According to Cali Estes, Ph.D., cannabis, as a non-toxic herb, makes a lot more sense when it comes to quitting harsh pharmaceuticals than the only solutions offered by corporate Big Pharma — which are, you guessed it, more harsh pharmaceueticals.
Dr. Estes is speaking from a position of experience. The Miami-based life coach has more than 20 years experience working with drug, alcohol and food addictions, and is considered a leader in the field of addiction therapy.
As an interactive, solution-focused positive psychologist and cognitive behavioral therapist, she takes a no-nonsense approach to life coaching to provide support for recovering addicts.
Toke Signals’ Steve Elliott had a chance recently to sit down with Dr. Estes and discuss her groundbreaking work using cannabis as an exit from addiction and an reentry into a more positive, healthy lifestyle.
Toke Signals: It seems really exciting. For years, I was hearing anecdotal reports, of course, on the ground, of people using cannabis to wean themselves off opiates/opioids. But apparently this is on a whole new level, now, of scientific and medical respectability. And it seems you’ve been getting some pretty exciting results in that regard.
Cali Estes, the Addictions Coach: Yeah, I’ve been using this for awhile. Now that it’s legal, it’s made it a lot easier. What I’ve been able to do is have my clients meet me in Colorado, where it’s recreational? And I don’t have to deal with all the red tape that I normally have to deal with, with something like this. Because it’s easier for these doctors to prescribe Suboxone or Methadone, which you still have to wean off of, and you’re still going to get sick from.
So my theory is why don’t you just wean off the heroin and the opiates now, and do it with something safe like cannabis, and you won’t have all those problems you would have three months, six months, nine months down the road off Suboxone. So I’m taking them out there to Colorado to do this.
TS: I know a couple of people personally who have really had problems using the Suboxone and also the Methadone. They reported that it’s just about as bad as being addicted, coming off that stuff. So I’m sure a lot of people would be receptive to this idea, if they were just aware of it.
CE: It’s kind of interesting. In the addiction space, a lot of people hate it, because it’s still a Schedule I drug. So heroin and marijuana are in the same class, which makes no sense to me whatever.
So a lot of people in recovery say a drug is a drug is a drug, but they’ll run to the doctor and get a prescription for Suboxone, and say, “Well, I’m clean.” And I say, “No, you’re not. You’re just on a synthetic opiate. You’re just under a doctor’s orders.”
To me, that’s not clean. That’s just trading one addiction for the next addiction. Eventually, you’re going to have to come off that.
And if you could do it with a natural substance like cannabis, why not? Why would you put all those harsh chemicals into your body, if you don’t have to?
TS: Well, apparently, cannabis has some specific effects that are quite useful if you are withdrawing, such as reducing the leg cramps, is that correct?
CE: Yeah, when you’re withdrawing off heroin, or opiates, oxycodone, hydrocodone, Percocet, Vicodin? What happens at the very, very beginning is the diarrhea and vomiting. But post that, so after 12 hours, you stop vomiting; you stop having diarrhea. But now you have leg cramps. And they’re equivalent to working out at the gym and you’re not getting enough water.
You also have insomnia — horrible insomnia; you can be up for days. You have nausea; you can’t eat. So they don’t eat anything for the first 3 or 4 days. They have headaches; they have lethargy. They are just completely exhausted, because they’re not eating and they’re dehydrated.
And cannabis gets rid of all that. So it’s just like, why not? As soon as you do it, you eat. You’re hungry; you don’t have a headache; you’re not nauseous. You don’t have leg cramps; you don’t have the sweats. You don’t have all that stuff that you would normally have coming off the opiates.
TS: In what forms do patients who are withdrawing from opioids use cannabis? Are they smoking flowers, are they using concentrates? Are they ingesting through edibles? How do they usually do this?
CE: It’s usually by preference of the person. Some people, in the beginning, they’re terrified. They’re like, “Oh my god, you’re telling me to smoke weed, coming off heroin.” So they’re like, the older people, say 35 and up, don’t understand the edibles, and the oils, and the CBD stuff. So they’re more like, “Just give me a joint,” kind of a thing.
But your younger people, your 18 to 35 crowd, all you have to do is have them eat the candy. You know, it’s got up to 200 milligrams of THC in it. They take the candy over smoking, because they say, you know, “I’m not going to tarnish my lungs by smoking it.”
And then, you know, some people say I’d rather have the oil, it seems better. It just depends on the individual.
