Attempts to withdraw from opiates, such as heroin or oral narcotics, generally brings on very unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms. High relapse rates and limited sustained treatment success for prevailing opiate addiction regiments are cause for continuing to search for new approaches. For some opiate addicts, there may also be the issue of dual-diagnosis, so achieving abstinence from opiates could be further complicated by concurrent mental disorders, i.e. their compulsion to be consuming something.
Cannabinoid-opioid system cross-talk
Cannabinoid-opioid interactions may generate alternative interventions in management of opiate dependence and withdrawal. This has been observed in scientific studies which revealed synergistic effects of cannabinoid-opioid pairings, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9 -THC, which is the psychoactive component of marijuana). Cannabinoids have been shown to exert cross-antagonism within the opioid system, meaning it helps inhibit signaling of receptor antagonism, suggestive of less fighting by the body, leading to a reduction in opioid withdrawal signs.
How cannabinoids are able to moderate the opioid system may be through alterations in the level of endogenous opioids or their receptors following cannabinoid administration, suggesting a regulatory role in opioid release in the body.
Can CBD Treat Opioid Addiction?
Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is a compound extracted from the cannabis plant, which includes marijuana and hemp. CBD can help ease some pain, seizures, and anxiety. Yet unlike cannabis’s other well-known compound, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD does not get people high. Hence, there is an increasing interest in CBD as a treatment; not just to ease pain but also to see if the compound can reduce the addictive reliance on opioids. Still being researched is whether CBD (alone or in combination with THC) could be a tool in fighting against the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States. What is known so far is CBD affects pain reduction, which could make it an effective substitute for opioids. That’s helpful as an alternative to turning to prescription opioids, but what about those who are already addicted to opioids?
Weaning off of Opioids
The overdose crisis is due in part to the doctor’s prescription pad. Overprescribing of narcotic pills or refills, coupled with rampant doctor shopping (seeking out another doctor when a former doctor has expressed they will no longer refill a prescription) are common.
Studies of the combined administration of opioids together with cannabinoids, find they produce synergistic pain relief when taken together. This means cannabis works together with opiates to enhance the pain relief provided by opioids. As such, lower doses of opioid-based medicines have been found to be needed to achieve the same desired relief from (chronic) pain; often reducing opioid use by half. And, cannabis does not produce the mental fog and other unpleasant side effects symptomatic of opioids.
Research Continues for an Opioid Addiction Solution
Further clinical studies are still needed to derive firm conclusions, yet recent research has shed light on the influence of endocannabinoids on the opioid system suggesting that targeting the endocannabinoid system may provide for managing opiate dependence and importantly, spurring the desired withdrawal from that opioid dependency.