Editor’s Note: A few years ago the notion that cannabis could be an exit drug—a tool to help people overcome opioid addiction—was considered fairly radical. Now it’s becoming more widely accepted, thanks to more research and the stories of experience shared by those doing the daily work of recovery. Photojournalist Charles Mostoller set out to document the stories of those who are using cannabis to leave opioids and point their lives in a positive direction. Their experiences are recounted below.
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.
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