Medical Marijuana as Treatment for Alcoholism & Addiction

Medical marijuana is frequently in the news, and hopefully the growing awareness of the benefits of medical marijuana will lead to more sensible regulations and deeper research into why cannabis is so helpful in treating so many different conditions. Among the conditions that medical marijuana can treatis addiction, whether to drugs or alcohol.

Marijuana as a recovery treatment is controversial, not least because there is conflicting research about whether medical marijuana is or is not addictive. However, many studies have found that medical marijuana is not addictive, or as harmful, as other drugs such as alcohol and opiates. Additionally, several studies have shown that marijuana can be an effective treatment for recovery from other substances.

Medical Marijuana as a Recovery Treatment

Since marijuana has earned an undeserved negative reputation in many quarters, it is often difficult to determine what is fact and what is politics when talking about medical marijuana. However, the following three studies pointed to definite possibilities of using cannabis to overcome dependence on more harmful drugs and alcoholism:

  • A 2009 study performed by the Laboratory for Physiopathology of Diseases of the Central Nervous System found that injections of THC, the primary active chemical in cannabis, helped eliminate dependence on opiates such as morphine and heroin in test animals.
  • A survey compiling self-reported addiction treatment and relapse rates among substance users, “Cannabis as a Substitute for Alcohol and Other Drugs” that was published in the Harm Reduction Journal, found that respondents used cannabis to curb their alcohol cravings, as an alternative to previous use of prescription drugs, and even as a substitute for more potent drugs such as cocaine. Tellingly, 57.4% of respondents chose to use cannabis because it provided better symptom management as well.
  • Another study published in the Harm Reduction Journal, “Long term cannabis users seeking medical cannabis in California,” found that medical cannabis users were much less likely to use more potent drugs, and even reported less tobacco use than non-cannabis users.

Why Use Marijuana as a Recovery Treatment?

It’s clear that more effective addiction recovery treatment is needed in our country. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, depending on the addiction, up to half of individuals who begin an addiction treatment program relapse within six months. As more states move to legalize medical marijuana, it is becoming easier for scientists, doctors, and researchers to point to the benefits of marijuana as a treatment for pain relief and symptom management for many diseases. Benefits now known to the scientific community include:

  • Medical marijuana patients are able to function more fully in daily activities and work, unlike with many prescription opiates for symptom relief.
  • Medical marijuana patients report fewer unpleasant side effects with marijuana than with many traditional and stronger drug treatments.
  • Medical marijuana patients achieve more effective symptom relief using marijuana than with other alternatives.

Since withdrawal from alcohol and serious drug use often prompts the same symptoms as other medical conditions that marijuana is used to treat (anxiety, depression, pain, nausea, and sleeplessness,) it is logical that responsible use of marijuana could also help with addiction recovery.

At the same time, medical marijuana as an addiction recovery treatment is a sensitive topic. Do your research to separate marijuana fact from marijuana fiction to decide whether this might be a treatment option for you, and remember that like any other healthcare decision, this should be discussed with your doctor or other trusted medical professional.

41 thoughts on “Medical Marijuana as Treatment for Alcoholism & Addiction

  1. Our doctors in Kansas are not allowed to discuss cannibis use as a medication without the fear of losing their practice and credentials. We are relagated to the black market and the uncertainty of safe access. There is no respect for the truth anymore.

  2. Like Julia ” Butterfly” Hill said in “Hempsters – Plant the seed” , “Why is everything that’s good for our bodies, communities, and the environment called an alternative?” “Hemp is not the alternative.Its the solution!”

    • Alcoholism is a disease. Not everyone who enjoy libation intended on needing it physiologically in order to feel “normal” (not “drunk;” just able to function without symptoms of illness when going periods of time without an alcoholic drink.) Not all of us who started to suffer seek help, which gives drinkers a bad name. Actually, most of us who do are afraid to admit to it because we’re afraid of the disappointment we’d feel and refuse to seek help because we unintentionally slipped into something we thought to be far more harmless. Of course marijuana users wouldn’t understand this, though, because weed doesn’t force your body to “need” it like alcohol does. As stated in the article, some strains alleviate the physiological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in those wanted to quit. For these reasons, I think pot is a perfect alternative (or solution) to alcoholism.

