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Should I Try Marijuana if I Have a Substance Use Disorder Background?

Feb, 2022
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Substance use disorder treatment is not a cure, but rather a recovery method that teaches you how to cope with substance-use triggers. Recovery isn't over after formal treatment ends. It's a lifelong process and involves mindful behaviors daily. There's still a risk of relapse, which may be higher for people with a history of addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a person who received substance use disorder treatment has a 40-60 percent chance of relapsing. All in all, it’s safe to say that using addictive substances, including marijuana, may put you at risk of relapse. The absolute safest bet is to avoid all drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. But, does this include marijuana?

substance use disorder

What Is Addiction?

In 2020, 40.3 million (14.5%) people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder (SUD), or addiction, in the past year. 18.4 million had a SUD related to illicit drug use.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a chronic medical disease. Substance use disorder (previously known as drug addiction) is a disorder driven by compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences. SUD is treatable and the individual can recover. But the risk of relapse is always present.

Relapse is so probable because long-term use of addictive substances changes the way your brain functions.

To increase the chance of recovery, drug rehabilitation centers follow a comprehensive treatment plan that seeks to address all aspects of addiction. Treatment often includes detox for reducing physical dependence and psychotherapy to alleviate psychological dependence. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a major aspect of treatment, as it focuses on teaching coping and relapse prevention skills.

How Marijuana Affects the Brain

Marijuana (cannabis) is a psychoactive substance, meaning it causes euphoria and alters your mental state. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive substance that interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in your brain.

It's important to recognize that, while cannabis's effects on the brain can be overwhelmingly positive, the plant may create adverse reactions for those who struggle with addiction. Thus, it is easy to become dependent on the substance.

LEARN MORE: Can You Overdose on Marijuana? | What are the Benefits of Marijuana?

Avoiding Cannabis for Those With a Substance Use Disorder

substance use disorder

Marijuana does have medical uses and is even used in treatment for opioid addiction. However, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely harmless. If you have struggled with SUD in the past, you may be more at risk for marijuana use disorder, which affects about 30 percent of users. If you’re recovering from drug or alcohol use disorder, do you want to take two steps back by introducing another possible addictive substance?

Marijuana Use and Relapse

Addiction is a complex and relapsing disease and, by its very nature, there's always a risk of losing control over drug misuse. This can happen after the first time reintroducing drugs or alcohol back into your system.

It's important to stay vigilant of your triggers, whether they are thoughts, emotions, stress, or being around people who smoke marijuana. You should also pay attention to the following warning signs of a potential relapse:

  • Believing that past addiction treatment immunes you from addiction in the future
  • Doubting your ability to stay sober
  • Buying into the idea that recreational marijuana use is safe
  • Preoccupied with thoughts of smoking marijuana or other drugs
  • Losing your ability to cope with stress in healthy ways
  • Hanging out again with people who drink or do drugs

If you do relapse, it doesn’t mean your treatment has failed. Going back to addictive behaviors after treatment is an indication that you need to resume treatment or look for more effective therapy.

The Takeaway

Maintaining your sobriety is an ongoing process that can be interrupted by one single use of an addictive substance. Marijuana is no exception. You are especially at risk because of the effects of substance misuse on your brain. 

If your doctor recommends marijuana as a form of treatment for a medical condition, let them know you have a history of substance use disorder and would like to know how marijuana treatment may affect you. You and your doctor should make the right decision for you armed with all the relevant information. 


What can medical cannabis help with? Check out our list of qualifying medical conditions to see how marijuana may be able to benefit you.