Episode 33: Dr Charles Flores – Legalizing Marijuana: An Integral Exploration of a Complex Reality

Episode 33
dr. charles flores, ph.d
legalizing marijuana
an integral exploration of a complex reality

“Pot is not a crime!”

I remember the rallying cry. That message, among many others, decorated the sea of poster board signs as thousands of people gathered outside the Colorado state capital building in support of marijuana legalization.

For years, people wrote the movement off. But their message spread, and their voices were heard. Now, residents of Colorado, California, Oregon, and more, have legalized recreational use of marijuana, and more will undoubtedly follow suit.

What does this mean for the world of addiction and treatment? What are we seeing on the front lines of the recovery work?

Dr. Charles Flores, Ph.D, a pioneer in the Integral approach to treatment, explored the complexity of legalization, substance abuse, addiction, and healing with the Integral Recovery team this week. His keen observations, born of an integrally informed, first-hand perspective lead to insights and questions with profound relevance to everyone whose life has been touched by addiction.

With all the information, misinformation, and myth surrounding the topic, weighing the positive and negative consequences of marijuana’s legal status can be a challenge. The effects of legalization are complex, with implications for our physical health, psychological health, our family dynamics, and not least of all, the lower right quadrant of our systems and societies.

People have been using mind-altering substances for thousands of years for ritual and ceremonial purposes. Researchers have even proposed that the desire for altered states is a fundamental drive of consciousness. But do today’s substances, through distillation and amplified potency, have more potential to cause physical and psychological harm? Are today’s psychoactive drugs, even marijuana, more potentially addictive than those of the past?

But can legalization of marijuana have a net positive effect when it comes to addiction? Our history has shown that prohibition can create ruthless and powerful criminal organizations, the ongoing battle with whom has siphoned valuable resources away from communities in need of support.

Then, there’s the stigma and dehumanization of people who are arrested for non-violent possession crimes, and the impact this has on employability, family stability, the health of the community, and our future development. What if invested in education, recovery, and support, developing more effective personalized addiction prevention and treatment methods by taking substance use out of the shadows?

As we deepen into recovery, we see the complexity of topics like marijuana legalization with increased nuance and subtlety. In Integral Recovery, we’re consistently moving towards our highest selves, working for daily improvements in every area. As the legalization movement continues to spread, it’s our responsibility to use this shifting public sentiment to deepen our understanding of addiction, recovery, and ourselves. We have an opportunity to help others, and to help ourselves. Let’s continue to work with deep commitment and empathetic understanding on this unfolding journey of evolution.

Dr. Charles Flores, Ph.D.

Dr. Charles Flores has facilitated healing and recovery for people with a wide array of addictions, from drug and alcohol abuse, to behavioral and interior neurochemical addictions, including sex and love addiction, abandonment patterns, sexual compulsions, gambling, internet addiction, and workaholism.

The deeper level of healing work is where Dr. Flores shines. His unique education and upbringing in the South Bronx, as well as the insights he’s garnered by working with clients of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic classes, religious beliefs, and sexual orientations, have informed and expanded his Integral approach to psychotherapy, where he treats the anxiety, depression, trauma, and other underlying psychological issues that often appear only when the veil drugs and addictive behaviors has lifted.

Using a truly Integral synthesis of psychological, spiritual, and healing modalities, Dr. Flores combines Arnold Lazarus’ multimodal approach, Ken Wilber’s AQAL map, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Buddhist psychology, family systems (genograms and constellations), as well as brainwave entrainment, biofeedback and other technologies.

By fostering and encouraging a direct and personal experiential spiritual practice, Dr. Flores helps people learn to turn on the light inside themselves, empowering them to recover and discover their lives.

Learn More about Dr. Charles Flores:


Episode themes:

An Integral Recovery examination of the legalization of marijuana

Family issues from behavioral patterns, to beliefs, to incarceration, to trauma, and how these factors influence our predisposition to addiction and the work of recovery

The historical use of mind-altering substances and the distillation process that has amplified their potency

Translating the resourcefulness displayed in addiction into a powerful force for healing in recovery work

Authentic happiness vs. the illusion of happiness, and how doing uncomfortable things can lead to physiological feelings of well-being

Recovery or Discovery? Opening our eyes to the lessons and gifts of the process of treatment and the hard work of growth and transformation

The awareness required to take action and help those most in need

The Bodhisattva view of recovery and growth

The societal stigmatization in the lower-right quadrant, and its impact on the other three quadrants

Functional and semi-functional addiction, and how the belief that “rock bottom” is necessary is causing severe harm to society

The progression to mastery and the need for guidance, support and mutual respect from a treatment provider who’s on the journey with you

Episode Resources:

Getting Stronger (excellent blog on Hormesis)
Integral Recovery: A Revolutionary Approach to the Treatment of Alcoholism and Addiction (SUNY series in Integral Theory)
The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions-More Inclusive, More Comprehensive, More Complete
Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, Second Edition
Profound Meditation Program
Profound Releasing
Stealing Flow: Complete Brainwave Suite for Flow State Mastery (iAwake Technologies and Doug Prater)
Deep Recovery – a guided meditation from iAwake Technologies

In this episode:

[1:35] The burning question, no pun intended: What does an integrally informed recovery counselor and psychotherapist think about the legalization of marijuana, and what effects is it having, as seen through Dr. Flores’s clients?
[2:16] Legalization of marijuana is a complex issue, and to speak about it integrally, we need to look at the issue through its impact on all four quadrants. Does legality or illegality have an impact on reduction of use? What about the effects on the illicit drug trade, and rates of incarceration?
[4:13] Regardless of legal status, what are the effects of marijuana on the developing brain, as far as maturation and growth is concerned? What the impacts of culture (both “pop culture” and one’s familial culture) on the decision to use?
[5:49] Is the legalization of marijuana solving more problems than it’s creating, or vice versa? Is pot more dangerous than alcohol? Where do we go from here?
[7:02] How does the history of various cultures ingesting mind-altering substances, for ceremonial (and other) purposes, impact what’s happening today? And are today’s substances, cultures, and usage patterns different?
[8:04] Distillation, genetic and chemical engineering, and intentional breeding: How today’s psychoactive drugs are exponentially more potent than they’ve ever been, and the impact of this fact on the debate surrounding historical and contemporary usage.
[9:22] The plants, in and of themselves, are not necessarily the problem. People in South America, for example, have been using coca leaves for numerous purposes for thousands of years. The trouble arises when we distill and alter the substances to today’s levels of extreme potency.
[11:22] The potency correlation with internet addiction – high speed pornography and social media, and the levels of internal chemical stimulation and reward hijacking that are ancient brains aren’t equipped to process.
[12:00] Using technology to enhance, rather than exacerbate, our recovery: Our technologies, like plant substances, aren’t inherently bad. It’s our responsibility to use our technology (which we’re going to do anyway) for purposes that support our growth and development, instead of purposes that bring additional challenges and problems into our lives?
[12:45] From gambling, to internet gambling, to fantasy sports, and more, the modern world has been designed to engage and take advantage of our neural wiring to make behaviors addicting. Is regulation the answer?
[13:45] Using the funds accrued through regulation to support education and treatment, thereby acknowledging and caring for potential problems that arise
[15:05] Legal or illegal, we need awareness and knowledge to combat addiction and its impact on society. Legalization can be a way to support that goal.
[15:35] Is marijuana addictive? Responsibility and risk factors for addiction to any substance, including genetic background, society, psychology, and more.
[16:22] The effects of legalization vs. criminalization on families through incarceration and post-incarceration employability.
[17:24] What are the drugs of choice for teenagers and the high-school population, and what are the effects of substance use on behavior, truancy, motivation, and judgement?
[19:08] How the plethora of misinformation and disinformation on the internet confuses the discussion about legalization, and why we need to work with the same facts to reach consensus and make the best decisions on this complex issue.
[19:24] Is marijuana a gateway drug? Is trauma the gateway drug to abuse?
[20:04] Humanity’s craving for ecstasis and altered states, and how we can learn to achieve these states in ways that are healthy and beneficial to ourselves and allow us to serve the world in meaningful ways that promote morality, growth, and beauty.
[21:35] Making people “stakeholders” in their lives to create a sense of morality and promote right action through ownership
[22:17] Starting at a deficit: when trauma is passed down through generations. Genograms are far deeper than genetic propensity for addiction.
[23:15] How the neighborhood we’re born in can affect our lives and our decisions simply through its impact on what’s available to us. Do we live near the health food store or the head shop?
[24:00] Using the trauma that surrounds us, in our families and our neighborhoods, at a catalyst for reflection that empowers us to make different decisions and have different dreams, enabling us to change our reality
[26:15] Every client who comes in for treatment, whether to a psychotherapist, a recovery center, or a twelve-step group, has resilience. The fact that someone in need of recovery and support was able to make it through the door shows a willingness to find solutions and overcome obstacles.
[26:55] The resilliance and resourcefulness that allowed a person to survive their addiction can (and must) be redirected to their recovery and to shifting their identity and behaviors.
[27:59] How seeing the way others are living their lives can expand our perspectives and inspire us to make different decisions, leading to personal and societal evolution, and breaking free from the chains of our neighborhoods, our peers, our families, and our cultures.
[29:02] Even if we’ve never picked up a drug, addiction or dysfunction in our families can cultivate unhealthy thoughts, beliefs, and behavioral patterns – and we remain unaware of them until we see something different.
