ is a serious threat to the health of all Americans, and particularly, the health of individuals in recovery.”
~Dr. Robert DuPont, MD, the first Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the second White House Drug Czar
Every substance abuse recovery professional has heard this question at some point –
“I’m in treatment for (pain pills, alcohol, heroin, etc.…) Is it okay for me to smoke marijuana?”
Many people new to recovery have the mistaken belief that they can still use marijuana without endangering their sobriety. Unfortunately, that is an extremely dangerous misconception. In general, the use of ANY intoxicating substance can interfere with your successful return to sobriety.
But marijuana, specifically, can seriously jeopardize your recovery.
How People Try to Justify Continued Marijuana Use
There are several different reasons that some people will use as an excuse to smoke marijuana during recovery:
• “It helps me stay off meth, heroin, alcohol, etc.…”
Why is the “marijuana maintenance plan” such a bad idea?
First and foremost, you lose your hard-won and still-fragile serenity when you experience the problems that marijuana abuse can cause. For example:
➢ 2007: Data from California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation indicates that more than 42% of released parolees who had previously been convicted of an offense involving marijuana returned to prison within 2 years.
➢ 2013: The National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that students who drop out of high school are almost twice as likely to report past-month use of marijuana, compared to their peers who remained in school – 27.3% versus 15.3%.
But the biggest danger is the risk that you may return to using your drug of choice. Why?
First, when you are under the influence of any intoxicant, your inhibitions or lowered, your judgment is affected, and the “good intentions” you may have stopped mattering.
Research from American and Dutch scientists working at the US National Institute on Drug Abuse and Vrije University in Amsterdam indicates that marijuana use can trigger a relapse in people who are in recovery from drug addiction.
Cannabinoid receptors are linked to the dopamine systems within the brain, thereby playing a significant role in rewarding behavior. When those receptors are blocked, it may help people who are trying to give up other drugs such as nicotine, heroin, cocaine, or alcohol.
During the related studies, rats that were previously addicted to cocaine were deprived of the drug for two weeks. Then, they were re-exposed to environmental and behavioral cues that in the past had triggered drug consumption.
During re-exposure, the rats were also injected with an experimental synthetic drug that blocked their cannabinoid receptors. Taco de Vries, the study’s lead scientist, commented about the results:
“We found that in the rats exposed to environmental cues associated with cocaine injection in the past, or to cocaine itself, the likelihood of relapse was reduced by 50% to 60%.”
“The finding that blockade of cannabinoid receptors prevents cue-mediated relapses to cocaine seeking is an obvious therapeutic significance,” concurred Danielle Piomelli, of the University of California at Irvine.
• “I can use medical marijuana, right?”
Supposedly, medical marijuana is supposed to be for the legitimate relief of pain. But in reality, too many people are just looking for a loophole that allows them to keep getting high.
According to an article published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence and based on research conducted by the University of Michigan at a medical marijuana clinic:
➢ Half of all patients are 40 years of age or younger
➢ 83% of patients are Caucasian
➢ Two-thirds of patients are male
Obviously, those numbers don’t seem representative of the general population. But, even if there was some strange public health concern or epidemic that was causing chronic pain in the specific demographic of “young white males”, it would still be possible to extract the needed ingredients from cannabis and use them in a non-intoxicating pill.
Now, the main purpose of smoking marijuana is to get high.
In a 2009 speech for the International Conference of Chiefs of Police Annual Convention, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowski, said, “We owe to the people we serve to speak out about the unintended consequences legalization would have and toll it would take on the health and safety of our communities.”
• “It helps me reduce stress so I can chill out and not use other drugs.”
This is the REAL reason so many alcoholics and addicts in recovery want to keep using marijuana, even when they are truly aware of the underlying reasons for that desire. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t make it a good idea.
Most people with a substance abuse disorder also struggle with other psychological or mental conditions, such as anxiety, posttraumatic stress, or depression. They may use marijuana (or other substances) in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms.
But “self-medicating” doesn’t work.
Resolving underlying emotional and psychological issues takes time, effort, and therapeutic counseling. When there is a comorbid addictive disorder, it requires even more work.
When the problems caused by serious mental disorders are ignored, invaded, or masked, instead of treated, then they continue to contribute to the co-occurring addiction – worsening both conditions. An untreated dual diagnosis can trigger a full-blown relapse.
Marijuana use is counterproductive to lasting sobriety and successful recovery. It’s more than just a bad idea – it can actually undo all of the work you have done to get to this point.