This piece first appeared in Cannabis Now.
The U.S. opioid epidemic’s 15 minutes of fame have sort of fizzled out. It’s not that the problem has gone away or even gotten better. It certainly hasn’t. No, despite all of the attempts to put a tighter leash on American pill poppers, drug seekers and gutter junkies, more people than ever are being savagely overcome by opioid addiction.
What’s worse is, most people do not tango with this monster and win. And many of them, tens of thousands every year, simply do not make it out alive. Sure, there are treatments. There’s always rehab or 12-step programs — and a little luck doesn’t hurt either. Still, the effectiveness of these therapies is far from some magical trapdoor where the rock bottom just gets to slide through and get back to good. Most people struggling with addiction, especially those pounded out by opioid painkillers and heroin, are doomed to have this vicious beast gnawing on their backs for all time.
The cravings associated with this disease are just too intense, and they never seem to rest. It is for this reason that a large percentage of addicts in recovery eventually return to the nod. The warm and fuzzy is just too damn good to leave behind forever.
But what if addicts could diminish these cravings with CBD? If the results of a new study hold any validity, it is conceivable that one day they could.
Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York believe they have stumbled onto evidence suggesting that cannabidiol (CBD) might be part of the solution in preventing heroin addicts from returning to the needle. The non-intoxicating compound of the Cannabis sativa L. plant was found to reduce anxiety and cue-inducing cravings in a small study published earlier this week in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
“To address the critical need for new treatment options for the millions of people and families who are being devastated by this epidemic, we initiated a study to assess the potential of a non-intoxicating cannabinoid on craving and anxiety in heroin-addicted individuals,” said lead study author Yasmin Hurd, director of the hospital’s Addiction Institute, in an interview with NBC News. “The specific effects of CBD on cue-induced drug craving and anxiety are particularly important in the development of addiction therapeutics because environmental cues are one of the strongest triggers for relapse and continued drug use.”
In the study, researchers examined around 50 recovering heroin users (men and women) between the ages of 21 and 65. Half of them were given in upwards of 800 milligrams of CBD once a day while the others received a placebo. Throughout the experiment, researchers said they exposed the participants to several cues, some of which were drug-related. Much to their surprise, the patients who dosed with CBD seemed to experience less anxiety and were presumably not as fidgety about their newfound heroin-free existence. The CBD tribe also experienced a reduction in heart rate and other bodily reactions that are typical during times when drug addicts are being enticed by the prospect of a fix. These physiological responses carried on for a week following the conclusion of the study. “That’s really important,” Hurd told NBC News.
It is crucial to understand that the results of this study are just preliminary. Because opioid addiction is such a complex shakedown of the mental and physical being, it would be naïve to suggest, at least at this juncture, that all the addicts of the nation need to do is consume high doses of CBD to pull out of the funk. Even researchers connected to this study were quick to say that they cannot be sure whether their findings were the result of CBD or any number of other possible factors. They just don’t know. But realizing the anti-anxiety element of CBD is a positive first step to, well, somewhere.
For medical experts like Dr. Julie Holland, a New York psychiatrist and former assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, the latest study means fewer chronic pain patients falling into the grips of addiction. “CBD not only manages the anxiety and cue/craving cycle, it also diminishes the original pain and inflammation that leads to opiate use in the first place,” she told CNN. “It’s not addictive. No one is diverting it. It doesn’t get you high, but it can reduce craving and anxiety,” she added. “This can really help save lives.”
But can it really?
As we’ve pointed out in the past, while it has been suggested that marijuana could be an alternative to opioid painkillers, the success of its application is really only as reliable as the commitment of the patient. Some opioid users do not fall into the world of addiction simply because their doctor wrote them a prescription for pain pills following an injury. Some enter on their own volition and free will. These are the recreational users – those just trying to numb it out – all of it. It seems unlikely that this group could be swayed to replace the sensation of opioids with marijuana.
But there are plenty of patients who do not wish to be consumed by the throes of addiction. It is these people that stand the best chance at finding success with cannabis or maybe just CBD on its own.
Researchers say they plan to ramp up their CBD studies in the future to learn more about how it can be used to battle opioid addiction.