One challenge that comes up for those recovering from drug addiction is increased anxiety and cravings when they are exposed to cues or triggers such as situations, places, or objects that remind them of that drug.
Those responses can increase the likelihood of relapse.
Researchers at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York looked specifically at how CBD might help ease the cravings and anxiety that come up in response to these cues.
Researchers gave 42 heroin-abstinent participants who suffer from heroin use disorder either Epidiolex (an FDA approved CBD-based drug) or a placebo.
The participants were then exposed to drug-related cues, such as objects related to the drug use like rubber ties and syringes, or videos of others using heroin. Before and after these sessions, participants were questioned about their level of anxiety and craving for the drug. In general, anxiety and cravings spiked after being exposed to these cues.
Both anxiety and cravings for heroin were significantly lower for those who were given CBD than those who had been given the placebo. For those who took the placebo, the average increase in cravings and anxiety after the drug-cue session was 75% higher than for those who took a high dose (800 milligrams) of CBD.
In other words, CBD was able to keep anxiety and cravings from escalating too much in response to these reminders of drug use. CBD even continued to offer these benefits up to a week after it was taken — suggesting that its effects are long lasting.
The researchers on the paper concluded that CBD has a strong potential to reduce cue-induced craving and anxiety, and should be researched more in the future to gain a better understanding of how to effectively utilize it as a treatment option for opioid addiction.
There were some limitations to this study, however. For one thing, cravings and anxiety were measured with self-reported measures, which can sometimes introduce unreliability or bias. Still, the authors note that the self-reported measures of anxiety and cravings were consistent with biological measures observed. Biological signs of anxiety like heart rate and cortisol levels (a hormone involved in anxiety) also decreased for the CBD group.
The study was also limited by a few positive tests for THC (another medicinal chemical in cannabis) amongst the participants. This could indicate that some were using cannabis outside of the study. If that were the case, it would be unclear whether CBD or THC was causing the beneficial effect for that participant.
Still, despite these limitations, the results suggest that CBD could be a huge help to those suffering from opioid addiction. Further research could help to confirm these findings.
Previous Research on Cannabis for Opioid Addiction
This study adds to the somewhat conflicted debate about whether marijuana can help with the opioid crisis — an ongoing global health crisis which takes over 130 lives every day in the United States alone and is responsible for the vast majority of the world’s deaths by drug overdose.
In light of this tragedy, some have hung high hopes on marijuana as a potential solution, and there is some research to support this. One of the first pieces of evidence was a study that found deaths from opioid overdoses went down by 25% in states with legal cannabis. Unfortunately, later research found that this trend did not hold for all legal cannabis states — casting doubt on the original study’s claim.
Regardless, other studies have shown benefits for those using marijuana during opioid withdrawal. For one thing, weed can work as an opioid replacement. Combining marijuana with opioids has a synergistic effect which provides pain relief with less opioids use. One survey even found that 81% of patients prefer marijuana to opioids for pain relief.
Cannabis use can also increase success rates during opioid withdrawal. In light of this, some researchers and doctors support using cannabis for opioid reduction, while others say the research isn’t there yet and we need more before recommending. For one thing, despite its safety profile, using a rewarding psychotropic substance with its own risk of addiction might not be the right choice for some people struggling with substance abuse.
While the research is still limited, there is also strong reason to hope that marijuana — or cannabis-derived treatments — can help with the opioid crisis.
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