Given the choice between opiates and weed, the latter is always a safer option. That’s the mentality behind a new rehab facility in Los Angeles that treats drug addicts with cannabis.
High Sobriety is a self-described “cannabis inclusive treatment” center, serving as a counterpoint to abstinence-only approaches to recovery. “At High Sobriety, our first and foremost goal is to eliminate the risk of death from drug use,” its website states. “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 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.”
At High Sobriety, cannabis is regarded as an “exit drug,” rather than a “gateway drug.”
Replacing hard drugs with cannabis is not necessarily a popular approach in the rehab world, admits Joe Schrank, founder of High Sobriety and a recovering addict, himself. “We’re reducing harm,” he tells Jane Street. If someone was using heroin and is now a stable cannabis user, High Sobriety regards that as success, Schrank says. “There are people who can safely use cannabis and replace what’s really hurting them with something that won’t hurt them and could even have beneficial aspects and help them circumvent opiate use entirely.” And if pain killers are what’s behind someone’s addiction, cannabis can replace them as a pain management tool.
Located in Los Angeles, High Sobriety offers residential treatment, traditional care, and outpatient treatment. “We’re cautious about who we take in, we say no to more people than we say yes,” says Schrank. “We want to make sure people can be successful.”
High Sobriety doesn’t force patients to use cannabis, but aims to foster safe drug use. “Nobody finds any measure of recovery or change if they’re dead,” Schrank adds. “Even if you’re on an opiate medication for pain, and you reduce that by 50 percent and incorporate cannabis as part of your pain management, that’s big progress.”
According to High Sobriety’s website, the cannabis replacement protocol is in full compliance with California law and is overseen by medical professionals. “Cannabis can aid in the detox process, helping with discomfort, insomnia, and flu-like symptoms associated with the withdrawal process, reducing or eliminating the need for other drugs,” the website reads. “After the initial detox, our doctor will provide a comprehensive and collaborative evaluation to determine an individual’s goal for recovery. The determination of how cannabis is used is ultimately made by the doctor, like any other medication.” A large portion of the cannabis replacement protocol also calls for exploring different strains and modes of ingestion,finding what works best for the patient.
One of the arguments against High Sobriety’s approach is that it’s not possible to treat addiction with cannabis because it will always lead the patient to their drug of choice, Schrank says. “That’s not true. With most people who try total abstinence, maybe it’s that abstinence that leads them back to heroin,” he adds. “The other thing is they will say a drug addict is a drug addict, a drug is a drug. My response is that 88,000 people a year drink themselves to death, 115 people a day drop because of opiates, and zero die because of cannabis.”
High Sobriety’s approach falls in line with evidence showing opiate overdose deaths are lower in green states, leading experts to conclude that those who would otherwise use or abuse opiates might be opting for cannabis instead.
“The cannabis industry has an opportunity to be friends with the recovery community,” says Schrank. “They’re not mutually exclusive. People think they’re adversarial, but that’s not true.”