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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 23, 2010

    For decades opponents of marijuana law reform policies have falsely argued that marijuana is a ‘gateway’ to drug abuse — a guilt-by-association charge that implies that because tens of millions of people have used cannabis and a minority of these tens of millions have also tried other drugs that somehow it must have been the pot that triggered the hard drug use.

    But while reformers have been consistent — and accurate — to point out that the so-called ‘gateway theory’ lacks any statistical support (for example, the U.S. government contends that more than four in ten Americans have used cannabis, yet fewer than two percent have ever tried heroin), few in our movement have publicized the fact that for many people cannabis can be a powerful ‘exit drug’ for those looking to curb or cease their use of alcohol, opiates, or narcotics. For instance:

    A 2010 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal demonstrating that cannabis-using adults enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs fared equally or better than nonusers in various outcome categories, including treatment completion.

    A 2009 survey published in the Harm Reduction Journal finding that 40 percent of respondents said used marijuana as a substitute for alcohol, and 26 percent used it to replace their former use of more potent illegal drugs.

    A 2009 study published in the American Journal on Addictions reporting that moderate cannabis use and improved retention in naltrexone treatment among opiate-dependent subjects in a New York state inpatient detoxification program.

    A 2009 preclinical study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology demonstrating that oral THC suppressed sensitivity to opiate dependence and conditioning.

    Based on this and other emerging evidence, investigators at the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California are now enrolling residents in twelve-step-like classes that use cannabis to quit heroin, pills, cigarettes, alcohol, and other potentially addictive substances.

    Oaklanders Quitting Oxycontin with Cannabis
    via The East Bay Express

    For years, there have been anecdotal reports about people using cannabis to quit harder drugs. The process is called “substitution”, and it’s a tactic that’s beginning to be endorsed by the “harm reduction” philosophy of mental health.

    … So Harborside crafted a program that’s similar to traditional twelve-step programs, but ignores the pot smoking.

    … Janichek is tracking the outcomes of Harborside’s free, cannabis-positive mental health services, with the goal of extrapolating the data into guidelines and replicating the services in other dispensaries.

    It will be interesting to see the results of this program in the coming months — as well as the response (read: outcry) from the traditional drug treatment community.

    One can expect that Harborside’s findings will further undermine the notion that cannabis is an alleged ‘gateway’ to hard drug use, and strengthen the argument that the plant may, in fact, be a useful tool for deterring the initiation or continuation of drug abuse.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 1, 2009

    Check out this latest request for applications from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

    Cannabis-related disorders (CRDs), including cannabis abuse or dependence and cannabis induced disorders … are a major public health issue. … Nearly one million people are seeking treatment for marijuana dependence every year and sufficient research has been carried out to confirm that the use of cannabis can produce serious physical and psychological consequences.

    “Currently, there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of CRDs. Given the extent of the use of cannabis in the general population, and the medical and psychological consequences of its use … there is a great public health need to develop safe and effective therapeutic interventions. The need to develop treatments targeting adolescents and young adults is particularly relevant in view of their disproportionate use patterns.”

    In other words, the federal government is spending millions upon millions of your dollars to solicit research to find a supposed ‘cure’ for alleged ‘marijuana addiction‘ — at the same time that it is spending virtually no money on clinical trials to assess the medical value of cannabis itself.

    I try my best to cut through the BS (“One million people are seeking treatment?!” Um, more like 287,933 — and six out of ten of them were referred by the criminal justice system following an arrest.) in my latest Alternet essay, “The Feds Are Addicted to Pot — Even If You Aren’t,” which you can read and comment on here.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    The Feds Are Addicted to Pot — Even If You Aren’t
    via Alternet

    Marijuana’s addiction potential may be no big deal, but it’s certainly big business.

    According to a widely publicized 1999 Institute of Medicine report, fewer than 10 percent of those who try cannabis ever meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of “drug dependence” (based on DSM-III-R criteria). By contrast, 32 percent of tobacco users and 15 percent of alcohol users meet the criteria for “drug dependence.”

    Nevertheless, it is pot — not booze or cigarettes — that has the federal government seeing red and clinical investigators seeing green.

    Read the entire article here.