High Sobriety, a rehab center in southern California, incorporates cannabis into its treatment regimen for people with drug and alcohol addiction. Examples of treatments range from serious daily incorperations of the drug to less frequent, but for certain subjects the treatment has been the only thing that's worked. As one example, a member named Frank hadn't touched scotch, his former drink of choice — or any other alcoholic beverage, for that matter — in 30 days.
A month ago, Frank was living alone and drinking around the clock, despite repeated warnings from his physicians about negative interactions between alcohol and the medications he takes for high blood pressure and other age-related health issues. Concerned, his family took him to Alcoholics Anonymous. Nothing stuck, and Frank's health continued to decline. That was until Frank's daughter called Joe Schrank, High Sobriety's founder, and asked if he could help.
The idea behind High Sobriety is simple: Help addicts stop abusing the substances that are causing them the most harm, using cannabis as a tool to do so.
"Our retention rates are so much better with being able to give them something," Schrank, a trained social worker who has spent the last 15 years working with addicts, told Business Insider. "The truth is a lot of these people are deep, deep, deep into the weeds with drug and alcohol use, and to think there's a light switch and they can just turn it off ... I mean, you're dealing with a different person when you talk about cessation of drug use."
Schrank's unconventional approach has put him at odds with many people in the recovery community. But his strategy is part of a new and growing movement that aims to treat addiction like any other mental illness — with science. The approaches coming out of this movement share the belief that we should stop treating addiction as a moral issue and start treating it as a medical one.
Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist and the author of "Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction," agrees. "This stuff that emphasizes this morality, we don't have anything else like that in medicine," said Szalavitz. "And the 12-step thing talking about 'defects of character,' that's not exactly helpful for someone who already has a lot of self-hatred. This whole idea that total abstinence is the only route to recovery has been incredibly damaging to the addiction field."
But there aren't many studies on whether cannabis works for those struggling with addictions.
The research that exists suggests that cannabis may be a helpful tool in reducing the use of opioids by people who use them for long-term pain relief. It also could help reduce the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. And it might help some addicts stop using other substances like nicotine, although a large report published in January by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said that "only one randomized trial assessing the role of cannabis in reducing the use of addictive substances" exists.
Despite this range, however, these treatments have been successful for High Sobriety, and Joe Schrank stands by his methods. "It's not the easiest place [to be in]. AA people hate me. Rehab people hate me," he said. "I'm OK with that."