      • I am an alcoholic.My father was an alcoholic.I have had countless OWI’s and can not drive because of it.The last time I drank was 2012.My girls were 4 and 7 at the time.I’ve never been in an accident, thank God. When I drank I would mostly be in a black out.I was that bad.I have been to many of the prisons in this state because of my behavior when drunk.Five years ago I applyed for a job and quit smoking pot for two months to do it.It didn’t bother me to do so.I was feeling some depression and had a hard time sleeping at night.I had a goal in mind and knew I could smoke once I had the job.All the time I was employed there(the plant closed)I smoked pot just about every day after work.The way I treated smoking it was similar to how to someone who has a drink after work.I felt no urge to start drinking again.I started drinking when I was nine. I worked there untill they closed the doors.I was one of their better workers.I was the highest level there,for production,and also a team leader. I never went to work high.There were a few people I smelt alcohol on though.It’s hard to miss after drinking for so many years.There is such a thing as getting to stoned to drive.The difference here though is I knew the difference.I could get as high as I wanted to and still knew better.Not when I drank.When I drank all my reasoning went out the window.It’s almost like alcohol took my senses away.Now I’m not just saying this stuff just because I believe weed should be legal.I’m saying this because it’s the truth.Now I’m laid off and once again not smoking weed.I’m also depressed and having a hard time sleeping.I heard in AA once that being an alcoholic made you special.I think that’s a load of crap.I think it’s a chemical imbalance of some kind.All I know is that a little bit of thc helps me get through the hard times.Everyone has their crutch.Let me have mine.Alcohol is legal but if I go back to drinking I might as well kiss my family and freedom goodbye.Enough ranting on.It’s 1 in the morning and I just can’t sleep,even if I did get up at 7 am. Thanks for listening or reading or whatever.Godbless.

        • Hi, I’m desperately seeking help for my brother, he’s an alcoholic our family has done everything to help him out but nothing sticks. How did you receive the help with hemp? Can you give me some tips please?

          • Hi Issac,
            Sorry to hear about your brother.
            So we can properly direct you, where do you live? Is it a legal state?
            If you prefer to email us, please do at info@UnitedPatientsGroup.com
            Best,
            Mary Ann
            United Patients Group

        • I just want to one up this. Post. I really get where you are coming from. And you are right in the imbalances. You are a little special. You’re genetically different. It’s unfortunately what causes those imbalances. You’re typically depressed, and you don’t naturally produce enough good-mood chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. People think it is willpower, but the source of the difference is emotions, and our emotions are neurochemicals. People like us tend to self medicate. Both marijuana and alcohol (the most common) stimulate dopamine production. We use it like a crutch. Because it helps adjust us. But there are consequences. However, we see the consequences of alcohol, and the consequences of marijuana. Alcohol destroys families and people. I haven’t seen anyone lose their family only from smoking weed and my smoke buddies are mostly successful people who just want to get high after work. For people like us, we don’t need to be high every hour. Just doping up in our R&R time helps, and we hurt no one. In fact, we have a lot of fun! So, why do we keep being told that’s not okay?

      • I am solely a weed smoker, and I understand this. In fact, it is why I chose to smoke weed instead of drinking.

        Some of us stoners had alcoholic fathers. :p

        And before the foreseeable reply comes about hypothetical weed addiction: No. It really is different. I can and have gone spans of time were for some reason I had to just stop cold turkey for a while. Other than really wanting to smoke weed, there are no side effects that I’ve experienced (except an awkward appetite and sleep habit for a few days). It isn’t the same as having a visceral reaction to suddenly not drinking ethanol. It’s nearly the difference of being well fed but really wanting to eat a delicious cake and the painful hunger of starvation. Want vs. Need.

  3. I wish our government would wake to the people’s needs. I’m a alcoholic in my 50’s I would rather smoke pot than drank alcohol, but sence it’s not legal what do you do go to a government pill mills. I have relapsed so many times. It time to legalize everywhere and save lives.

  4. Marijuana can be just as addictive as alcohol if someone is prone to addiction. I have known people who smoke before work, go home at lunchtime and smoke, and smoke all evening until they pass out. I once lived with someone whose supply ran out and drove 50 miles for half a joint.

