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CBD: Aiding in the Fight Against Opioid Addiction

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is everywhere and continues to grow in popularity. New research is coming out every day regarding the potential benefits and applications for CBD and other cannabinoids.  But only one condition, a specific type of seizure disorder, has FDA approval for treatment. However, with new studies happening all over the country, the fronteir for CBD applications is wide open.  In fact, a new study suggested that CBD may potentially curb cravings in people with opioid dependence. This study is one of the first double-blind trials to show the benefits of using CBD outside epilepsy treatment.  Researchers can now say that CBD may play a role in the future against the national opioid addiction crisis.  Does this mean CBD cures Opioid Addiction?  No.  But, it may play some role in the development of future applications.  This is just one piece of the puzzle and a step in the right direction.  This study used specific and limited amounts of CBD.  The results do not suggest that CBD will cure addiction or remove opioid cravings.  Here’s what they found and how CBD plays a role in the body’s battle with addiction and dependency.


Addiction: A Disease of the Brain

To better understand how CBD might help treat opioid addiction, it is helpful to know how addiction alters behavior. The American Psychiatric Association did its best to define addiction. Addiction is a complex condition. A brain disease that manifests compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences. It is classified as a disease because addiction hijacks and changes the way the brain works.

Regions of the brain critical in controlling the perception of pleasurable activities are susceptible to addictive drugs. Due to addiction’s rewiring of the brain, the individual often views the world in relation to their drug of choice. The brain learns to associate drug paraphernalia or the location of drug partaking in the context of receiving a drug. These cues become triggers and reinforcers of drug use. These triggers happen with most known drugs such as cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, methamphetamines, and opioids.

People often think of addiction as chasing the “high” associated with the use of a drug. However, most users continue to abuse or relapse when trying to quit their respective addictive drugs. Despite the desire and pressure by friends, family, and co-workers to stop, drug withdrawal’s adverse effects make quitting difficult.

Withdrawals and Dependency

Depending on the drug, drug withdrawal symptoms can vary and range from low to high intensity. In the case of opioid withdrawal, symptoms include vomiting, anxiety, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fast heartbeat. A user going through opioid withdrawal experiencing extreme stress is likely to take opioids to alleviate that same stress. This sort of behavior repeats itself, leading to a feed-forward loop of dependence on a drug.

Doctors refer to users as “dependent” on a drug when the drug must be present for the individual to function normally. Notably, anxiety and depression correlate with opioid dependence.

For dependent individuals, ongoing drug use is not a conscious choice but rather a complete necessity. Medication-assisted treatment with pills like methadone or buprenorphine allows an individual to recover from an opioid use disorder. Medication-assisted therapy significantly decreases the likelihood of an individual relapse and deadly overdose due to dependence symptoms or withdrawal.

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CBD and Epidiolex

Scientists tested CBD in several clinical trials and it appeared safe in treating a rare form of epilepsy. A pharmaceutical-grade CBD, Epidiolex, received FDA approval in June 2018 for this unique usage.

Doctors only prescribe CBD as the drug Epidiolex. Until now, CBD has only been safe and effective in treating intractable pediatric epilepsy.

Notably, CBD binds to different receptors than those that lead to opioid addiction.

CBD and Opioid Addiction

In experiments reported in 2009, rats pressed a lever to take heroin. CBD did not lower the amount of heroin that the rats self-administered or the rat’s drug-seeking behavior while taking heroin. However, when doctors took the rats off heroin and given CBD, there was a lowering in drug-seeking behavior when the animals saw a heroin-associated cue.

The first studies of CBD in humans verified that CBD, when co-administered with fentanyl, is safe and well-tolerated in healthy, non-opioid-dependent individuals. A small 2015 double-blind study conducted in opioid-dependent individuals found that a single administration of CBD, compared to a placebo, decreased cue-induced craving for opioids and feelings of anxiety. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study means doctors and patients do not know who is getting an actual drug and getting a placebo. That is to protect against what is known as the placebo effect.

A double-blind placebo-controlled report published in 2019, adds to these findings. It demonstrates that the Food and Drug Administration-approved Epidiolex can reduce cue-induced craving in individuals who had been former heroin users. Furthermore, in these individuals, Epidiolex reduced reports of anxiety and blood levels of cortisol, a hormone known to increase under conditions of stress and anxiety.

Although further research is needed, these studies strongly suggest that CBD may hold promise as a critical weapon in fighting the opioid epidemic.

In other words, this could be a really big deal.

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