04 Oct Can CBD Oil Be Used To Treat Opioid Addiction?
Nationwide, we are experiencing an opioid addiction epidemic. Drug overdose deaths, mostly due to opioid abuse, are now the leading cause of fatal injury in the United States and have increased steadily for two decades*. For example, our Veteran population is experiencing a rate of 22+ deaths per day related to overdose from prescription pills and suicide. This staggering statistic is why our Veterans, and many others, are seeking alternative treatments to prescription pills.
Rising rates of opioid-related deaths, increasing rates of emergency department visits related to opioid use, and increasing rates of non-medical use of opioids have risen in correlation to increased sales and prescription of these same medications.
Some doctors, researchers, and drug-addiction specialists are confident that cannabidiol (CBD), a natural cannabinoid found in cannabis, effectively reduces the cravings and withdrawal symptoms in those addicted to opioids. Can CBD oil help reduce opioid addiction? Possibly, but first, let’s find out what opioids are and what they can be used for.
What are opioids?
Opioids (or opiates) are a type of narcotic pain medication, commonly referred to as “pain pills.” They can have many potentially serious side effects and can be extremely habit-forming. The body produces its own source, known as endorphins (or endogenous morphine). When those are insufficient for pain relief a prescription for narcotic opioids may be prescribed.
Opiates are made from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. Morphine and codeine are the two natural products of opium, the other types are synthetic versions.
Some types of opioids include:
- hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Norco, Vicodin)
- meperidine (Demerol)
- oxycodone (OxyContin)
- oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet)
- oxycodone and naloxone
How Opioids Work And Why They’re Addictive
Opioids bind to receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. They diminish pain messages that are sent to the brain and reduce feelings of pain. These types of pharmaceutical painkillers are usually prescribed after surgeries and other medical procedures, in an effort to minimize or ease pain.
The reason why opioids are hard to kick is the cyclic nature by which its symptoms occur. Opioids produce pleasure and euphoria, stimulating the brain’s reward pathways. With more and more use, tolerance builds while sensitivity lessens, and more is required to achieve the same effect. If you quit cold turkey, you will suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as pain, nausea, vomiting, and anxiety. Which will lead to using again, relapsing, and the vicious cycle continues. Or, is there another way?
CBD vs Opioid
Studies indicate that cannabidiol (CBD), a natural cannabinoid found in cannabis, effectively reduces the cravings and withdrawal symptoms in those addicted to opioids, a new research review concludes. Yasmin L. Hurd, PhD, the Director of the Center for Addictive Disorders for the Mount Sinai Behavioral Health System, examined the findings of animal studies and a small human pilot and published her findings in the journal “Trends in Neuroscience.”
In particular, there’s accumulating evidence suggesting that CBD reduces both withdrawal symptoms and the rewarding properties of opioids to decrease cravings.
“If you look at both drugs and where their receptors are, opioids are much more dangerous in part because of the potential for overdose. The opioid receptors are very abundant in the brainstem area that regulates our respiration so they shut down the breathing center if opioid doses are high,” said Dr. Hurd. “Cannabinoids do not do that. They have a much wider window of therapeutic benefit without causing an overdose in adults.”
Despite the dangers of the drugs, sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Policy makers have only recently acknowledged the nation’s epidemic of opioid overdoses.
While medical marijuana laws have been passed in 28 states, cannabis continues to be a neglected option by medical professionals because of the lack of clinical research. To be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, cannabis’ effects on humans needs to be tested by more. Unfortunately, cannabis’ Schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act makes it difficult to study the substance, particularly in clinical trials.
“Surprisingly, the scientific community has been largely missing from most conversations and policy-making decisions regarding the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
Normally, preclinical models provide the foundation for clinical trials and then, after years of rigorous, structured scientific investigations, accrued evidence is evaluated by federal agencies to determine whether a particular compound should be approved for the treatment of specific symptoms/disease,” said Dr. Hurd.
Hurd is now running a larger trial to further investigate whether cannabis could help people that are addicted to opioid substances.
“We have to be open to cannabis because there are components of the plant that seem to have therapeutic properties, but without empirical-based research or clinical trials, we’re letting anecdotes guide how people vote and how the policies are going to be made,” said Dr. Hurd. “For one of the first times in U.S. history, it is the general public and politicians, not scientists and physicians, who are determining the medical value of this drug in states where marijuana use has been legalized for medical purposes. Clearly, the legalization of marijuana has outpaced the science. But if we want to be able to accurately say something is medical marijuana, we have to prove that it is, indeed, medicinal.”
You can read the entire study, “Cannabidiol: Swinging the Marijuana Pendulum From ‘Weed’ to Medication to Treat the Opioid Epidemic” via Cell Press.