    • I have enjoyed pot daily since 1968. Before there were dispensaries open in San Jose I routinely drove 50 miles to Oaksterdam to replenish my stash. You want to talk about addiction, I credit Cannabis for helping me quit my two-pack Marlboro addiction 30 years ago. When I was diagnosed with glaucoma in 2001, it was due to my abstaining for 5 days before my ophthalmology exam, which resulted in a 25% higher IOP reading than the previous exam.
      I am probably as addicted as you can get to cannabis. I find it therapeutic. I find its *prohibition* to be an intolerable abomination and I *repudiate* it.

      I am also addicted to oxygen and food. So what?

    • An ever-growing body of scientific research clearly demonstrates that Marijuana is less addictive than a cup of tea.

      http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/basicfax5.htm

      Dr. Jack E. Henningfield of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Dr. Neal L. Benowitz of the University of California at San Francisco ranked six psychoactive substances on five criteria.

      Withdrawal — The severity of withdrawal symptoms produced by stopping the use of the drug.

      Reinforcement — The drug’s tendency to induce users to take it again and again.

      Tolerance — The user’s need to have ever-increasing doses to get the same effect.

      Dependence — The difficulty in quitting, or staying off the drug, the number of users who eventually become dependent

      Intoxication — The degree of intoxication produced by the drug in typical use.

      The tables listed below show the rankings given for each of the drugs. Overall, their evaluations for the drugs are very consistent. It is notable that marijuana ranks below caffeine in most addictive criteria, while alcohol and tobacco are near the top of the scale in many areas.

      The rating scale is from 1 to 6 — 1 denotes the drug with the strongest addictive tendencies, while 6 denotes the drug with the least addictive tendencies.

      HENNINGFIELD RATINGS

      Withdrawal Reinforcement Tolerance Dependence Intoxication

      Nicotine 3 4 2 1 5

      Heroin 2 2 1 2 2

      Cocaine 4 1 4 3 3

      Alcohol 1 3 3 4 1

      Caffeine 5 6 5 5 6

      Marijuana 6 5 6 6 4

      BENOWITZ RATINGS

      Withdrawal Reinforcement Tolerance Dependence Intoxication

      Nicotine 3 4 4 1 6

      Heroin 2 2 2 2 2

      Cocaine 3 1 1 3 3

      Alcohol 1 3 4 4 1

      Caffeine 4 5 3 5 5

      Marijuana 5 6 5 6 4

      • Wonderful information Malcom! We need more people like you. Thank you for passing this information on to us.
        Kind regards,
        The UPG Team

    • Everything is good in moderation… But, we do not know how to moderate! Some of us anyway. cigarette smokers, caffeine drinkers men and women who have to have a Twinkie for god sake. If there is a possibility a small amount of a naturally occurring unprocessed plant even a partial relief. . I say give it a try.

    • I think weed can be addictive for people who are prone to addiction and alcoholism in the first place. Weed just becomes their ‘drug of choice.’
      But if medical weed helps people slowly come out of the depression that quitting drinking/drugging inevitably brings, that’s cool. I just don’t think that should be a long-term solution for an addict or alcoholic. Short-term? Might work. If it does, go for it.

      • Yes Laura,
        We whole heartedly agree with your comments. Thanks for offering some good advise!

        Best,
        UPG

  5. If you want a support group for alcoholics/addicts using marijuana as a form of treatment search “Marijuana Maintenance Recovery” on Facebook. We are a private group, with a few awesome members. We’d love to expand and learn from other peoples experiences!

  6. I want to recommend someone this information and will seek the person to try for a 2 month time. The person is not alcohol addict but needs 4 pegs of drink every night before dinner and then goes to sleep. The person is about 60 years old and have other medication for blood pressure, sugar level and other common medications.
    Should during the observation period of the person without allowing to drink the common medications be stopped or be given as per prescription. Because the fear is whether mixing of common medications and marijuana in blood will do any harmful effect. Even though todays pills are specific spectrum and not that broad, but suggestion is required. Thank you.

    • Hello Subhendu, While we are not doctors here at UPG, we do pass on creadible information. It sounds like your friend has a multitude of conditions and a doctor in the Cannabis field should be your first call. Multiple medications need to be monitored carefully by an MD. If you would like to discuss finding a doctor in your area, feel free to contact us at info@UnitedPatientsGroup.com
      Kind regards,
      The UPG Team

      • Doctors here don’t practice the properties of marijuana, it is some kind of policy to restrict the doctors doing study in this field publicly as seen in many other countries too. But many users know smoking weed initially increases the bp level but later help in remaining calm which in string helps reducing body pain and some for other disorders also. .
        I think medically using marijuana will help cutting down to take those pills. But it is only logically speaking, expertise opinion are required. If your state has any kind of open rule/legacy to talk to a doctor regarding this, then your group should take an initiative and pass the message to the rest .

