Spiraling Out Of Control
Part 2: Is CBD The Answer To The Opioid Epidemic?
As America’s Opiate Crisis spreads like wildfire across the country, researchers are increasingly looking at new ways to combat drug abuse and addiction – one of which is to use cannabidiol (CBD) as a potential treatment.
In an article published in 2015 in the academic journal Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, researchers in Canada summarized the preclinical and clinical data on the impact of CBD on addictive behaviors.
CBD is the second most common compound found in cannabis and is non-psychoactive compared to THC. This exogenous cannabinoid has been targeted as a potential treatment for a variety of conditions. It has been associated with many neural circuits involved in the acquisition of addiction and subsequent drug-seeking behaviors, making it an interesting pharmacological candidate to treat substance-use disorders.
When reviewing the studies on animal models that focused on the effects of CBD on opioid-related addictive behaviors, they found CBD to have an impact on the intoxication and relapse phase of opioid addiction by reducing the reward-facilitating effects of morphine.
But more importantly, the researchers also found that CBD influences the relapse phase of opioid addiction by decreasing cue-induced, drug-seeking behaviors. The researchers theorized that CBD’s effect on 5-HT1a serotoninergic receptors may be highly relevant in drug reward and stress vulnerability which is a well-known trigger of craving and subsequent relapse in addicted individuals.
In the same year, a similar but slightly different article was published in the journal Neurotherapeutics by researchers from New York, Sweden, and Canada. Again, it focused on the early phase of development of CBD as a treatment for addiction – with a focus on opioid relapse.
However, the authors took it one step further by also publishing their own preclinical and clinical studies.
In their preclinical study, their results showed that repeated CBD administration in rats clearly inhibited cue-induced heroin-seeking behavior. The authors also found that CBD’s effects were prolonged –lasting two or more weeks.
Even when CBD was given during active heroin intake, the ability of CBD to inhibit relapse behavior was still apparent weeks after. This suggests that CBD could still impact heroin dependence even following a potential lapse condition after a period of abstinence. This unique trait is not found in the medications that are currently used for the treatment of heroin abuse.
But the clinical trial results are even more illuminating. The researchers initiated pilot human clinical laboratory studies to begin to explore the potential of CBD as a medication for opioid craving.
In their small, double-blind experiment on opioid-dependent individuals, people were randomized to 3 consecutive days of CBD or placebo treatment and were then subjected to cue-induced craving test sessions where opioid-related and neutral video cues were presented.
The results were very promising, to say the least.
The authors discovered that a single administration of CBD, in comparison to placebo, was enough to reduce cue-induced cravings after 1 hour. The single administration of CBD even maintained a decrease of general craving 24 hours later. In fact, CBD’s effects lasted 7 days after the last treatment.
Interestingly, CBD also reduced anxiety in individuals as well – supporting previous preclinical and clinical evidence. This suggests therapeutic potential for CBD to reduce negative states in opioid-dependent individuals, which may, in turn, predict reduced craving and reduce the likelihood of relapse.
Because CBD is generally regarded as well-tolerated, because CBD has been shown to reduce craving in opioid-dependent individuals, because the effects last a long time, and because patients with substance use disorders often present with various psychiatric and medical symptoms that are reduced by CBD, the authors concluded that:
“CBD could thus offer a novel line of research medication that indirectly regulate neural systems modulating opioid-related behavior, thus helping to reduce side effects normally associated with current opioid substitution treatment strategies… As more research efforts are directed towards cannabinoids, we will soon be able to understand how best to leverage the potentially beneficial properties of cannabinoids to develop more targeted treatment interventions.”
Although more studies are needed, researchers have clearly demonstrated the potential for CBD to play a major role in the fight against opioid addiction. As America struggles to cope with the damage caused by this crisis, lawmakers are faced with a critical decision. Either continue with the archaic policies that have inhibited potentially life-saving research, or embrace science and open the doors to the benefits of medical cannabis and CBD. Let’s hope for the nation’s sake, they choose the latter.
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