A new study has found that cannabidiol, the naturally-occurring, non-psychoactive, and non-addictive compound found in the cannabis plant usually referred to as CBD, can reduce key features of addiction in drug-abstinent individuals with heroin use disorder

Led by Dr. Yasmin Hurd of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published last month in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the study looked at 42 adults with a recent history of heroin use and who had used for an average of 13 years. Recruited from social service groups, halfway houses, and treatment centers, the participants were to abstain from any heroin use as well as other opioids used to treat addiction and relieve cravings, such as Buprenorphine/Naltrexone and buprenorphine. 

Using EPIDOLEX, the first and only FDA-approved cannabis-based prescription medication that has been used to treat and reduce two epilepsy disorders, the researchers separated participants into three groups – one given 800 milligrams of CBD, another 400 milligrams of CBD, and another a placebo. Each participant was dosed once daily for three consecutive days with several sessions following over the next two weeks. 

Over those two weeks, participants were shown images of nature as well as images of drug use and paraphernalia like syringes and packets of powder. The individuals who had taken CBD in both groups experienced a two-to-three-fold reduction in cravings compared to the placebo group. In addition, stress levels while taking CBD were significantly lower than those who hadn’t been dosed with the drug. 

CBD, which acts on several neurotransmission systems involved in addiction, was shown to effectively manage the anxiety and cue-induced craving cycle, two critical aspects of substance use disorder that often lead to relapse and continued drug use. The study maintained that CBD diminished the pain and inflammation that leads to opiate use in the first place while reducing physiological measures of heart rate and salivary cortisol levels with no significant effects on cognition and no adverse side effects. 

The phytocannabinoid is increasingly being looked at as a therapeutical remedy for a diverse array of medical conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders, as well as a treatment for other addictive behaviors such as cannabis and tobacco dependence. Its anti-cancer properties are currently being studied at academic research centers in the U.S. and around the globe. 

Last year, the DEA removed EPIDOLEX from Schedule I classification, a category of dangerous drugs deemed to have no medical value. It is now considered a Schedule V drug, the least dangerous under the designation of the Controlled Substances Act. Cannabis and CBD, however, remain on Schedule I as an illegal narcotic, as the DEA currently recognizes only pharmaceutical CBD. Data remains limited as more controlled trials are necessary to determine if studies such as this one translate into significant improvements in the clinical outcomes of human populations.

Over 2.5 million Americans suffer from opioid use disorder which has taken nearly 400,000 lives since 2000. FDA-approved medications such as Buprenorphine/Naltrexone and buprenorphine curb cravings in a similar way to cannabidiol and are considered “essential medicines” according to the World Health Organization, but they are not yet widely used. Only one-third of U.S. patients with opioid dependence in private treatment centers actually receive these medications, while just 1 in 5 people who needed treatment for opioid use disorders was receiving any kind of therapy.

Since drugs like Buprenorphine/Naltrexone and buprenorphine are still opioids, they are highly regulated in terms of who is able to prescribe how much. There also exists a stigma of Buprenorphine/Naltrexone and buprenorphine as somehow substituting one addiction for another, even though the dosage of medication doesn’t get the individual high. It rather reduces cravings and withdrawal by restoring balance to the affected brain circuits, allowing the brain to heal towards recovery.

Limited non-opioid medication options have been developed to treat the health crisis that is the opioid epidemic, which opens up the opportunity for further investigation of CBD as a treatment option for opioid use disorder. The research team’s next step is to develop a longer-term study that follows participants for up to six months.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that “nearly all U.S. states do not have sufficient treatment capacity to provide Medication Assisted Treatment to all patients with an opioid use disorder.” Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders to provide a “whole patient” approach on the way to recovery. 

Heroin, in particular, is not only extremely addictive, but its withdrawals can have severe, life-threatening symptoms. Battling heroin use disorder is a delicate process that should involve a supervised detox and adequate treatment program to heal both one’s mind and body. Those who receive long-term treatment have a higher success rate of overcoming addiction.

The diverse array of addiction treatment programs at Windward Way are designed to offer both compassion and fully customizable structured care as your “hope away from home.” Given heroin’s status as one of the most habit-forming substances and its undeniable capacity to ruin lives, our team understands the care needed in administering a clinically supervised detox program that will smooth the transition off the substance and stop addiction dead in its tracks. 

We’ve helped thousands of men and women find their truth away from drug and alcohol dependence, and we create a healthy and positive environment that puts power back in the hands of the individual. 

No matter what type of addiction you or your loved ones face, you don’t have to face the battle alone. Give us a call at 855-491-7694.