        • Subhendu, Here in California we have MD’s who choose to work solely in the Medical Cannabis realm. We have a certification process to do this. There are quite a few educational systems set up for all doctors and nurses who are interested. One, which is taking place in Portland Oregon May 9th and 10th, is a purely medical based conference and is certified for CE (continued education credit). Many experts, MD’s and researchers speak of their findings at this conference. I have attached the agenda below so that you can see what is offered to medical professionals as well as anyone whom would be interested in learning the entire medical value of this plant.
          Best,
          ~UPG
          http://www.medicalcannabis.com/clinical-conferences/2014-portland-or/2014-conference-agenda/

  7. If you want to get high, just get high! You don’t have to come up with a disingenuous excuse
    to smoke weed. You people are like a bunch of teenagers!

    • dis·in·gen·u·ous
      ˌdisənˈjenyo͞oəs/
      adjective
      not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.

      Can you explain your choice of words?

  8. I can attest to this. By age 16 I was diagnosed as poly substance Dependant. I was a methamphetamine and heroin by age 18. I quite both cold turkey and immediately switched to marijuana at 19. Its really the only thing I’ve ever found to help me with drug dependency. My quality of life has increased exponentially. Medical marijuana can save lives :)

    • Unfortunately, I have struggled with addiction for the past 6 years and though I haven’t used narcotics since Dec. 29th of 2013, which is the day I relocated to Virginia from Florida, I still experience “cravings” and have vivid memories of my past use. I smoked marijuana in high school but quit to find work and a couple years later I had no interest in it what so ever after being prescribed Xanax for the first time in my early 20s. That was truly the beginning of my downfall. The part of FL I’m from opiate and benzo dependency had become the way of life. As well as methamphetamine quickly invading most areas. The only reason we moved was the need to “escape” that lifestyle. When we arrived in VA it had been about 7 years since I had partaken so I honestly gave no thought to smoking marijuana even though my withdrawals were severe, the only things I wanted were the drugs I coming off of. It was a new neighbor that first offered me a little herb simply because I was complaining about being nauseous and couldn’t eat, both being related to withdrawal, and in my mind I thought it was the last thing I needed, another substance in my life, but I accepted and smoked a little with him. It was like a new door opened for me. I had a completely new perspective on marijuana as treatment for my aliments. It really did settle my stomach, helped me keep food down, AND calmed me during points of anxiety, shaking, and cold sweats, not to mention being able to get a restful sleep for the first time in God knows how long. For any addict recovery can be overwhelming but honestly I do not think I’d be where I am today in my journey without marijuana in my life. It has been over a year and a half so I no longer suffer from physical withdrawal symptoms but I do struggle with compulsions and thoughts, even nightmares, of my former drug use. On my harder days I hate the fact that I have to illegally find marijuana but what I hate even more is the fact that because of this prohibition in order to curb my anxiety, reduce stress, and overcome insomnia I have to rely on lab made, unnatural, and possible habit forming medications from a doctor. I currently see a counselor as well as psychiatrist and its sad that neither of them have any interest or are even open to disusing marijuana use in a positive light. It has gotten to the point where I just deny doing it even though I feel like the idea that I am able to sustain a functioning household, a good paying steady job, and a beautiful family without pharmaceuticals should be welcomed. To them a drug addict is a drug addict so its just me being an addicted to more drugs even though I have turned down their prescriptions for certain medications that I know from first hand experience are habit forming and debilitating. Its taken over a year to establish a sensible regimen of non-narcotic medications for my anxiety and bi-polar disorder and though it seems to work for controlling my mood swings and compulsive tendencies I still find that smoking once or twice a week helps reduce stress, relax my mind and body, and gives me a better nights sleep. All and all my quality of life is significantly better that it was a couple years ago and though its not the only reason, or even the main one, marijuana has definitely been a key factor in winning my battle with addiction. I am 110% pro legalization, ESPECIALLY for medical treatment.

