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With More Weed, More Recovery

If your consumption of cannabis products is a problem, there are more sources of help than ever before.

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Weed is now advertised on billboards, available for home delivery, analyzed and praised like fine wine, even served at weddings. Instead of buying from furtive dealers, people stroll into pot emporiums as curated and immaculate as a Whole Foods. Cannabis is part of the everyday social fabric, as unremarkable as a cold beer on a hot day.

But we all know people who enjoy weed too much. Just like life's other great indulgences — booze, pizza, ice cream — cannabis has its limits. It's possible to overdo it, and some people hold their THC better than others.

Fortunately, the East Bay has plenty of options for people seeking treatment for marijuana addiction, or who simply want to cut back. Kaiser, Alta Bates-Summit, and the Alameda County Health System all offer a full array of services for those trying to quit weed: Inpatient, outpatient, one-on-one drug treatment counseling, classes and drop-in group meetings.

Plus, the East Bay is replete with (Fill-in-the-Vice) Anonymous meetings. You can try Marijuana Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, or any variation thereof. You can mingle with Chardonnay Moms in Walnut Creek, or high achievers at 6 a.m. meetings, or the chain smokers who cluster outside Kaiser's CDRP office. If you stop by 3989 Howe St. in Oakland, you'll find meetings pretty much 24-7. And for long-suffering family and friends, there's always Al-Anon. You'll hear many tales of bad boyfriends and errant teenagers, which can take your focus off your own issues. 

For those of you thinking, "This is all fine, but weed is not addictive," Dr. Joshua Kayman, medical director of MPI Chemical Treatment Services at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, has this message: "Pot is addictive."

He said that 50 percent of those who smoke, eat, vape, or otherwise ingest marijuana on a daily basis are addicted. By "addicted," he means that marijuana has affected someone's ability to function at work, school and in relationships; that they've tried to quit but can't; and they have to use more and more to achieve the same affect.

"Do you wish you could stop but find it difficult?" he said. "Have your family or friends expressed concern about your marijuana use? That's a good sign you might need treatment."

Studies are mixed about the effects of marijuana use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some have found that regular, long-term weed use can lead to lower IQ and reduced attention and memory, while other studies have been inconclusive, finding that those symptoms may be attributable to other factors.

What's more convincing is the impact on youth. Many studies have shown strong links between adolescent marijuana use and cognitive impairment, which can become permanent even if a person quits.

Anecdotally, Kayman said he's seen an uptick in people seeking treatment for addiction and overdoses — especially from edibles — since legalization. He's also seeing a jump in people testing positive for weed at work. There seems to be a misconception among marijuana users, he said, that just because it's legal means your boss will be OK with it. 

Local emergency rooms also have seen an increase in something called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, Kayman said. What is CHS? It's throwing up — a lot. For some people, the compounds in weed affect molecules in the esophagus, triggering "repeated and severe bouts of vomiting," according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Often the only relief is a hot shower. 

So there's many reasons to quit or cut back weed. It's not easy, but you'll have plenty of company. Just pop into any Friday night NA meeting and you'll find dozens of new friends. And the good news, Kayman said, is that wanting to quit is the No. 1 factor in success.

"It's all about motivation," he said. "What's important is that you get into some kind of treatment. Not what kind. Inpatient. Outpatient. Peer support. Drug treatment counseling. It doesn't really matter. Whatever works."

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