When Marijuana Counts Against Your Sobriety

My journey through addiction has been taken me down every path possible. From pounding shots in high school to blackouts three times a week in college, then going to rehab, trying Alcoholics Anonymous, getting baptized in church, working in treatment centers, and eventually becoming a DUI counselor, I’ve been on a long journey as an addict.

While Aug. 1, 2012, is the date I had my last drink, some would argue it doesn’t necessarily deem it my “sobriety date.” Many people in the recovery space still see medical marijuana use as substance abuse.

I remember when I was enrolled in UCLA Extension to complete the Alcohol and substance abuse counseling program in 2014, eager to receive my certificate to further my knowledge and education in the addiction field.

The one-year program was rigorous to say the least, but the required fieldwork hours definitely prepare you for the big leagues. I remember one day after class, I walked up to my professor and asked her to sign off on my hours — the program requires lots of paperwork. I decided I still had to ask her one question, a question I’ve been holding on to for quite some time: Does marijuana count in sobriety?

More specifically, does medical marijuana count? I’ve had my medical card since freshman year of college — almost six years at that time. I could find many reasons to justify my cannabis use, from insomnia to anxiety to happiness. The last one definitely raised a red flag, but in comparison to being an alcoholic, I felt it was a fair trade.

Marijuana would never hurt me like alcohol did, but the fact that I had to ask whether it was allowed was worrisome in and of itself. My professor responded, “It depends who you ask. For me, yes. I would not let my clients smoke if they were sober, 100 percent no. Most AA will tell you ‘no.’”

I walked away discouraged, partly because I knew she was right — AA would not accept cannabis use — and partly because I knew what the answer was before I asked. I just didn’t want to believe it.

I also felt judged, because she knew I was “sober” and she knew I smoked weed.

I recently found this Reddit conversation that I could not relate to more. Titled “Frustrated with AA and Marijuana,” a user named babyboyhull recounts a moment in AA when he was trying to celebrate 36 days without alcohol, only to be shunned for smoking marijuana two days prior.

Mind you, the subreddit page “/r/stopdrinking” was created to motivate participants to control or stop drinking. The disclaimer reads, “Please post only when sober, you’re welcome to read in the meanwhile.”

The term “sober” is still an often debated mystery when it comes to recovery programs and marijuana use.

After I completed the UCLA Extension program, I applied for a job and was seated in the office of the clinical director of a treatment center in Malibu. The interview was for a technician/mental health worker position, which basically means I would look after the clients and serve as a testimonial, as someone who’s gone through the process of recovery herself. I was eager to get back in the field, as this felt like the only line of work I could really succeed in after getting sober.

The staff there loved me. They loved that I had experience, they loved that I was sober, they loved that I was educated, they loved that I had a soft spot in my heart to give the same love and care to these clients as I had received during recovery. I had the job in the bag. But on my way out, the director said, “Oh wait! I need you to take a drug test before you leave.”

I was shook. I had just smoked a blunt the night before and I had no choice but to pee in that cup. I thought about telling him about my medical marijuana card, but 10 percent of me thought, “Maybe it won’t come up.” A few days later, I got a call. “Is there a reason why you tested positive for THC?” Before I could even complete my sentence, he cut me off, “Sorry, we can’t hire you.”

I’ve never been hung up on so abruptly, especially in a professional setting. I just remember feeling like utter shit. This was an amazing opportunity to work at the most beautiful rehab center on Pacific Coast Highway, and felt like I let it slip away. The rehab center’s recovery plan was spirituality-based. There was no clear cut rule that marijuana was not allowed in a client’s path to recovery, yet it was treated like the Schedule I drug it is.

But perhaps now is the time to reconsider cannabis’ role in addiction recovery. With states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania adding opioid use disorder to their list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, the practice of shunning those who use marijuana to aid with addiction seems outdated.

Earlier this year, a study was conducted by researchers from Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, The study revealed CBD, the compound in cannabis that doesn’t get you high, might help people with drug and alcohol addictions. To conduct the study, scientists tested rats hooked on alcohol and cocaine, both of which made them anxious and impulsive, and then injected some of them with CBD. They found that rats with CBD in their systems were less likely to relapse into alcohol or drug use over time, even when the substances were present.

While this is only one study, the debate over whether medical marijuana is an impediment to addiction recovery continues and as more research is conducted, we will start to understand marijuana’s role in recovery. Until then, I still wonder: Can you be sober and smoke marijuana? What do you think?

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