  9. Pingback: Cannabis Classroom: A Look Into Mental Health and Medical Marijuana | Central Florida Farmacy

  10. I’ve honestly thought about moving to where it’s legal just so I know that I won’t feel the urge to drink.I live in Iowa with my wife and two daughters.This would not be fair to them or me.Simply put it needs to be legal and regulated just like alcohol.It’s ok by the state if I drink my self into a stupor and smoke cigarettes untill my lungs turn black but I can’t smoke weed in my own home?Whats wrong with that picture?

  11. March 2015.my husband has been in the AA program for over 20 years. He cannot seem to stay clean and sober. He Doesn’t drink alcohol. His drug of choice is OxyContin, he cannot seem to stay clean. Would marijuana help him with his addiction? He is a highly addictive person to just about everything.thank you for your help.

  12. Ethanol is (was) killing me. The bill finally came due after 25 years of binge boozing in the form of – premature aging, alcohol induced hepatitis, 3 day hangovers, overall misery and depression, weight bloat, blood pressure, etc. Cannabis is a great substitute with very minor side-effects (increased congestion when vaporized, laziness if overused) when compared to my use of ethanol. Cannabis can save lives, this fact is indisputable in my world.

    • Tono,

      Many people have treated their anxiety successfully with the proper Cannabis formulations. Getting this medicine legally would depend on where you reside and if you are in a legal state.

      UPG

  13. When I was in my teens I had a series of operations and I was prescribed some really heavy opiates… percocet, dilaudid, vicodin, lortab, vicodin… well before I knew it was healed but I still needed the pills. I traded the pills for weed at one point, and never looked back!

    I have systemic major cartlidge degenerative disease… all of my joints are in need of reconstruction… im only 27. I’m in in a constant state of pain and discomfort which has cost me a few jobs, I vape CBD oil on the reg and I feel MUCH better.

    Im supposed to have a major hip operation in a few weeks. My dad hates pot because its use is frowned upon and could cost me my job which is federally regulated. He doesn’t know ive been smoking it all these years because he’d kill me. Obviously if he can’t tell then its not negatively impacting anybody.

    He Invited himself to Colorado where I live to help me after the operation. I know he will want to see me back on those devil pills but I won’t have it. They don’t even really help the pain…. just numbs my brain function so im too useless to go back to work. But hey the doctor knows best!

    Ill just tell him That he will be driving me to a different kind of rehab if he wants that. Ill probably be sneaking edibles the whole damn time.

  14. I have been a marijuana user on and off since high school. Also, I have been a medical card holder for a few years now that it has become legal in the state where I am from. Unfortunately it’s not just a matter of getting high if I feel like it, as I have also been diagnosed with poly substance abuse disorder at age eighteen. Consequently the debate about whether marijuana is harmful, whether it be psychologically or physically, has caused its own form of disorder inside my being. It’s been a few months since the last time any marijuana has been inside my system although the reoccurring headaches are giving me the motivation to go down to the dispensary and pick some up.

  15. I’m an alcoholic who just recently relapsed after 3 years. I’m 33 and thought I could handle a few drinks and next thing you know I was drinking a liter of vodka a day for about a month. I found this article (and a few others) and decided to try marijuana to help me quit. It’s not a miracle drug like Libruim that stops all withdrawal symptoms but I have no health insurance and can’t see a doctor to get a perscription. But I do live in Colorado and could just go a few blocks down the street from my house and legally buy some pot.

    To better I was in major withdrawal and had the shakes as well with the sweats and high heart rate. I tried to taper down and it did work as went from a liter to a fifth of vodka. But sometimes more because it’s hard to keep track. I tapered down then bought some weed. I never smoke so this was new to me and on my first night I was able to wait till about 5 or 6 to have my first drink. Then I smoked. my hands stopped shacking and the sweats went away and I smoked a little more. When push came to shove I only had about three or four drinks (compared to a bottle) that night. Then the next day I just smoked night before I had the drink. The smoking made me not want to drink as much and then I had a drink before bed (because I was a afriad of the shakes waking me up). THen I was able to quit and had nothing on the third day but the weed. Then again on the fourth and fifth day. By the sixth day I was able to stop both so this actually helped me a lot. Granted everyone is different but I was throwing up everymorning and starting my day off with a drink just to function. I believe the pot was the tool that helped me get over the hump

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