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The key to treating alcoholism with medical marijuana

Alcoholism is a pervasive chemical affliction. Marijuana, which is far more benign, could be used in treatment

By Kent Gruetzmacher
July 10, 2017 1:00AM (UTC)

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This article originally appeared on The Fresh Toast.

Most Americans know someone who is suffering from addiction in one form or another — alcoholism is perhaps the most pervasive of these chemical afflictions. Furthermore, the use of alcohol has become an integral part of almost all ritualized social activities across Western culture. While controlled, social drinking doesn’t pose any adverse physical or psychological side effects, heavy drinking certainly does. For those heavily afflicted alcoholics, medical cannabis can be beneficial as both an alcohol substitute and sedative.

Alcoholism

Drinking on a daily basis can have irreversible consequences on the body and mind. To illustrate, studies show that “[d]ecades of heavy daily heavy drinking can lead to physical dependence on alcohol and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if one stops drinking without tapering off or entering a medical detox”. Moreover, one of the key elements of alcoholism is “binge-drinking,” which is evidenced in an addict’s inability to stop drinking once they start. These alcohol binges, or “benders,” often last several days for the seasoned alcoholic and more-often-than-not do irreparable damage to one’s family and professional life. Point being, for alcoholics, the only real choice in beating their affliction is to entirely quit drinking. With this notion in mind, many forward thinking recovery programs are replacing the daily use of alcohol with that of medical marijuana.

America needs different recovery programs

The conventional Western model of alcohol treatment has a statistically poor success rate, as approximately 50% “of individuals who begin an addiction treatment program relapse within six months”. Even more, doctors are known to prescribe rather powerful and addictive benzodiazepines to aid in alcohol withdrawal. While it’s obvious that cannabis use as an alcohol recovery tool is quite controversial in the conventional American mindset, studies show that it can be a powerful recovery tool.

Alcoholism Drinking on a daily basis can have irreversible consequences on the body and mind. To illustrate, studies show that “[d]ecades of heavy daily heavy drinking can lead to physical dependence on alcohol and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if one stops drinking without tapering off or entering a medical detox”. Moreover, one of the key elements of alcoholism is “binge-drinking,” which is evidenced in an addict’s inability to stop drinking once they start. These alcohol binges, or “benders,” often last several days for the seasoned alcoholic and more-often-than-not do irreparable damage to one’s family and professional life. Point being, for alcoholics, the only real choice in beating their affliction is to entirely quit drinking. With this notion in mind, many forward thinking recovery programs are replacing the daily use of alcohol with that of medical marijuana. America Needs Different Recovery Programs The conventional Western model of alcohol treatment has a statistically poor success rate, as approximately 50% “of individuals who begin an addiction treatment program relapse within six months”. Even more, doctors are known to prescribe rather powerful and addictive benzodiazepines to aid in alcohol withdrawal. While it’s obvious that cannabis use as an alcohol recovery tool is quite controversial in the conventional American mindset, studies show that it can be a powerful recovery tool.

Cannabis and quitting drinking

In the nomenclature of recovery studies, cannabis aided alcoholism recovery is referred to as “Marijuana Maintenance”. For starters, Marijuana Maintenance offers a relatively un-impactful solution to alcohol cravings, as addicts will smoke or ingest cannabis instead of taking a drink. Along this line of thought, the Harm Reduction Journal reports that cannabis can curb an addict’s alcohol cravings and it is a viable, natural alternative to prescription medications such as benzodiazepines. Secondly, a large quantity of drinkers medicate with alcohol to relieve psychological conditions such as “depression, anxiety, stress, or PTSD”. Studies show that responsible cannabis use can provide relief from these same emotional ailments, without the dangers of withdrawal and addiction as seen with alcohol or prescription medication drugs.

Alcoholism is a pervasive chemical affliction. Marijuana, which is far more benign, could be used in treatment

Can Cannabis Help With Alcohol Withdrawal?

Quitting alcohol is not only difficult, in some cases, it can even be life-threatening. Luckily, cannabis has emerged as a potential recovery tool for those going through withdrawal from alcohol.

It is important to understand that alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs that exists. And this is by no means an understatement.

