With medical and, increasingly, recreational marijuana available in more than 30 states, the healing herb’s qualities have now spread to the field of addiction recovery, helping opioid users ease their way through the debilitating effects—nausea, stomach cramps, muscle spasms, irritability, insomnia and anxiety—of withdrawal.
High Sobriety, a 24-bed in-patient facility in Culver City, Calif., provides cannabis as both a reward and way to kick the physical cravings that come from opioids and alcohol and charges upwards of $40,000 for a month-long stay. Founded last year by three former colleagues at Malibu, Calif.’s famous Promises rehab facility—the recently departed Joe Schrank, Cassidy Cousins and Michael Welch—High Sobriety is now being run by Dr. Sherry Yafai, a trained emergency medicine physician who practiced at the Releaf Institute before starting her own practice.
“I’d been working in the emergency department for over a decade in Los Angeles and had grown frustrated watching kids overdose time and time again,” Dr. Yafai tells Freedom Leaf. “There had to be a better way to help patients achieve and maintain their sobriety. Last year, I opened my own cannabis-based office for pain management last year. I found that I could reduce their narcotic load dramatically while at the same time improve their pain management with cannabis alone.
“It was around that time that I spoke with Joe Schrank from High Sobriety,” she continues. “It was speaking with Joe that changed my perspective on using cannabis as a part of treatment in addiction. I took this post with the intention of modifying the patients’ treatment plan and creating more of a bridge therapy for adults who’ve never known adulthood without the haze of intoxication. I believe that we can continue to do this better.”
Despite his parting of the ways with High Sobriety, Schrank remains one of the leading proselytizers for alternatives to the traditional abstinence-based rehabilitation methods. The 48-year-old Orange County native, a Jesuit-trained, self-described “cultural” Catholic, ironically, has never smoked a joint in his life.
AMANDA REIMAN: “The paradigm of abstinence has placed a stranglehold on the entire addiction recovery industry.”
A University of Southern California alumnus who holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois and is 20 years sober himself, Schrank initially subscribed to Alcoholic Anonymous’ long-held tenet of “total abstinence.” But he changed his mind after the comedian Greg Giraldo, a good friend and patient, died in 2010 at the age of 44 from an overdose of prescription medication.
“I realized then we can’t just pontificate on a single road to recovery,” says Schrank. “Greg did everything we told him to do, attend meetings, get a sponsor. He’d be fine for periods of time, then reach a breaking point. Towards the end, I just started telling him to smoke pot.”
That, in a nutshell, is the premise behind High Sobriety, a philosophy dubbed “harm reduction” in which the physical debilities of addiction—and the danger of accidental death by overdose—are mitigated by the regular use of marijuana or the distribution of clean needles. The “harm reduction” approach to treating addicts has been adopted in Portugaland Switzerland, where a prescription heroin program has substantially reduced accidental ODs. Predictably, it has come under fire from AA partisans.
“I knew there’d be a ton of pushback,” says Amanda Reiman, who has served as a consultant to High Sobriety (and also writes for Freedom Leaf. “The paradigm of abstinence has placed a stranglehold on the entire addiction recovery industry.”
Schrank found himself caught between the principles of AA and his own common-sense crusade to make marijuana easily available to those it could help. Citing figures of a more than 95% relapse rate among participants in traditional 12-step recovery programs, he asks, “If something is helpful, why put up barriers to its use? If it’s legal, then you’re not a criminal.
“I don’t know if it’s individually right for everybody, but it should at least remain an option in consultation with a doctor,” Shrank adds. “Even if the story starts at harm reduction, we don’t know how it ends. As recovery professionals, we’re supposed to be non-judgmental and compassionate, to believe in progress, not perfection. In my view, giving up heroin for cannabis is a progression. As a Jesuit, I also feel the commitment to social justice. Possessing or using cannabis is not a crime for which a human should be put in a cage. It’s a disgrace to enlightened society.”
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Roy Trakin on Freedom Leaf
Published: July 10, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News