Marijuana In Recovery — Why Not?

“If caffeine and nicotine are accepted in the program, and they are both mood-altering substances, how come weed isn't? Pretty soon doctors will be able to prescribe it. They already can prescribe it in some states.”

Most drugs are useful and manageable when properly prescribed and used, but history has made it clear that such is often not the case. Doctors can prescribe Oxycontin, and you can buy beer at the gas station. However, legality has absolutely nothing to do with addiction. (And it has never been shown that doctors are the best source of ideas for staying sober, except in the very rare cases when they are specifically trained to treat addiction.)

The First Step reads, “We admitted we were powerless over (alcohol) (our addictions) – that our lives had become unmanageable.” It doesn't say and that our lives had become unmanageable. Our lives were unmanageable because we were powerless over a drug.

There are many different kinds of mood-altering substances. Some are clearly problems, some less so, some aren't problems at all, and some are problematic over such long periods that we tend to think they're not major issues. Nicotine is an excellent example. Tobacco products are the number-one preventable cause of death in the world, yet the next cigarette, cigar, chew or dip isn't likely to be the one that kills us – as far as we can know. Obviously there is, at some point, a level of exposure that makes the difference, but we can't see it and it's easy to ignore.

Denial, as they say, is not just a river in Africa. And, for the record, many treatment centers no longer permit nicotine use during treatment and strongly encourage newcomers to quit smoking. Their position is that an addiction is an addiction, and that we are either ready to be clean or we are not. While nicotine may be an “outside issue” in AA, it certainly isn't in NA, but in both cases the fellowships take the position that the drugs with the most serious immediate effects need to take priority, and experience has shown that to be the case. No fellowship that I know of, however, has ever stated that they believe nicotine to be harmless.

Caffeine, in anything like reasonable quantities (200-250 mg. a day, not five energy drinks), is unlikely to make our lives unmanageable. Small quantities, in fact, are now believed to be good for us, especially if gotten from brewed coffee.

Drugs like alcohol, opioids, barbiturates, benzodiazepines and – yes – weed, are a different story. All have been shown, in repeated scientific studies that have been published in reputable scientific journals for the review of any expert who wishes to challenge them, to have both short-term and long-term effects that can negatively affect both users and the people around them.

Marijuana works on the same pathways in the brain as other drugs of abuse. As long as those pathways are kept active, the brain cannot make the repairs that allow long-term recovery to be successful. From that standpoint alone, there is no place for marijuana in recovery.  Nicotine works in a slightly different way, and does not seem to impair recovery as much.  However, recent research has indicated that it may have more undesirable effects than has been believed.

From an overall point of view, consider that the purpose of recovery is to learn to live a healthy, productive life without the crutch of drugs – to face life on life's terms, to learn to live, love and prosper in a healthy way, and fit into the rest of society.

There are many things that can block that progress, from eating disorders to sexual obsessions, shopping, gaming and any other activity that can be used – to excess – to keep us from having to deal with life.  When we depart from our purpose of living life on life's terms, and need to use things outside ourselves to make us feel good, we are not truly in recovery.  The exception, obviously, are medications such as antidepressants, which do not affect the brain in the same way as drugs of abuse.

Sobriety is about getting sober. Either you're on board that flight, or you're not.

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