Statistics do not tell a lie. If you ask the CDC—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention— around 88,000 people died in the US alone, per year, between 2006 and 2010 due to alcohol.

Alcohol is dangerous in many ways. One could argue that one of the greatest dangers lurks in the general acceptance of excessive social drinking. A few drinks at the nightclub and you are technically binge drinking, while the vast majority may call it “just getting loose”.

Getting drunk is considered a normal, even integral experience in many cultures. No wedding party has ever been considered a blast that did not end with hoards of highly inebriated guests permitting themselves to behave quite unorthodoxly.

Although (thankfully) times are changing, it is still normal (and even expected) for the Catholic Church to give children wine at their first Holy Communion, imprinting that only by drinking the “blood of Christ” are you able to receive salvation.

Booze is also dangerous in that the addiction is pretty easy to hide. The vast majority of alcoholics manage to keep their disease hidden for years on-end, usually until liver or kidney damage becomes irreversible and reality smacks them in the face.

Alcohol withdrawal can be even more dangerous than the actual drinking. The absolute worst thing you can do as a chronic alcoholic is to go “cold turkey”. It can be highly life-threatening and can manifest days or even weeks after the last drink. The medical term for this profoundly dangerous state is called delirium tremens, which kills one in five people who attempt it.

Symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Grand mal seizures
  • Disorientation
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Tremulousness
  • Racing heart and rapid breathing
  • Fever
  • Severe anxiety or panic attacks
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood pressure spikes
  • Intense sweating

Not everyone is prone to delirium tremens, and some people manage to quit entirely by going cold turkey. Nevertheless, it is extremely risky to try.

CANNABIS TO THE RESCUE

A recent study by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver found that roughly 50% of all medical cannabis users deliberately applied for a medical cannabis card to substitute weed for booze.

This data is a phenomenal indication that cannabis legalization alone could make a huge dent in the catastrophic statistics related to alcohol abuse, and even empower risk prevention strategies.

Not only that, but a paper published by the Journal of Neuroscience concluded that cannabis works as a neuroprotective shield against damage already caused by alcohol in the brain stem. Furthermore, the authors suggest that weed greatly alleviates severe craving symptoms and eases the path to full recovery.

One thing that alcohol does very well is disrupt the natural neurochemical balance in the brain, increasing both dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). It also severely reduces the prevalence of CB1 receptors, caused by devastation to endocannabinoid concentration. This is where cannabinoids like CBD come into play, presenting an excellent strategy for helping to rebalance the brain’s chemistry.

STRATEGY TO QUIT THE BOTTLE WITH CANNABIS

Simply smoking some weed and actively tapering off alcohol consumption goes a long way. But for those tougher moments when the cravings become more intense, you may need a little extra help.

Edibles are a great way to deal with withdrawal symptoms. Not only are the effects from edibles stronger, the high also lasts considerably longer. By eating cannabis, you will feel more of a body stone than usual, which helps mitigate the physical cravings.

Insomnia, a side effect of quitting alcohol, if often referred to as one of the major reasons for relapses. The lack of sleep can be overwhelming, and just a few sleepless nights in a row will only make the withdrawal symptoms worse. By ingesting cannabis-infused foods and drinks at night, you will better prepare yourself for some much-needed rest and recovery.

Finally, as mentioned before, adding CBD to your diet could help tremendously. A huge part of alcohol addiction relies on faulty “reward structures” in our brains. We may consciously know we are hurting and poisoning ourselves with the amount we drink, but when the urge comes, the brain simply shuts off the instinct for self-preservation. The addiction takes over, and the voice of the conscience is muted.

CBD stimulates CB1 receptors, “standing in” to restore some of the lost neural mediation caused by the depletion of naturally occurring endocannabinoids. To restore normal levels, a recovering alcoholic may need several months before starting to reverse the effects. However, this is a good option for those who do not desire the typical cannabis high, but understand how fundamentally beneficial CBD can be.

It should be noted that we are not medical professionals, and this article should not be regarded as a substitute for talking to your physician. This is especially true for chronic alcoholics and those at the greatest risk of alcohol-related illnesses or fatalities.

Cannabis has been shown to be of great help to the recovering alcoholic. And it does so in many different ways, some of which may surprise you.