Death by overdose has become the largest killer of Americans under the age of 50, and with opioids responsible for a shocking 68% of drug overdoses in 2017, the need to find an effective resolution has never been greater. CBD oil has been used to treat pain, improve mental wellbeing and help people quit cigarettes, all without risk of addiction. Can CBD oil help resolve the opioid crisis, too?
It may initially seem counterintuitive to use CBD oil, a cannabis-derived product, as a tool in fighting a drug-fueled problem, but there’s a solid amount of evidence to support the belief that it might actually work.
Before we explore the ways CBD oil could help end the opioid crisis, it’s important to understand the difference between CBD oil and marijuana.
CBD oil is extracted from the hemp plant, which along with marijuana, is a member of the cannabis family. While marijuana has high levels of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), hemp has very low levels and is higher in the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD). The hemp plant then undergoes an extraction process in order to create CBD oil, usually containing only trace amounts of THC. This distinction is important because it is THC which is responsible for the psychoactive properties associated with smoking marijuana.
Unlike THC, CBD oil has no intoxicating properties. In a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it was found that “CBD it is generally well tolerated, with a good safety profile.” Testimony to CBD’s safety and efficacy is the FDA-approved medication, Epidiolex. The cannabis-derived extract contains high levels of CBD, and is used to treat rare forms of epilepsy in children.
Finally, in contrast to many illegal and prescription drugs, CBD is considered to be non-addictive. In the same WHO report, it’s stated, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.” Unfortunately this is not the case with current pharmaceutical treatment options for opioid addiction, like methadone or buprenorphine. In short, CBD oil does not replace one opioid dependence with another.
CBD oil has already been shown to be effective at breaking the addictive nicotine cycle, but recent research has indicated it may also help in cases of opioid addiction.
One element of the addiction cycle is the subconscious association between the drug and the enjoyable feeling, or “reward” of taking it. A 2018 study by the University of Mississippi analyzed this effect on mice that were given morphine, and the outcome was encouraging. Not only did CBD oil block the opioid-reward link, but it was also found to not produce its own reward or any aversive properties.
While conventional treatment for opioid addiction involves alternative, lower doses of drugs from the opiate family, this approach is controversial and not without issues. CBD oil, while not only being non-addictive, is also safe to take in conjunction with opioids, allowing it to be used as part of a gradual withdrawal plan.
One of the barriers to successfully recovering from opioid addiction is getting through the withdrawal phase. Symptoms can begin hours after the last dose and last more than a week. While not generally life-threatening, these symptoms can make someone more likely to relapse. Some of the most distressing elements of withdrawal can be safely addressed with CBD oil, including nausea, depression, anxiety, and pain.
Using CBD oil can ease the unpleasant symptoms of opioid withdrawal symptoms, encouraging people to persevere and making it more likely that they will beat their addiction.
There are a variety of factors that make someone more likely to relapse. While CBD oil by no means can completely prevent a relapse into opioid use and addiction, it can help with some of the most common factors that contribute to this scenario.
One element of addiction relapse is memory. Habitual drug-taking creates brain connections that can be triggered by environmental cues, promoting a continuation of the addictive behavior. A 2017 study on morphine-addiction found that CBD oil was able to disrupt these memories, and reported that “these results provide evidence for the disruptive effect of CBD on reconsolidation of contextual drug-related memories and highlight its therapeutic potential to attenuate contextual memories associated with drugs of abuse and consequently to reduce the risk of relapse.”
The majority of people who use opiates first began taking them to alleviate pain. This presents a problem. Oftentimes, people with chronic pain are forced to either return to using to opioids for pain relief, or to live without them and suffer because of it. It’s a lose-lose situation.
As CBD oil has been shown to relieve pain in conditions as wide ranging as arthritis to cancer, it may provide non-addictive support during pain flare-ups, breaking the cycle and eliminating the need for opiate medications.
Drug rehabilitation treatments are only effective if underlying mental health issues are dealt with. Mental wellbeing is a key aspect of any rehab or recovery process, as often difficult emotions have been pushed down by the addictive behavior.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to opioids, or would like to explore a potential treatment with fewer risks for addiction, CBD oil may be able to help.
First, talk to a doctor. From there, it can be determined whether or not CBD oil provides a suitable alternative to prescription opioid treatments, whether it can be useful in fighting opiate addiction, or both.
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