CBD And The Fight Against Opioid Addiction


It’s no secret that we are in the grip of an Opioid addiction crisis with the US National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) estimating that 26–36 million people are abusing both prescribed and illegal opioids around the World.

The crisis includes both illegal opioids as well as prescription opioid drugs like co-codamol, codeine, dihydrocodeine, tramadol and fentanyl which are all connected to opioid addiction.struggles against an unprecedented addiction to Opioids, surprisingly CBD could turn out to be a powerful ally.

In the UK, a February 2019 special investigation by The Sunday Times journalists discovered that opioids are prescribed four times more in the north of England than in London, with three times as many people dying in northern England than London as a result of taking addictive prescription drugs.

The investigation found that more than 113,000 opioid prescriptions are now dispensed by GPs every day, and the death rate in the northeast is 6 per 100,000 people vs the national average of 3.

In the US, the figures are even more bleak with statistics from The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the United States Department of Health and Human Services revealing that in 2016, health care providers across the US wrote more than 214 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication— that’s 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people.

In the same year, more than 40% of all US opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid and so great is the problem that in October 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency followed in 2018 by the launch of the Stop Opioid Abuse initiative with $6 billion to combat the driving forces behind the opioid addiction.

Research is investigating the impact of cannabinoids on opioid addiction

With the situation now at crisis point, the medical and scientific worlds are looking at the potential of other therapies to break the cycle of addiction and this is where surprisingly, CBD could have a part to play.

Opioids produce pleasure and euphoria, activating the brain’s reward pathways and with continued use, sensitivity to the drug decreases which creates the need for more to achieve the same effect. If you then stop, the withdrawal symptoms kick in which can include pain, nauseas, vomiting and anxiety, which starts the addiction cycle all over again.

As CBD interacts with the same neurological systems that opioids interact with, scientists have already discovered that CBD can help reduce the triggers in addicts known as ‘cue-induced cravings’ by interacting with the serotonin system, which in addition to being associated with mood, also has a part to play in addiction - which isn’t surprising when you consider that opioids create a feeling of pleasure and euphoria.

Research in both animals and humans shows that CBD could turn out to be a treatment for addiction because it also helps to treat withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. Whilst most studies to date have been with animals or small scale human studies, a $238,000 human study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will probe deeper in studying the impact of both cannabinoids, THC and CBD as potential treatments for addiction.

According to Buzzfeed News, the study will follow more than 10,000 medical marijuana patients in New York over the next two years to see if their opioid use drops. “It is a kind of natural experiment,” said the study’s lead investigator, Arthur Williams, a clinical psychiatrist at Columbia University. “The patients are there, they are taking opioids already, and we can see what happens in a controlled way.

Buzzfeed News reported that participants in the study won’t be smoking marijuana but will instead take regular, precisely measured extracts high in THC, which causes the high from marijuana, and cannabidiol (CBD).

The study will look at people taking extracts that are high-THC or high-CBD, and paired ratios of the two. The report stated that the new NIDA project arose from a pilot study at the Columbia Care LLC dispensary, Columbia Care LLC, the country’s largest medical marijuana provider amongst 76 people that found that 62% reduced or stopped taking opioids after using medical marijuana.

It’s clear that we can’t go on in the way we have been but only time and the results of the NIDA research and other studies will tell if cannabinoids can be classified as an effective treatment in the fight against opioid addiction.