TS: I got some interesting anecdotal reports from Oregon where one person was helping addicts kick by using Full Extract Cannabis Oil, which is pretty potent, and they were ingesting that orally, basically, just using it as an edible. And apparently it really eased the transition for them, from opioid addicted to clean.
CE: It’s personal preference. I start them on the low dose. And if they’re not feeling relief, then we can go to higher THC. And we can ingest the oils, we can do the edibles, depending on how much they need, and then just drop it down from there. You know, if you start coming off with 200 milligrams, after they start to feel better, you drop the THC down and down and down and down. Until they’re, you know, back to nothing.
And then some continue to use it, and some continue to not need it. It just depends on the individual. But I tell them all, once your de-toxed, stay on the CBD oil, because that’s phenomenal for you.
TS: So you have beneficial effects over and beyond the addiction withdrawal itself, if you continue with the CBD oil?
CE: Exactly. And the thing with addicts is that they always feel they need something. They always need something. And if you give them a CBD oil, it’s kind of like “I’m taking something.” But with CBD oil, they’re “taking something” that will help them.
TS: Apparently there are a lot of client success stories that you have. People who are transitioning from addiction to opioids into a more clean lifestyle, and using cannabis as part of that. I know there are a lot of people of whom we would have heard, and I realize you can’t mention any names. But can you kind of give us kind of an example of the kind of client, in general that you help with that.
CE: Sure! Let me give you an example that’ll make a lot of sense. I have an NFL player who got caught using; he tested dirty for opiates. However, his doctor prescribed them because he’d had an on-field injury. He just used them past the time the doctor said you can’t use them. So in his mind, “I have pain. The doctor gave me this. I don’t understand why I have to stop using it.”
So he called me and said, “I’m going to get cut from the team. And I hear you use this alternative thing.” I said, “Meet me in Colorado.”
So I worked with him to get him off Oxycodone. He was on a really high dose of Oxycodone. He was able to get his dose down by using marijuana in the off-season. So I said to him, “They’re going to test you for this anyway. They only test you once a year, but they’re going to test you. So you’ve got to totally come off marijuana for now, anyway.”
But he was able to go from taking all those synthetic opiates for pain, all the way down to smoking marijuana and then doing the edibles, and then coming off to nothing, and going back to playing the game. And we did all of that in six months, in and done.
I’ve had a very, very famous guitar player, that was on tour, shooting heroin. So the manager had called and had said, “This isn’t going to work. I can’t get him to play, because he’s nodding out. This is a problem.”
I went out and just talked to him a little bit, and said, “This is what we need to do. I need to get you off of this. And he said, “I’m not going to go to rehab.” And I said, “Fine. You don’t need to go to rehab. I will detox you.” And he goes, “You’re kidding!” And I said, “No. You don’t need to go to rehab to come off heroin.”
So he detoxed using the oil. That was his preference. And he was able to stay clean, because he was able to smoke on the road. Well, legally in some states he “couldn’t,” but he did it anyway. That’s what he did.
When he was feeling anxious or frustrated, he would take an edible, or smoke a joint. And he told me one day, “This is so much better! Because I play better like this than I do on heroin!” And I’m like, “Yeah, I know! It’s amazing!”
He still smokes and does edibles. He’s been clean off heroin for about two and a half years. But that’s his thing. He said, “I’m always going to want something. And if that’s what I’m going to use, and I show up, and I play, and I sound pretty good, why not?” And I said, “Sure, why not!”
TS: Talking about harm reduction! That goes from something that is potentially deadly, is a major addiction, to something that is not going to kill him, for sure.
CE: Yes. My community — the addiction community — HATES when I say this, but I say this all the time. Smoking weed, smoking marijuana, doing edibles? The worst that’s going to happen is you’re going to get fat and your’e going to play X-Box [laughter]. That’s about it. You’re not going to steal somebody’s wedding ring to pawn it and get high. With heroin, that’s what you do. You break into people’s houses, you steal cars; you do bad stuff. And you’re not going to do that on marijuana.
That’s my opinion. And the addiction community says, “Well, how do you know that?” It’s because marijuana is not a violent drug, and it’s not an expensive drug. It’s not something you need a bunch of. And it’s a relaxing drug. It’s not one of those crazy, you know, you don’t have withdrawal from it. People that end up doing bad stuff, it’s because they’re coming off something, and they need to not get sick, so it’s different.
TS: Do you realize how incredibly refreshing it is to hear someone in the addiction community speak realistically about cannabis?
