Cannabis as an Opioid Exit: 5 Real-Life Stories

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Britt Carpenter, 49

Philadelphia, PA. Runs a dog-care company. After going cold turkey, he started an Instagram community page called Philly Unknown. Carpenter does outreach with homeless people and heroin addicts.

I was in a car accident about 15 years ago. I broke my shoulder in five places, and I ended up not getting surgery but a lot of therapy. I was in a lot of pain, and a friend’s girlfriend, who had an ACL surgery, gave me this bag of pills. It was like a PEZ dispenser threw up in a bag. With that and whatever I could get my hands on from a doctor, it became like a smorgasbord.

Eventually I got away from them. But then about four years ago, I met the wrong person, who introduced me to heroin. I started using heavily. It was almost four years of using daily.

It was four years of hell. Four years of some of the most dark times that I’ve ever experienced. Lying to everybody. Losing friends. Losing jobs. Friends telling my parents about me.

The last OD I had, where they brought me back with Narcan, the cop looked at me and said, “You’re lucky we aren’t busy tonight or you wouldn’t be here.” And I thought, Wow, you need to change, to do something. The next day I stopped using. But I didn’t put myself into detox or rehab. I threw myself into photography. I always loved photography. I had done work with the homeless and always worked for the underdog, so I told myself if I go 30 days straight for the first time in four years, that I would start a community page on Instagram and pay it forward to the community. And after 30 days I did start it. And you know, I just hit 19 months clean off heroin, alcohol, everything except for pot.

I went cold turkey just using cannabis at the time. It helped with the shakes and with the paranoia. It helped with the sweats, helped my appetite. I gained like 40 pounds.

The funny thing is that I don’t even want to smoke pot, but it helps me. I don’t sleep a lot at night. I wake up, I’ll close my eyes, and I see things I don’t want to see. I think about the things that I’ve done, and it gets to me, it affects me. So I just use marijuana medicinally to stay on an even keel and to function and have no social anxiety. To be able to get out there and do the things I want to do.

So I started the Instagram page and it’s going strong, and I’ve developed a nonprofit out of it. The community has rallied to it, and we have over 7,000 organic followers. We do outreach in Kensington, and already I’ve saved three people with Nalaxone. We have people doing trainings next week. So I’m sort of harvesting all the negative I had for years, and I’m putting it towards a positive. Paying it forward. —BRITT CARPENTER

Laura Sharer, 35

Wilmington, DE. Mother of two, medical marijuana patient suffering from gastroparesis and fibromyalgia. After giving up opioids, she became an activist and co-founded the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network.

Bernadette Scarduzio, 38

Drexel Hill, PA. After giving up pain medicines and discovering cannabis, she started physical therapy and is now sponsored by an indoor therapy pool company.

Michael Whiter, 41

Philadelphia, PA. Former Marine, diagnosed with PTSD after leaving the military. After discovering cannabis and giving up pain meds, he became a local cannabis activist and budding photojournalist.

Deb Guy, 41

Lancaster, PA. Founded Lancaster chapter of NORML. After giving up pain meds and discovering cannabis, she took up singing and playing guitar.

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