by Anonymous

JB Mattison, a nineteenth-century American physician, wrote that in his practice marijuana had "proved an efficient substitute for the poppy." One of his cases was "a naval surgeon for nine years a ten-gram daily subcutaneous morphine taker...[who] recovered with less than a dozen doses" of a cannabis indica preparation. A few years earlier, a British physician, EA Birch, treated a chloral hydrate addict and an opium addict with cannabis in an experiment approaching modern research techniques. He replaced the drug of addiction with unidentified pills containing cannabis which he then gradually withdrew. In each case, Birch noted a prompt response and the return of appetite and sound sleep.

Two psychiatrists working with the commission appointed by Mayor La Guardia to examine marijuana use in New York City found in a study of forty-nine cases that when cannabis was substituted for opiates, "the withdrawal syndrome was ameliorated or eliminated sooner, the patient was in a better frame of mind, his spirits were elevated, his physical condition was more rapidly rehabilitated, and he expressed a wish to resume his occupation sooner." They point out that cannabis itself did not cause physiological dependence or withdrawal symptoms. It is remarkable how little follow-up there has been on this suggestive early research, perhaps in part because many still wrongly regard marijuana itself as an addictive drug.

The following account by a man who chooses to remain anonymous confirms that cannabis is still helping some people cope with this problem.

I am a fifty-nine year old man who first started to use heroin as a student at a Connecticut prep school in 1955. My father planned for me to attend Yale University and Yale Law School, but I always took the easiest way out in those years, becoming addicted to heroin at sixteen and leaving school at seventeen to live on the streets of Harlem. In 1960 I first used marijuana, during a period when no heroin was available. I suffered severe withdrawal symptoms, and learned that marijuana provided significant relief from the pain, nausea, and other symptoms. At the suggestion of a friend, I smoked six high-grade rolled marijuana cigarettes throughout the immediate withdrawal period, which lasted three to five days. The marijuana greatly ameliorated the sweating, yawning, and restlessness, but the worst was yet to come. At eighteen hours after my last dose of heroin, I began to have muscle twitches, loss of strength and energy, profuse sweating, diarrhea, agitation, and an overall feeling of agony. These symptoms peaked on the third day and subsided rapidly over the next week. However, after the peak I was able to eat and sleep. This fact is crucial, because I am certain that only a few people have ever eaten after a heroin withdrawal peak. Eating and the ability to sleep increased my strength while the symptoms subsided.

In 1967, I successfully completed the Dole/Nyswander pioneer Methadone Research Program as a member of their first control study groups. I began a normal life, first by getting my family back together, and then by working as a photojournalist In 1970 I went to work for the Bucks County Department of Corrections, starting the first drug abuse treatment program in a local detention setting in Pennsylvania. I progressed through the ranks and served the director as his departmental operations officer. My duties included insuring compliance to the director’s policies, procedures and special directives, as well as monitoring federal, state and private grant projects. I did not use marijuana during this period, mainly due to the effect it would have on my employment. Marijuana was illegal and that was it. I was maintained on sixty milligrams of methadone per day throughout this period.

In 1973 I took a job in New York where I supervised the largest private methadone clinic in New York City. I did this for one year and then returned to the Bucks County Department of Corrections. In 1977 my director, a nationally known pioneer in corrections, resigned, and I felt that I could not serve in Bucks County under any possible new leadership. I relocated to Florida and applied for a position in Broward County Corrections. I was tested, interviewed at length, and considered for a senior management position, but at the final stage I was eliminated because of a Florida law prohibiting state employment while being maintained on methadone. After two years of fruitless job search, I decided to detoxify from methadone. It was a long and agonizing task that took several months—ten times as hard as heroin withdrawal. All the symptoms are similar, but the process can last six to nine months. I used seven rolled marijuana cigarettes per day throughout my withdrawal. The marijuana helped me to sleep and eat and provided strength to continue detoxification. With the help of marijuana, I weaned myself off methadone in about four months. To this day I have continued to smoke marijuana, about three cigarettes per day and have never felt the desire to return to either heroin or methadone. My conclusion, based on this experience, is that marijuana is a potent medicine in the treatment of withdrawal from both heroin and methadone.

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