Between 1999 and 2017, the opioid crisis claimed 400,000 American lives. Finding appropriate methods to treat people with addiction has presented a challenge for health care practitioners since the first wave of opioid overdoses struck in the ’90s. Recently, a small study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that the the use of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive element of the cannabis plant, may ease cravings and anxiety for those on the road to recovery from opiate addiction.
Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai treated 42 men and women recovering from opioid addictions with either 400 milligrams or 800 milligrams of CBD, or a placebo, reports Newsweek. As part of the study, participants viewed photos of drugs, drug use, and packages that appeared to contain heroin as well as calmer images of landscapes. The subjects’ emotional response was recorded in three different situations: when they took the CBD capsules right before viewing the images, 24 hours later, and a week later.
By recording vital signs, reported anxiety levels, and participant cravings, the study leaders determined that those on the CBD regimen experienced fewer cravings and less anxiety related to drug use as compared to the placebo group—not just after 24 hours, but a full seven days later. It’s also important to note that women—among whom opioid addiction is growing at an alarming rate—responded with double the amount of cravings and anxiety triggered by the pictures than men. According to Chandni Hindocha, a University College London research fellow at Britain’s National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centers, that means that women may need more overall support from healthcare providers than their male counterparts.
“A successful non-opioid medication would add significantly to the existing addiction medication toolbox to help reduce the growing death toll, enormous health care costs, and treatment limitations imposed by stringent government regulations amid this persistent opioid epidemic.” —Yasmin Hurd, PhD, director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai
In a statement, Yasmin Hurd, PhD, director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai, noted the study’s “significant promise” in treatment of heroin addiction. “A successful non-opioid medication would add significantly to the existing addiction medication toolbox to help reduce the growing death toll, enormous health care costs, and treatment limitations imposed by stringent government regulations amid this persistent opioid epidemic,” she said.
In the midst of the opioid crisis, methadone and buprenorphine are currently the dominant pharmacological aids for treating people recovering from addiction. The addition of CBD could mark a major breakthrough, say the researchers. However, larger studies will need to be conducted on the CBD-addiction dynamic—particularly outside the setting of a laboratory—before experts can recommend using it safely for this purpose. “Unfortunately, the effect [of CBD] is less significant when the person is in their own home,” said Ian Hamilton of the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York. “This suggests environment is a critical factor which will require further investigation and development if CBD is to be used to help people in the real world rather than in a research setting.”
In other words, how—and more importantly, where—to dose those affected by the opioid crisis with CBD is still to be determined.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please call the National Drug Helpline at 1-888-633-3239.
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