Imagine checking into a rehab clinic one afternoon, undergoing anesthesia, and waking up a few hours later completely detoxed from opiates. No dope sickness. No cravings. Just feeling clean, refreshed, and totally free from your addiction. Ready to start a clean and sober life. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, the Waismann method claims to do just that. This clinical rapid detox treatment has been around since 1999, and it claims to circumvent the agony of opiate withdrawal. Is rapid detox safe? And does it work for recovery long term?

Waismann Method Rapid Detox

Waismann Method vs Rapid Detox

The terms “Waismann Method” and “rapid detox” are often used interchangeably in the recovery community. But the real picture is a little more nuanced.

When it was first introduced in 1999, the Waismann method branded itself primarily as a rapid medical detox service. But as opiates have proliferated and we’ve learned more about long term treatment outcomes, centers that use the “Waismann Method” have broadened their scope of treatment. After all, addiction is a highly individualized disease. What’s right for one person wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone.

Most centers who use the Waismann method understand this. But their primary distinction as a treatment program is their anesthesia-assisted rapid detox.

Anesthesia-Assisted Rapid Detox

So what is rapid detox, exactly? This excerpt is taken from an interview with one of the founders of the Waismann Method, Michael Lowenstein, MD:

The Waismann Method is a medical procedure done in a full service hospital. We bring the patients in, do a full history and physical. We pre-medicate them with medications that block the withdrawal symptoms. And then while under sedation, we give them medication that precipitates, or accelerates, the withdrawal. A typical withdrawal can take 7-14 days. It can be really miserable. For the Waismann method, we give the patients IV sedation, and then give them medication that makes them withdraw while they’re asleep. So it’s very effective, it’s safe, it’s humane. (See Original Interview)

Anesthesia-assisted rapid detox seeks to circumvent the painful, agonizing physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal by placing patients under sedation for a few hours. The founders of the Waismann Method argue that this period of dope sickness, while not usually fatal, is unnecessary and keeps people from getting clean. Supposedly, fear of dope sickness itself impedes people from seeking help. But normal detox already addresses the physical symptoms of withdrawal under clinical supervision.

So the question becomes, “What’s the difference between normal detox and rapid detox?” Is there any benefit to going under sedation?

Rapid Detox vs Titrated Detox

The body adapts to change well when it’s over a prolonged period of time. This phenomenon when getting onto drugs is known as building tolerance. With detoxing, the idea is to take that process and go backwards. That way, the body reverts to its baseline clean and sober state. Detox happens when the body is attempting to reverse a chemical dependency that it has so carefully built up over years.

Waismann Method Rapid DetoxThe physical symptoms during detox depend on the individual’s drug of choice. Withdrawals from benzos and alcohol can (and do) kill people if not handled under clinical supervision. But the Waismann Method of rapid detox was specifically crafted to handle opiate withdrawals. While not usually fatal, dope sickness is physically excruciating. Buprenorphine, the standard detox drug used in treatment centers today, helps alleviate these symptoms.

But ideally, individuals shouldn’t have to stay on buprenorphine indefinitely (though it’s an option). Titration schedules help individuals completely taper off of the buprenorphine under clinical supervision. Normal titrated detox from opiates typically takes 7-9 days in an inpatient treatment center. The Waismann Method of rapid detox, rather than using clinical supervision over these 7-9 days, simply uses anesthesia and precipitates withdrawals so they are over in a few hours. The Vivitrol shot helps manage cravings afterward once titration or rapid detox completes. With all other factors around treatment being equal, the value of anesthesia-assisted opiate detox remains in question.

Detox Memories Can Be Valuable in Recovery

Clearly, you won’t remember detox if you’re under anesthesia for the whole process. You might think this is a good thing with dope sickness living up to its terrible reputation. But with the assistance of titrated buprenorphine making normal 7-9 day opiate detox comfortable, comparing anesthesia-assisted detox to going cold turkey is a false dichotomy. Titrated detox isn’t all misery. It’s a period where you’re slowly weaned off of opiates with a confluence of helpful factors: detox medication, trained clinical staff, therapy, and an immersive treatment environment.

Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. So these memories made in detox (along with being plugged into a fellowship community) are valuable resources for the journey ahead. The fear of having to put your life on hold again for inpatient treatment acts as a deterrent against relapse. Anesthesia, on the other hand, simply removes recovering addicts from the process of getting healthy. While it may work for some, most addicts in long term recovery go the conventional route of titrated detox.


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