Marijuana, also known as cannabis, has been used for medicinal purposes for millennia, though it was not until 1996 that California became the first US state to formally legalize its use for such purposes. While it is a controversial subject, many doctors still recommend it to treat a variety of ailments, including insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, migraine, arthritis, and even cancer. Some doctors have also begun using it to treat pain in recovering addicts and help fight withdrawal symptoms from more serious substances.
This is part of a strategy called "harm reduction", where the goal is to reduce the harm the addict does to themselves and others over time rather than forcing them to immediately quit cold turkey. This makes the process less intimidating and also helps to reduce the risk of relapse. Using marijuana in this way helps to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal from these other addictions and decrease drug dependency in the long-term. Addicts may have turned to opioids and other substances to treat chronic pain, anxiety, and depression in the past, and marijuana can help treat these without the looming threat of a lethal overdose. The idea of moving from highly dangerous substances to less dangerous ones may be especially beneficial to those whose addictions are so fierce that they are unable to stop using entirely.
A rehab center in Los Angeles has reported success in using marijuana to help patients get over heroin and cocaine addictions, and a clinic in Massachusetts reported that more than 75% of the patients they prescribed medicinal marijuana to stopped taking "harder" drugs. While this method is still controversial, it is gaining traction among increasing numbers of doctors and clinics.
Some research suggests that cannabidiol, a component of marijuana, could actually reverse some of the changes that the use of heroin and other opiates makes to the brain. In addition to conveying protective effects, it also stimulates parts of the brain involved with regulating emotions and reducing anxiety, and studies have found that high doses of cannabidiol can reduce heroin cravings among addicts. While much of the research thus far has focused on the use of medicinal marijuana in those recovering from opiate addictions, studies are also underway that investigate its use in alcohol and methamphetamine addictions.
Of course, marijuana is itself addictive, and it is easy for someone trying to overcome one addiction to instead gravitate towards another. Because of this, it is important for doctors at clinics that employ harm reduction strategies to monitor their patients and make sure that a new addiction isn't setting in. If you choose to use medicinal marijuana to aid in your recovery process, make sure that your recovery program has a strong relapse prevention program. It is also a good idea to increase the number of counseling or support group meetings you attend during the period you're using it and for a month or so afterwards, just to be safe.
Overall, it is still too early to say for certain whether the benefits of medicinal marijuana for addiction recovery outweigh the risks. In the end, it will likely vary from one individual to the next. For right now, it is best to approach it with caution. Do some research on the subject and talk to a doctor or professional addiction specialist about it.