Can CBD Replace Vicodin? We explore the facts.
Vicodin is one of the most regularly prescribed drugs in the United States. It is a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone, an opioid painkiller. Although the opioid crisis has been well-publicized over the past few years, these dangerous drugs continue to be prescribed at an alarming rate.
In spite of growing awareness of the risks of opioids and a general reduction in prescriptions since 2012, the equivalent of 58 opioid prescriptions per 100 Americans were issued in 2017; and in the same year, two million people admitted to misusing prescription painkillers for the first time.
Fortunately, safer and more natural alternatives exist when it comes to treating pain. One of these is CBD, a compound extracted from the cannabis plant which is making its name as an effective painkiller and anti-inflammatory.
But could CBD replace Vicodin and other opioids as the country’s number 1 painkiller? Read on to find out.
What is Vicodin?
Vicodin is a combination drug which contains hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen. It is available in three dosages: 5/300mg, 7.5/300mg (Vicodin ES), and 10/300mg (Vicodin HP).
Hydrocodone bitartrate is an opioid, and acetaminophen is an analgesic which is a popular ingredient in both prescription painkillers and over-the-counter remedies.
How Does Vicodin Work for Pain?
Although opioids such as hydrocodone are frequently prescribed for pain, scientists are still not 100% sure how these powerful medications work. They are thought to alter the way the nervous system and brain respond to pain by interacting with cell receptors within our bodies. These receptors are designed to bind with chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins are released in response to a painful stimulus, and they are our body’s natural equivalent to morphine.
Like hydrocodone, acetaminophen has a mechanism which is still poorly understood. Although it is known as an effective analgesic, scientists are still more or less in the dark regarding exactly how it works.
In addition to having a mechanism which is not fully understood, there is also little evidence that opioid drugs are useful in the treatment of chronic pain. Only a small percentage of people experience relief, which may be one reason why patients increase their dosage without their physician’s approval.
So, is Vicodin as dangerous as the media would like us to believe? Let’s take a look.
Is Vicodin Dangerous?
A long list of warnings prefaces the MedlinePlus web-page on Vicodin. These include the risk of abuse, addiction, drug interactions, and overdose. The reason why opioids such as hydrocodone are so dangerous is that they can cause respiratory depression. This means if you take too much, you could be left unable to breathe. The other signs of an opioid overdose include:
- Very small or large pupils
- Slow or shallow breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Cold, clammy skin
- Excessive sleepiness
- Loss of consciousness
Unfortunately, it is extremely easy to overdose on opioids. Once you have been taking them for a while, you begin to build up a tolerance, meaning that you need a higher and higher dose to achieve the same relief. These drugs also have a high potential for abuse as they produce a calming, sedative effect in addition to relieving pain.
It can also be challenging to stop taking opioid painkillers as they can cause withdrawal symptoms when stopped suddenly. These symptoms include:
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Sleep disturbances
- Uncontrollable leg movements
Vicodin Side Effects
In addition to the risk of overdose and addiction, there are many other potential side effects of Vicodin. These include:
- Difficulty urinating
- Mood changes
- Dry throat
With so many possible adverse effects associated with taking Vicodin, it is no wonder that many patients are seeking a more natural alternative to treat their pain. That is where CBD comes to the fore.
What is CBD?
CBD is the common name for cannabidiol, and it is one of the hundreds of active compounds produced by the cannabis plant. CBD can either be extracted from marijuana or industrial hemp. The latter contains only trace amounts of THC (the intoxicating chemical in weed), and so it does not make you high and is legal in the majority of places.
CBD is fast becoming recognized for its many benefits for human health. These include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotectant properties, and CBD is frequently used to alleviate the symptoms of various conditions, including:
Of course, since we are asking “can CBD replace Vicodin?” it is useful to understand a little more about the painkilling properties of the cannabinoid. Let’s look at how it works.
How Does CBD Work for Pain?
CBD is still relatively understudied as a chemical since it comes from a plant which was illegal for years. However, we are beginning to understand how it interacts with the human body to provide relief from various symptoms, including pain.
CBD, and cannabinoids in general, work with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS comprises enzymes, cannabinoid receptors, and endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are chemicals which bind with cannabinoid receptors to produce a variety of effects throughout both body and mind.
Two of the best-known endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Among many other functions, these chemicals are released in response to an injury, and they are involved in providing pain relief and promoting healing.
Cannabinoids like CBD have a powerful influence over the ECS. CBD can slow down the rate at which AEA is reabsorbed by the body, meaning that more of it is available in the bloodstream. It also reduces inflammation by affecting cannabinoid receptors in the immune system.
In addition to this, CBD is thought to interact with several other systems outside of the ECS. It may influence endorphins and other neurotransmitters, and promote something known as adenosine signaling, another process involved in injury and pain.
Because of its wide-reaching effects, CBD may help with many different types of pain. These include inflammatory pain, neuropathic pain, and cancer-related pain.
How to Use CBD for Pain
CBD is most often taken in the form of an oil which is dissolved under the tongue before swallowing. However, when it is taken in this way, it is not easy for the body to absorb CBD, and much of it is lost in the digestive system.
Therefore, one of the most popular ways to use CBD for pain is topical applications such as creams, rubs, roll-ons, and patches. These allow CBD to be delivered directly to the area where it is needed most and maximize its bioavailability. Research on rats has shown that when applied to the skin, CBD has potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
CBD can also be vaporized, and this is one of the fastest-acting delivery methods for CBD. Vaping CBD is a good option for anyone who needs quick relief, or who has other conditions to treat in addition to pain.
When choosing a CBD product, opt for one that is full spectrum. Full-spectrum CBD contains other beneficial cannabinoids such as CBC and CBG, which may also contribute to its pain-relieving effects. Full-spectrum products also contain terpenes and flavonoids, which may offer some relief of their own.
CBD Side Effects
CBD is considered safe, and most people do not experience any side effects. However, some people do suffer from some CBD side effects, and these include:
- Dry mouth
- Increased appetite
- Red eyes
However, these side effects are mild if they occur at all, and compared with those of Vicodin, they are much less dangerous.
CBD and Opioid Addictions
One of the most significant issues with opioid painkillers like Vicodin is their addictive nature. This is another area where CBD could help. CBD has been investigated for its anti-addictive properties, and the initial evidence is overwhelmingly positive.
Studies have found that CBD could help to control impulsive behavior and reduce the risk of relapse into addiction. It also has anti-anxiety effects which could make it useful for anyone suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
Can You Take CBD and Vicodin Together?
Both CBD and Vicodin are metabolized in the liver by an enzymatic pathway known as CYP450. This means that taking these two drugs together could enhance their effects and, thus, increase the risk of overdose. If you are taking Vicodin, or any other medication, and want to try CBD, be sure to talk to your physician first.
Can CBD Replace Vicodin? Final Thoughts
Pain is a common problem and one which is difficult to endure. Therefore, it is unsurprising that so many people are willing to resort to desperate measures to keep their pain symptoms under control. Opioids are the most frequently prescribed painkillers, but they come with a whole host of risks, including potentially fatal overdose.
For those looking for a safer solution, CBD could hold the key. It is non-intoxicating and causes very little in the way of side effects. It works naturally with the body to relieve pain by binding with receptors in the ECS. However, CBD is not safe for everybody to take and could cause issues when used alongside other medication. Always discuss using CBD with your physician to ensure it is safe for you.