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Will CBD Help Opioid Addicts Kick Their Habits?

A new study suggests that cannabidiol might help some people with drug-use disorder kick their habits. It seems to ease cravings and anxiety.
Hand with pen drawing the chemical formula of CBD

Cannabidiol, known as CBD, may help opioid addicts kick their habits. Many people are enthusiastic about this compound derived from Cannabis. It is showing up in all kinds of products, mostly without much scientific basis for its use. That’s why scientists are paying attention to a recent placebo-controlled study (American Journal of Psychiatry, May 21, 2019).

What the Scientists Did:

The investigators recruited 42 volunteers who had been addicted to heroin, though they weren’t actively using the drug. The participants were split into three groups to get different medications: 800 mg of CBD, 400 mg of CBD and placebo. Each person got the test medication for three days and then participated in tests over the next two weeks. They viewed scenes of nature juxtaposed to scenes of drug paraphernalia. The scientists measured their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and had them rate their anxiety and cravings. Those who had taken CBD had significantly lower levels of craving and anxiety. Their cortisol levels were also significantly lower.

Will CBD Help People Kick Their Habits?

The researchers used Epidiolex, an FDA approved medication, for this research because they could control the dose closely. Scientists around the country are paying attention to these very interesting findings. They will need to conduct more research to learn just how best to use this compound. Clearly, CBD is not a magical solution to the opioid epidemic. However, it may help some people to kick their habits. 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Hurd YL et al, "Cannabidiol for the reduction of cue-induced craving and anxiety in drug-abstinent individuals with heroin-use disorder: A double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial." American Journal of Psychiatry, May 21, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.18101191
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Here’s something to think about. Much opioid use is not because people simply decided to use drugs. Many were given opioids by doctors to treat for serious pain (after surgery, severe chronic pain, etc). The doctors were misled by the manufacturers who claimed these drugs were not addictive and were fine for long-term use.

People who are addicted or in terrible, chronic (and very real) pain when the opioids are cut off try to get relief any way they can, and illegal street drugs can be as effective as opioids and much cheaper. The problem is they’re cut with other substances and can be much stronger than what the person is used to. This accounts for many of the overdoses. It’s a sad and terrible situation. I knew a fireman who was injured on the job and who became addicted to the opioids his doctor gave him. He couldn’t go back to work while on them, and he tried desperately to stop using them. He ended up as one of the sad overdoses on the stuff he tried to substitute for his pain meds.

I wonder if CBD use to combat pain could eliminate the need for many people to even start on opioids. This would reduce the risks of addiction and overdose. I know someone who has Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) who is currently using opioids. She wants to get off them because they aren’t helping with the pain very much, and she worries about using them long-term.

She plans to start CBD because it has been shown to be very effective against nerve pain. The people at the dispensary tell her she will have to gradually wean herself from the opioids she takes now. They are trained professionals and only sell medical marijuana, not for recreational use.

CBD oil (without THC) was given to me to relieve anxiety. I did not notice a big difference but I did notice that my extremely dry eyes were NOT dry any longer. I do think we have only scratched the surface of its variety of uses, and if it can help someone alleviate symptoms or even cure, why not try it?

Let me see if I understand the content of the above….the research is based upon using a drug to combat a drug addiction. Who in the world does not know that drugs kill, or at the very least will ruin your life? At some point in time, most addicts make a conscious decision to use drugs. We all live with the results of our decisions: good, bad or indifferent. Has anyone calculated how much money has been spent in trying to curb/punish/rehab drug users? Just think what medical research could do if those dollars were put into research and development. Maybe progress could be made in curing or discovering the cause of diabetes, Huntington’s disease, Autism, birth defects, dementia, mental diseases/disorders, the list could go on and on.

CBD has been a great help as I ramp down on opiates I took for cancer-related pain. I have also lost significant weight because I think my cortisol levels have normalized. I encourage people to try a tincture and experiment with dosages, more is not always better, it’s very individual. One correction, most CBD is made from hemp plant. It’s in the Cannabis family, but contains no THC. There are tinctures with small amounts of THC (not enough to make you feel high) and many say that helps activate the CBD. Addiction and chronic pain are complicated…why not try a potential option?

My husband was tired of all the side effects from the prescription opioids he had been taking for many years for chronic back pain. He asked his dr if there was an alternative and they suggested trying medical marijuana. The pharmacist at the dispensary is super knowledgeable and advised he use product with a higher CBD than THC ratio. He said the CBD helps with inflammation. After the initial opioid withdrawal passed, and it was just the CBD in his system, we both noticed an improvement both in general and his pain levels.
We have come to the conclusion that opioids have a place in modern medicine but it is definitely not for long term, chronic pain. They seem to make the pain worse, the longer you take them.

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