Study proving efficacy of CBD in battling opioid addiction may pave way for widespread cannabis and hemp-based medical treatment, experts say
A study has found that Cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive ingredient in hemp and marijuana, could prove effective in treating opioid addiction.
The study by the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai last week in the American Journal of Psychiatry, saw lead researcher Yasmin Hurd and her colleagues observed 42 adults who had a recent history of heroin use and were not using either methadone or buprenorphine - medications widely used to curb cravings and treat opioid addiction.
The double-blind randomized controlled trial (RCT) saw participants divided into three groups — one of which was given 800 milligrams of CBD, another 400 milligrams of CBD, and the last, a placebo. All 42 participants were dosed once daily for three consecutive days; they were observed and studied over the next two weeks.
In the course of those two weeks, over several sessions, the participants were shown images or videos of nature, as well as images of drug use and heroin-related paraphernalia such as syringes and packets of powder, and then asked to rate their cravings for opioid and their levels of anxiety.
A week after the participants had received their final dose, researchers found those who had been given CBD had a two-to-three-fold reduction in cravings relative to the placebo group and that their levels of cortisol, aka the "stress hormone," was significantly lower too.
MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) spoke to several experts on the subject, and the overwhelming opinion was that the breakthrough would prove instrumental in ushering in further marijuana and hemp-based medical treatments in the future.
Monica Taing, a board member at Doctors for Cannabis Regulation and one of the nation’s leading experts on the pharmacology and production processes related to cannabis and its components, was hailed Hurd's study, given its implications.
"This work and future findings may substantiate CBD as a new, viable adjunct therapeutic option to help combat the opioid crisis," she said. "Dr. Hurd’s previous, ongoing, and future studies are meaningful for a new and emerging area of studies to determine facts about this innovative potential pharmacotherapy."
The numbers for the country's opioid crisis do not make for good reading — 400,000 Americans, just slightly fewer than the number of American troops who died in World War II, have died of opioid-related causes since 2000.
And yet, neither methadone nor buprenorphine, despite their effectiveness, are widely available, because they are both opioids themselves and their prescription is highly regulated. Concerns about diversion and addiction to these drugs remain as well.
CBD could prove to be an effective and more easily available alternative in the future and help combat the opioid crisis, says Taing, given there are enough side profiles comparing traditional treatment with cannabidiol studies to optimize safety and efficacy for patients.
Dr. Sherry Yafai, co-VP at the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and Medical Director at the Releaf Institute and Director of Research and Development at High Sobriety, agrees with that assertion. "We as a nation have an epidemic crisis of death, due to a non-infectious cause, the opioid epidemic," she said.
"The tried and tested ones are clearly not working well enough. Furthermore, all our current other options are opiate based … which patients just become dependent on. This avenue gives us a real viable way out."
So, what are the obstacles currently standing int he way of getting such treatments widely legalized?
"While more studies evaluating CBD’s therapeutic potential are either being initiated or ongoing, current obstacles include the current state of lacking data to substantiate revising and standardizing national clinical care guidelines, inconsistencies for current federal, state, and local regulations, and lack of fact-based education being offered to healthcare professionals will hinder a prospective CBD treatment for addiction being widely legalized," Taing said, adding that fact-based education for the general public, the healthcare community, and integral decision-makers could help facilitate the process of legalizing it as a potential treatment.
The road to reach a point where such treatment becomes widely accepted and sheds the taboo associated with it is by no means a straightforward one either.
"CBD/Cannabis is not federally recognized as a legal medication, so insurance companies won’t allow for its use," she explained. "If insurance companies won’t pay for it, patients may not be able to afford it as a treatment and will continue using much cheaper drugs available on the illegal market."
"Furthermore, current rehab communities will throw patients out who test positive for THC on their urine drug test, further stigmatizing the use of cannabis products in the rehab community," she continued. "AA/NA communities have not yet accepted CBD or cannabis products as a 'legitimate' medication and ostracize individuals who have found assistance with their sobriety using CBD or cannabis medications as well."
But the signs are undeniably promising.
Yafai pointed to Congress' recent passing of the 2018 Farm Bill that removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and allowed farmers to pursue federal hemp cultivation permits, as well as the fact that all the Democratic and Republican nominees for president for 2020 are pro-cannabis legalization as proof that progress was being made.
Taing is of a similar opinion. "Some could argue that cannabinoid-based products, whether cannabis-derived and/or hemp-derived, may be the norm in this country already: national chains of grocery stores and pharmacies are increasingly selling CBD-products while countless bodegas, restaurants, and new retail storefronts have been selling cannabis-based products for a few years or more," she told MEA WorldWide.
She also brought up Gallup's most recent survey which illustrated the widespread acceptance throughout the country — two in three Americans were found to support legalizing marijuana — and said: "Cannabis-based products will only increasingly continue to become more prevalent in a diverse variety of delivery methods in the near and long-term future."