Medical Marijuana & Addiction Recovery

One of the downsides of being a clinician is that people will often relate to you as an expert on morality. They will ask, “Is it ok if I…” or “Is it wrong of me to…”

I think of Rumi, ““Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

I’d much sooner consider what is healthy and unhealthy than be concerned with morals, ethics, or law. I’m not opposed to those things, I’d just rather find what works for a person without judgment, or undue limitations like my personal prejudices.

I have always known that there are countless roads to recovery but somehow in my past I saw fit to judge some of them. In the past I have been publicly critical about using Methadone as opiate replacement therapy. Then I sat with a number of folks who helped me to understand that they’d have died without it. It occurred to me that unlike heroin, no one has ever gotten a bad dose of opiate replacement drugs.

More importantly, it occurred to me that judging folks who do what they feel they must was just an asshole thing for me to do. I don’t judge active alcoholics and addicts, why in the world did it seem okay for me to judge folks who use Methadone or countless other methods in search of freedom?

As I gain clarity into myself the waters around me seem murkier. The latest example of this is medical marijuana. I’ve yet to see an addictions counselor speak favorably about it. Truth to tell, I’ve been fearful of speak publicly about it but I’ve answered honestly when asked:

I believe that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for a myriad of mental health and physiological conditions. I believe that it can undermine addiction recovery for some folks and be beneficial to others and that this must be weighed on a case by case basis.

This is of course only one person/clinician’s opinion and I do not mean to imply that it has any more value than that. What is apparent to me however is that an awful lot of folks in recovery from other addictions are torn about utilizing or admitting that they utilize marijuana as a form of treatment, especially for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and (outside of medical prescriptions) self medicating for other forms of anxiety or illnesses not recognized as criteria for the prescription of marijuana.

Is marijuana an obstacle or potential benefit to those in recovery? That’s not for me to say. What is apparent to me is that it’s not something for me to judge.

I’m aware of the research. I know how focused we are on the damage marijuana can do to the brain, especially in adolescence. I also know that we have considered many harm reduction models and we don’t seem to have seriously considered marijuana in that mix.

My main concern for those in recovery from addiction is whether using marijuana makes us more or less likely to abuse other substances. I see this much as black and white: If you’re a recovering alcoholic or addict and using marijuana makes you want to drink/use, than that seems unduly dangerous and ought not to be considered as an option.

I’m still a child of the 80’s. In my youth, no one admitted to smoking pot if you were much over 21. The times they are a changin’.

In 2013, the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 19.8 million Americans had used marijuana within the past month. I think it very likely that this number will be exponentially higher in future surveys. It’s here to stay. It’s increasingly legal. It has value in and outside of treatment.

Concerns over the expanded use of medical marijuana in the midst of a heroin epidemic… I just can’t give them much weight. I still hear the outdated cries of marijuana being a gateway drug and I still know that caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol typically come before it. It’s time for new conversations.

I’m open to all options for addiction recovery. My concern is that we’re collectively becoming desensitized to marijuana and I believe it high time (pardon the pun) that we include it in discussions of recovery from all diseases without prejudice.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.