“The goal of substance treatment isn’t necessarily to demand abstinence as much as it is to help someone manage their life in a manner where substances are no longer interfering in a negative way,” Amanda Reiman, author of the study “Cannabis as a Substitute for Alcohol and Other Drugs” recently told VICE in an interview.
Reiman holds a PhD, a Masters in Social Work, and is manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance. In a series of studies she conducted on cannabis prescribed patients at Berkley, she found that approximately 75% were using marijuana as a substitute for prescription drugs, 50% were using it as a substitute for alcohol, and 20% were using it as a replacement for harder drugs.
But using marijuana while abstaining from another drug isn’t just about substituting one substance for another. Reiman says cannabis has properties that are especially useful in drug treatment.
Many meth addicts who’ve had success using pot to kick their habit, and Reiman says the key to that was cannabis changing your thought process. Before, she says, “They would get the urge to use methamphetamine and just act on that urge without really thinking. Cannabis gave them mindfulness. They were able to slow down and really think about what they were doing, and what their body was saying to them. They were able to think about whether they really wanted to engage in methamphetamine use, or if they’d rather smoke some pot and go to sleep.”
And marijuana can also help wean patients off of severe addictions by softening withdrawal symptoms. “When you look at the withdrawal symptoms of drugs like opiates and alcohol—things like nausea, tremors, trouble sleeping—these are all conditions which cannabis is really good at fixing.”
Though some therapists and treatment professionals might disagree with her, Reiman says that abstinence-based recovery is only one framework for thinking about substance recovery. “There’s a whole other framework around harm reduction where folks would say, ‘Look, as long as life is where you want it, and you’re not getting into trouble with the law, and you’re able to keep a job, and your family situation is going well and you’re happy, then that’s the most important thing.’”