Historically speaking, the idea of addiction as a brain disease is a very new one. People once saw addiction as a personality flaw and a sign of weakness. This stigma still persists in society today and is a major challenge for addicts and the people who treat them.
Until its prohibition in 1937, extract of cannabis (marijuana) was one of the top three most prescribed medicines in the US.
"An addict can no more stop their behavior than a Parkinson's patient can stop their shaking."
Dr. Glen Hanson
Our attitudes about drug use in society are also continually evolving. In the not-so-distant past, drugs now considered dangerous, like cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, were prescribed for everything from sleeplessness in children to weight loss.
When we treat drug addiction are we just replacing one drug with another? Does the addict simply become addicted to a legal drug? No. With pharmaceutical substance-abuse treatment the user can begin to function normally again and stop the cravings. But many of yesterday's treatment options were far from perfect and some are still in use today. New treatments are being developed as the neurobiology of addiction continues to be revealed, but treating drug addiction remains a medical challenge.
Under close supervision, a woman receives her daily dose of methadone, a drug to treat heroin addiction.
Some drugs are used as part of cultural or religious practices. Marijuana, for example, has a rich history of religious use in India, Africa and Jamaica.
Peyote, a mescaline-containing cactus, is considered sacred by the Native American Church and is used in rituals by special permission from the US government.
Controlled drugs like morphine, codeine and ketamine are prescribed by medical doctors for their pain-relieving and anesthetic properties. Researchers are conducting studies to determine if other controversial drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy may hold therapeutic potential.
Should the use of illegal drugs be permitted for cultural or religious purposes?
Ecstasy is currently in clinical trials for use in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder.
Research shows that the compounds in marijuana could be used to treat certain types of medical conditions. Some even encourage the legalization of 'medical marijuana' (the smoking of marijuana for medical purposes). But others are against the legalization of medical marijuana. They think it would lead to increased abuse of the drug, and prefer to look for alternatives to smoking. Where do you stand in the medical marijuana debate?
Do clinical trials on illegal drugs like ecstasy send the message that recreational use of the drug is OK?
Salt Lake County Substance Abuse Services
The importance of establishing standards for medical marijuana use.
Imagine your mind racing from thought to thought, or not being able to tell the difference between reality and a hallucination. Imagine feeling not much at all, your mind numb to any pleasure you might receive from relationships, hobbies, school or work.
These are just a few of the symptoms that accompany mental illnesses like schizophrenia, mood disorders and depression. Do you think people with a mental illness might be more likely to use drugs? Why? What if using certain drugs temporarily relieved the symptoms? Would this increase the likelihood of drug use?
Should society treat drug addicts with mental illness differently than other drug addicts?
Dr. Glen Hanson
Why do more than 70% of schizophrenics smoke?
The most commonly prescribed medication for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is Ritalin. This treatment has helped thousands of people control their symptoms.
But because Ritalin is a stimulant chemically similar to cocaine, it also has the potential for abuse. In fact, they are so similar that Ritalin and cocaine even compete for the same binding sites on neurons.
Dr. Glen Hanson
What if someone with ADHD was self-medicating with cocaine?
Ritalin is now the most abused prescription drug in the U.S., and the majority of users are middle-school aged youth.
Although they are legal, addiction to prescription medications can occur just like with drugs obtained on the black market. How are society's perceptions of a drug's safety influenced by its legal status?
What if you could take a genetic test to determine your susceptibility to addiction? If the results of the test showed a high addictive potential perhaps you might be forced to get a vaccine and participate in a prevention program. Or if you were in court on a drug charge, perhaps the court might rule more sympathetically.
What if your test showed you have low addictive potential? Would you be more likely to experiment with drugs knowing your results? Or perhaps you could be deemed guilty immediately if you were in court for a drug violation.
Should knowing that there is a genetic susceptibility to addiction change how society views and treats addiction? What about the addicts themselves?