Los Angeles drug rehabilitation clinic is offering a radical approach for patients wanting to kick a dangerous addiction. It is called Cannabis-Inclusive Treatment and the controversial program is making headlines across country for allowing patients to smoke marijuana. High Sobriety provides a “a spectrum of treatment alternatives for individuals who have been previously unable to stop using alcohol or other drugs after attending traditional abstinence based settings” according to its website. The NY Times features the clinic last Monday. Times reporter Matt Richtel describes the experience “In almost any other rehab setting in the country, smoking pot would be a major infraction and a likely cause for being booted out. But here at High Sobriety, the clinic with a name that sounds like the title of a Cheech and Chong comeback movie, it is not just permitted, but part of the treatment. The new clinic is experimenting with a concept made possible by the growing legalization of marijuana, that pot, rather than being a gateway into drugs, could be a gateway out.” Dr Mark Wallace, chairman of division of pain medicine in department of anesthesia at the University of California, San Diego, said that over the last 5 years he has used marijuana to help several hundred patients transition off opiates. “The majority of patients continue to use it. I feel like I was a slave to that drug. I feel like I have my life back” he said of marijuana. The non-conventional practice certainly has its detractors. “It’s an affront to evidence-based treatment and it has no place in recovery,” Kevin Sabet, a drug policy consultant said last month.

The LA clinic tells its main goal is to prevent relapse. According to its website “At High Sobriety, our first and foremost goal is to eliminate the risk of death from drug use. Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, pharmaceuticals, and other street drugs all have a lethal dose. Leading the death toll, killing more than all others combined, is alcohol. Cannabis has no known lethal dose. The simple truth is eliminating drugs with a lethal dose and using a drug with no lethal dose is a massive improvement, life improving, and life saving. For generations we have been told that cannabis is a “gateway” drug, at High Sobriety, we believe it is an exit drug.  A medical protocol that can aid the minimization of harm and elimination of use of drugs with a lethal dose. With comprehensive mental health treatment, people can live happier and safer lives by switching from egregious, lethal drugs to safer, cannabis, creating space for strides and improvements in all areas of life.” And there is also a growing body of evidence suggesting that cannabis may, indeed, be an exit drug. States that legalized medical marijuana report treating far fewer opioid users. Hospitalization rates for opioid dependence and abuse dropped on average 23% in states after cannabis was regulated for medicinal purposes. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13%. The fear perpetrated by anti-cannabis advocates that legalized weed would lead to more cannabis-related hospitalizations is simply unfounded, according to report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. “Medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers. This study and a few others provided some evidence regarding the potential positive benefits of legalizing marijuana to reduce opioid use and abuse, but they are still preliminary” said study author Yuyan Shi, a professor at the University of California, San Diego.

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