Opioid addiction is a serious problem in the United States, with overdoses killing hundreds of thousands of Americans in the last few decades. The opioid crisis has destroyed countless families, careers, relationships and is a massive drain on the economy, costing billions annually in law enforcement costs, lost productivity, and medical and emergency costs.
Cannbidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive, non-addictive compound found in the cannabis plant, including industrial hemp. CBD doesn’t get you high like another cannabis compound — the more well known THC. So how can CBD help with the opioid crisis? Before we tackle that topic, it’s important to understand what opioids do in the first place.
How Opioids Affect Our Bodies
Opioids are used to reduce pain, but they also produce a heightened sense of euphoria and pleasure, which in turn activates the brain’s reward pathways. Over time, continued use will cause a person’s sensitivity to the drug to decrease, resulting in a higher dosage needed to achieve the desired effect. This is where opioid use really gets dangerous.
When opioid users try to quit, or when their prescriptions run out, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal, ranging from mild irritability to anxiety to heightened sensitivity to pain. This may cause the need for inpatient medical detox.
Another danger zone: in order to avoid the pain and discomfort of withdrawals, the user may end up taking more even when they want to quit, eventually cornering themselves in an endless cycle of opioid addiction that can become all but impossible to overcome.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that opioid overdoses take the lives of 130 Americans every day, and cannabis may be one of the keys to battling the opioid epidemic. States that permit medical cannabis have 24 percent fewer deaths by opioid overdose than states that do not. Cannabis may also support people who are trying to quit using opioids by helping with withdrawal symptoms.
Can CBD Help Treat Opioid Addiction?
In particular, CBD has been shown to aid in the reduction of drug-seeking behavior. Because CBD may provide relief for a cross-section of symptoms — like chronic pain, mood or anxiety disorders or other issues — that could lead people to using opioids, CBD may help people to manage pain their pain or other condition without getting them high or addicted.
Because of CBD’s inflammation reduction, anti-anxiety properties and influence on neurotransmitters and neuroreceptors in the brain, CBD may be able to help fight addiction by addressing every stage in the opioid addiction cycle.
Traditional treatment for opioid addiction often includes Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT), which involves more opioids like suboxone. Suboxone may help wean the user off of stronger opioids, but it can be addictive in its own right and adds to the staggering statistics of opioid addiction in the United States.
If we start with some of the reasons why a user might become a user, we find that CBD may help to prevent addiction before it starts. CBD may provide relief for many of the conditions that make people vulnerable to addiction in the first place: pain, insomnia and mood disorders.
Experts have suggested that Americans can become addicted to opioids in usage periods as short as five days after events like an accident, surgery or even a dental operation.
CBD Solutions to Opioid Addition
CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety and control cravings for opioids. CBD does this without increasing the probability of addiction, inducing any side effects or getting a person high. As opposed to replacing one addiction for another (as many opioid replacement therapies, like methadone, suboxone, et.al., do), CBD may act as a natural non-psychoactive, non-addictive solution for overcoming opioid withdrawal and reducing the chance of relapse.
CBD may also help those who are already suffering from opioid addiction. Studies have shown CBD may help reduce cravings and reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms. In addition, for those who have quit using opioids, CBD may support their healing regimen by reducing the likelihood of opioid relapse.
A 2017 paper published in Trends in Neuroscience indicates that CBD reduces heroin cravings and may restore the neurobiological damage of opioid abuse. In this and many other studies, CBD has been demonstrated to have a direct interaction with serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain. Both of these receptors become damaged with excessive opioid abuse and limit the ability of the brain to properly process physical, psychological and emotional actions.
Preclinical animal studies performed on lab rats demonstrate that CBD reduces the reward properties of opioid drugs. In addition, CBD reduces the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms. Here’s a visual for you on how the study was conducted, as the scientist version is way too much high school chemistry!
The rat gets set up in an experiment where it pushes a lever to get a reward — either morphine, another opioid, or an electrical zap into one of the reward centers in the rat’s brain, stimulating that pleasure reward action.
In the study, when CBD was added to the rat’s system, the rat didn’t push the heroin button as much. The CBD produced the result of reducing the rat’s craving for heroin.
Since cannabis is largely unregulated, it is important to know which CBD products have been formulated responsibly. The CBD your use should be free from contaminants and contain the ingredients that are on the ingredient list. A 2017 JAMA study that evaluated CBD products available online found that 26 percent of them contained less CBD than what was listed on the product description.
Every person is different, which means that dosage calculation and experimentation are necessary and important. Knowing what’s in the CBD helps maintain consistency in dosing or addiction recovery protocols.
If you are looking for CBD, seek out companies that conduct third-party testing of their CBD and can provide you with a Certificate of Analysis, or COA. The COA will show how much CBD, THC and other compounds the CBD product contains. In addition, the COA will show how the product performed in tests that check for contaminants. Beware if you can’t find a COA on the company’s website, and certainly if the company refuses to share it with you. If they’re a responsible, professional CBD manufacturer they will have no problem producing a COA for you.