Can CBD help ease addiction? Earlier this month, the FDA announced its approval of investigating CBD as an adjunctive treatment for opioid use disorder.

Over the last decade there has been an increase in opioid use disorder. This has led to more than 300,000 opioid-related deaths in the United States. Popular medicines such as Suboxone, were used to help reduce opioid use and reduce risk for opioid-involved overdoses.

Recently, the U.S. health authorities have signed off on human trials of CBD to treat opioid addiction. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the green light on January 5, 2022 to Ananda Scientific to begin human testing of its CBD drug Nantheia ATL5. The drug is an oral medication with 100 mg of CBD per soft-gel capsule.

A History of Opioid Addiction

According to HHS.gov, in the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers. This misinformation led to healthcare providers beginning to prescribe medications at higher rates. In turn, prescription opioids became highly misused before it was clear that these medications could be highly addictive.

In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. That same year, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers.

In order to combat the opioid crisis, doctors and researchers found medicines that would detox and begin to heal those struggling with opioid addiction. Unfortunately, those medicines, known as methadone and suboxone, could also be misused because they produce euphoria. This led researchers down a path to investigate whether or not the cannabinoid, or CBD, is a safe and non-addictive method of treatment of opioid use disorder. Many individuals with opioid use disorders have begun seeking alternative treatments to curb cravings and reduce anxiety.

CBD & Opioid Addiction

As CBD treatment trials begin this month, many are anticipating the results. The trials will be run out of UCLA and are funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. The federal clearance for CBD opioid-addiction research “further re-enforces our vision of developing CBD as a therapeutic for a number of key indications,” said Sohail R. Zaidi; current standing Ananda Scientific CEO.

Currently, the only plant-derived cannabinoid medicine approved for human use in the United States is Epidiolex, a CBD drug that treats rare forms of epilepsy and is owned by Ireland’s Jazz Pharmaceuticals. However, these medications are often underutilized and therefore can be difficult to access, creating a treatment gap in which those who need medications face barriers to actually receiving them.

Previous Studies

While this study is still currently in progress, other studies have shown that compared to the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, CBD, was associated with substantially decreased cue-induced craving and anxiety for those with heroin use disorder. Here’s what the 2019 Mount Sinai study found:

New York, NY. (May 21, 2019) Cannabidiol (CBD) reduced cue-induced craving and anxiety in individuals with a history of heroin abuse, suggesting a potential role for it in helping to break the cycle of addiction, according to research conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published May 21 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study also revealed that CBD tended to reduce physiological measures of stress reactivity, such as increased heart rate and cortisol levels, that are induced by drug cues.

“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,” says Yasmin Hurd, PhD, the Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai and first author of the study. “The specific effects of CBD on cue-induced drug craving and anxiety are particularly important in the development of addiction therapeutics because environmental cues are one of the strongest triggers for relapse and continued drug use.”

She continues, “Our findings indicate that CBD holds significant promise for treating individuals with heroin use disorder,” says Dr. Hurd. “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.”

Dr. Hurd’s research team is working on two follow-up studies: one delves into understanding the mechanisms of CBD’s effects on the brain; the second paves the way for the development of unique CBD medicinal formulations that are likely to become a significant part of the medical arsenal available to address the opioid epidemic.

Bottom Line

As more states legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use, hopes were raised that wider availability of legal cannabis would help ease the opioid overdose epidemic. Although more studies are needed in this area, the new FDA-approved study could create new potential for CBD therapeutics.

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