Can Cannabis Treat Opioid Drug Addiction?Tyler Zaga
For the last few years, the world has been waking up to the various therapeutic potentials of cannabis and shedding off much of the social stigma over the green herb by intimate research. There is growing scientific evidence that the cannabinoids THC and CBD, along with the numerous terpenes present in cannabis, can help with the range of medical and psychological conditions.
Physicians and healthcare practitioners all over the world are now cautiously prescribing medical marijuana to help with chronic pains, inflammations, epileptic seizures, appetite loss, nausea, anorexia, glaucoma, insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression and many other health conditions.
Studies are currently working that cannabis might be quite effective in helping many symptoms experienced by patients suffering from life-threatening diseases like cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, Multiple Sclerosis, or mental disorders such as schizophrenia, PTSD, etc. Not only that, if we take the latest reports into account, cannabis might be breakthrough support for one of the biggest public health crises of this century – the opioid crisis. Given the severity of the opioid epidemic we are facing worldwide, this seems to be excellent news. Can cannabis treat opioid drug addiction? Let’s check out what the experts say.
Understanding the opioid epidemic: Can cannabis treat opioid drug addiction?
In the US and many other countries all over the world, the opioid overdose crisis in recent years has truly gained epidemic proportions. Opioid drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the US and every day, 128 Americans died from it. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans lost their lives to opioid overdose. That year, around 1.7 million Americans were found to be suffering from prescription opioid abuse and another 652,000 from heroin abuse. Another indicator of the extent of the crisis is the enormous economic burden it imposes on a nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that is estimated around $78.5 billion a year.
It is not the consumption of illicit opioid drugs like heroin or fentanyl that alone contributes to this huge public health crisis. The over-prescription and sale of opioid analgesics like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, methadone or morphine are equally responsible. People who take these medications for pain relief get hooked on these drugs and develop dependency. According to one estimate, nearly 21-29% of patients were prescribed with opioid painkillers and ended up abusing them.
In a report published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Dr. Debra Houry, Director of CDC’s National Center of Injury Prevention and Control, noted that the ‘Healthcare providers underestimate the risk of addiction of opioids and they overestimate the benefits’ and the over-prescription of opioid medicines for chronic, non-cancer pain outside palliative care is a major factor behind the epidemic of opioid dependency in the US. As Dr. Anna Lembke says in the same report, we need a different approach to pain management. “We need to change our narratives around pain, encourage notions of resilience and understand the limits of modern medicine.” Thankfully, we do have an alternative but equally effective method of pain relief which does not involve the use of modern medicine. As many scientific studies and clinical trials have proved, cannabis can be very helpful in various kinds of chronic pains for which opiates are prescribed. Can cannabis treat opioid drug addiction? Yes! Studies implied that marijuana, especially the cannabinoid CBD, can be quite helpful in this respect.
Can cannabis treat opioid drug addiction?
Considering cannabis as a support can help one overcome opiate dependency. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that the utilization of medical marijuana can help reduce the consumption of prescription opiates and thereby can help with the further occurrence of overdose and death. The agency also found evidence of decreasing opioid prescribing, self-reported opiate abuse and rate of admission to opioid addiction treatments in places where medical marijuana is legally utilized.
How can cannabis treat opioid drug addiction?
There is now emerging evidence that cannabis, especially CBD, can be a helpful treatment for opioid addiction itself. A major clinical trial conducted by Yasmin L. Hurd, a professor of neuroscience, psychiatry and pharmacology and the Director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai, New York, found out that cannabidiol or CBD, a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid in marijuana can help maintain normal emotional balance and craving in opioid addicts. 42 heroin users, who have been consuming the substance for over 10 years, took part in this randomized clinical trial.
Among the 42 participants, those who were administered CBD medications for 3 days experienced less cravings than those on placebo when they were exposed to drug cues. Those on CBD also showed a significant reduction of the physiological stress responses to drug cues such as elevated heart rates and salivary cortisol increases. The results of the study have led Hurd to conclude that ‘CBD holds significant promise for helping individuals with heroin use disorder.’
Moreover, the study has found that the use of CBD in opioid addiction treatment does not have any adverse side-effects. This is also very crucial as the usual medications for heroin addiction (like methadone and buprenorphine) come with their addiction risks. Methadone or buprenorphine are opiates themselves, only more manageable than heroin. Therefore, these medications don’t cure the craving, but only reduce the harm from opioid consumption by substituting a stronger or harmful variety with a milder one. Cannabidiol can provide support to a total breakthrough in this respect. The reason that CBD can be free of side-effects, Hurd believes, is the milder way cannabidiol helps the brain. As Hurd explains, ‘it’s not dramatically knocking something down or pushing something up. It’s just fine-tuning different systems.’
Although the recent findings held out significant promise, more scientific studies and clinical trials are required to fully understand CBD’s effectiveness in opioid addiction treatment. But there is no doubt that cannabis can be a less harmful and effectively helpful substitute for the common prescription opioid analgesics in the market. That way, cannabis can be very helpful to curb the current opioid dependency crises in many countries.