Now that marijuana is legal in some form in more than half of U.S. states, many questions are raised about its effects on the human body and mind and how it may affect other forms of drug addiction treatment plans. The most crucial question to arise so far pertains directly to whether or not cannabis use can be addictive: Can weed lead you down a path towards substance abuse? And does use marijuana for treating addiction have any merit? Here’s what we know:
Despite evidence suggesting that around 30% of marijuana users will become addicted to the drug, this number jumps up 70% if an individual begins using it during adolescence.
THC is the mind-altering component of marijuana. THC activates specific receptors in the brain that cause changes to mood and memory when it’s consumed. Abusers often build up a tolerance for this drug, become dependent on it, crave its use after they’ve taken some away from their system (which can lead people who want to quit smoking weed to find quitting difficult), and feel withdrawal symptoms when deprived of using cannabis again—all signs pointing toward addiction or dependence.
Using marijuana in addiction recovery can be counterproductive for several reasons. It is addictive, so using it to get off of other drugs does not make sense long-term. That said, a few things do make sense when dealing with opioid addiction, precisely because this drug type is hazardous and difficult to overcome without help from medical professionals or certain medications like methadone.
Some studies suggest that using medical marijuana to treat pain issues, especially in place of opioid medications like oxycodone or hydrocodone, can help prevent addiction from starting. Many addicts begin with a prescription for opioids and turn toward heroin because it is easier to obtain when doctors are no longer legally prescribed drugs.
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Marijuana as a Treatment for Addiction
Despite the concerns, some belief in using marijuana as a form of harm reduction to treat addiction. The thinking is that not all addicts with the most severe addictions are ready for full abstinence, and an alternative approach like cannabis makes sense. However, it bears noting that no scientific or long-term studies currently exist to back up these methods.
There are no studies to support marijuana as a viable addiction recovery treatment. One study showed that using marijuana for cocaine withdrawal worsened symptoms and intensified cravings.
While the issue of whether marijuana can be used to treat addiction remains unsettled, NIDA is funding several projects that intend to investigate this matter further. This organization has also provided grants for other studies to test synthetic THC’s ability to treat methamphetamine addiction and relapse prevention.