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CBD Can Ease Heroin Cravings, Says New Study

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 22, 2019   
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For the thousands of heroin and opioid users battling with their addiction, the hardest part isn’t just quitting the drug but resisting the temptation to use again. 

But now there’s cause to believe that cannabidiol (CBD), cannabis’ famously quelling compound, can drastically reduce these cravings, offering a promising treatment for recovering addicts. 

The new study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, also showed that CBD tended to reduce symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate and cortisol levels, that are typically induced by drug cravings. 

Heroin and prescription opioid pain relievers both belong to the opioid class of drugs, which usually produce euphoric effects by binding with mu opioid receptors in the brain. But while the drugs’ effects are initially pleasant, their addiction rates have spiralled into a national crisis in the US, one which now claims more than 130 lives a day

Despite this high toll, only a handful of approved opioid substitution therapies are available to patients and they, too, come with risks. For example, methadone, one of the most prescribed opioid substitutions in the US, has an overdose death rate of 0.137 per 1000 prescriptions.

CBD, on the other hand, has never been linked to a fatal overdose. Thus, the research team behind the new study were keen to test if the cannabinoid could become a viable and safe alternative to standard opioid substitution therapies. 

“To address the critical need for new treatment options for the millions of people and families who are being devastated by this epidemic, we initiated a study to assess the potential of a non-intoxicating cannabinoid on craving and anxiety in heroin-addicted individuals,” explained Dr Yasmin Hurd, the first author of the study and director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai. 

“Our findings indicate that CBD holds significant promise for treating individuals with heroin use disorder,” she continued in a press statement.  

To make her conclusions, Hurd and her team conducted a randomized, double-blind trial of 42 drug-abstinent people with a heroin-use disorder. The participants either received an oral CBD solution or a matching placebo. Following their dose, the subjects were exposed to three-minute-long videos showing either calming nature scenes or images of needles, syringes, and other reminders of heroin use. Measures of opioid cravings and anxiety were obtained through skin temperatures, heart rates, and blood pressures. 

The team found that CBD, in contrast to the placebo, significantly reduced participants’ drug-related cravings and anxiety. The cannabinoid’s relaxing effects were also recorded seven days after exposure, a notable course of action time which could boost its candidacy as an opioid substitution. 

Most importantly, the researchers recorded that CBD had no serious adverse events or significant effects on cognition. 

Previous studies have also shown CBD to be an effective treatment for opioid addiction, as well as methamphetamine and tobacco dependence. In 2015, a Université de Montréal research team assessing CBD’s potential as an addiction treatment concluded that “emerging data remain very limited and are far from being conclusive; well-designed, randomized, controlled trials are necessary at this point to determine whether these properties translate into significant improvements on clinical outcomes in human populations.”

It remains to be seen whether Dr Hurd’s randomized, double-blind trial will be enough to give CBD such clinical validation.  

“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,” added Dr Hurd. 

Follow-up studies will endeavor to develop a unique CBD formulation that could be rolled out commercially to supplant existing opioid substitutions. 

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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