CE: I’m think I’m the only one at the moment. There might be one other. I came publicly out about two years ago, and said I was pro-marijuana. And half my colleagues crucified me. And I said, you know what, your opinion of me doesn’t matter. Because this is the way it needs to go.
I’m very anti-pharma. I don’t like pharma drugs at all. So if the diagnosis we have is bipolar and ADHD, all this stuff can be managed with diet and exercise. And I don’t see why we’re throwing all these drugs at somebody constantly. And then they become addicted, and then we throw MORE Big Pharma drugs at them — to make them “not addicted.” It makes no sense.
TS: I agree, and I’ve been watching with increasing horror and concern as we seem to turn more and more into a pharmaceutical society of addiction. When you compare the effects of cannabis vs. opioid prescription meds, what are the starkest differences that you would remind people of, who are dealing with opiates?
CE: Cannabis is not physically addictive. It’s not something, that when you stop using it, you’re going to vomit. You’re going to do that with opiates. You’re not going to have diarrhea for three days; you’re going to do that with opiates. You’re not going to be nauseous; cannabis removes the nausea. You’re not going to have leg cramps and dehydration; you have that with heroin, but you don’t with marijuana. You’re not going to have headaches; when you start smoking marijuana or doing an edible, you don’t have headaches. You feel good, actually. You feel horrible with the heroin or opiates.
You don’t have the lethargy; you feel relaxed. The difference is that when people say marijuana makes you lazy; no, it doesn’t. Heroin makes you lazy. In heroin detox, you can’t get out of bed for a week. You’re literally lying in bed sweating. And then you’re cold, and then you’re sweaty, and then you’re cold. And you have no energy.
And cannabis doesn’t do that. Once it’s out of your system, you go back to doing your normal routine. So it’s not even in the same category, yet the DEA has it classified as a Schedule I, which makes no sense to me at all. If I put somebody in a room doing heroin, and somebody doing marijuana, in a couple of hours, the person is going to be sober off the marijuana. But the person coming off the heroin, when they come off heroin, it’s a mess — physically.
The one with marijuana can jump up and go to the gym. They will have no residual effects whatsoever. And it’s psychologically, not physically, addictive. They want it, because they enjoy it.
The difference, though, physically, with heroin, is that it’s a total body high. Every fiber of your body feels amazing. It highjacks your brain. So the problem with that is, when it comes out of your system, as good as the high was, that detox is going to be just as intense. That’s what people don’t understand.
But marijuana is more mellow. Now, just to give an example, I can’t smoke Gorilla Glue. That wigs me out. My stepson loves it. He can smoke a Gorilla Glue joint, and he’s just fine. I’m like, “Uh-uh.” I can feel, like, my fingers tingle, my face tingle, so it’s a matter of just knowing that’s a little too high-THC for me. Whereas, Lost Tribe? Awesome; perfect.
So, it’s also knowing the strain, and what it does. With heroin, because it’s illegal, you can’t say I’m going to have a little bit of heroin. There’s no such thing. And you don’t know what it’s cut with. So you’re getting fentanyl, you could be getting baby powder. You have no idea what’s in that baggie.
Versus when I walk into a dispensary, I know exactly what I’m going to purchase. Because it’s clean; it’s not tainted. There’s not pesticides on it, or all that kind of stuff. Whereas, with the heroin, it’s got all kinds of mess in it.
So what I tell people is I’d rather my clients use cannabis every single day, than ever touch heroin. And they’re like, “Oh my god! You’re telling people to use drugs!” Well, given the choice? I think it’s way better, yeah! Same thing with Big Pharma!
TS: Imagine the concept of actually using logic and science when it comes to addiction, rather than imposing moral judgments as the whole paradigm.
CE: That would be fantastic. If I could get our society to believe that? Where if you go to the doctor, and you take a Lexapro or a Paxil, or whatever, for your problem? When you could just go get some cannabis? It blows my mind. Every client I have who has anxiety, I tell them they need cannabis. And they’re like, “You’re kidding, right?” No. I would rather you go do some oil, do an edible, do something to relieve the anxiety, than go take all these pharma drugs. They’re going to destroy your body.
It’s a lot easier than you think to come off opioids with cannabis. It’s a lot safer than you think. And it really takes your symptoms away. That’s what a lot of people are scared of, because detox is horrible. And I tell them all, I’ve helped a lot of people coming off opiates. I’ve even helped people come off Suboxone, using cannabis. So, try it. Just try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.