[30:22] The contrast between true fulfillment and artificial fulfillment, and how mastery leads to a natural enjoyment and “high” that continues to evolve, whereas drugs and alcohol create a temporary false high, which leads us deeper into despair
[31:52] Hormetism, the application of progressive, intermittent stress to overcome challenges and grow stronger physically, mentally and emotionally.
[32:55] Using Stealing Flow as a tool to “get over the hump” and move forward when you’re resistant to practices and activities that are challenging but beneficial. The binaural beats and brainwave entrainment technology for flow states is a safe and healthy way to achieve the ecstasis of altered states and contribution
[34:23] Making the story of human development one of the potential of each individual – a philosophy of universal empowerment and possibility
[35:07] Integral Recovery for everyone – the Practice of Life is not just for addicts. How the art of deep practice and incremental improvement forms a basis for an incredible life of ongoing development, contribution, and purpose.
[37:30] Recovery or Discovery? Our journey can be a positive message and gift through the lifelong development, growth, and self-knowledge that it catalyzes. Addiction, pain, and trauma can be the gateway to open into a larger vision of possibility for our lives.
[38:44] Why and how to develop awareness of the unscrupulous companies, people, and practices like human trafficking of the disenfranchised, scamming Medicaid, and otherwise taking advantage of people are systems, and what we can do about it: how to advocate for those in need of help to make a larger impact
[40:36] Living in the age of electronics: How does the constant background hum of living in a society permeated with electronic devices impact our health, blood pressure, stress levels, and other biological markers? Can this phenomenon lead to an increase in rates of addiction and substance abuse?
[42:50] Bringing a bodhisattva orientation to recovery: Nobody’s sober until we’re all sober, so we expand our love, care and compassion to all who suffer, human and otherwise, in our contemporary post-modern society.
[44:36] Dealing with the systemic dehumanization of addicts, and why we must shift our perception, at a societal level, of who addicts are and who they can be. How allowing the possibility of healing can lead to re-humanization and successful reintegration into society.
[45:15] Shifting the penal system to a model that promotes recovery and education instead of merely punishment – one that helps those in need address the root issues behind their addictions and behaviors.
[45:55] Addressing the question of anonymity to shift the stigmatization of addiction by showing how prevalent addiction and recovery are, and how it’s closer to home than many people realize.
[47:07] The dangers of functional addiction and the tremendous harm to society that addicts in positions of power, influence, and affluence can cause, especially when left untreated. Addiction is not limited to society’s stereotypes.
[49:41] The hidden tragedy of functional addiction is never becoming who you can be and never realizing your potential to contribute to a better world (and a better life for one’s self).
[51:00] Why the “rough” and hard-line domineering approach of many twelve-step groups, which emphasizes denial and “hitting one’s bottom”, is pushing away many people in need of help, compassion, and support.
[52:05] The shift towards a collaborative, client-driven treatment model, and why the increased emphasis on empathy and listening can lead to better recovery rates for growing numbers of people.
[52:50] How the Affordable Care Act has helped move treatment into a more medical, scientific modality, as opposed to the social-support model offered by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step groups, and how this can ultimately lead to a better understanding of the disease and its treatment.
[54:40] The deep level of trust that arises when treatment providers and recovery counselors are “in the trenches” doing the work with you, progressing along the same path of mastery and personal development
[55:15] Why certified substance abuse counselors are so valuable when they approach treatment with the right toolkit to really connect with clients in recovery, and how difficult this mentorship and inspiration can be.
[56:42] Ways to connect with Dr. Charles Flores, for treatment, psychotherapy, and coaching, both in person and/or through secure teleconferencing.


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  1. Angela on October 31, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    Yes a complex topic (legalization of marijuana) and explored with great intelligence and heart. Plus so much more covered in this great podcast. I appreciate the pointing out of “functional addiction” where people are in active addiction but are “managing” it well enough that they can function in their jobs. But there is also a lot of damage being done indirectly, due to the affects of the addiction on their behaviors and their decisions, not being at the best level. I’m thinking of poor judgement and lacks in relational skills but still being able to get by.

    There was a comment about co-occurring issues that are entwined with addiction, which don’t go away even when one gets sober. For myself I see, as a feature of my addiction, came hypervigilance, fear and “hiding” and the addiction to the adrenaline that comes from that. I trust it will change gradually over time, as part of the recovery process.

    Doug is doing such a great job of providing summaries for the podcasts now, I don’t want to repeat. I loved this podcast too and thank you for bringing Charles back. What a dynamic person and fun to watch his expressiveness.

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