Substance use disorders, like drug addiction, are conditions that come with a risk of relapse. Vulnerability to stress and anxiety, drug cues, and impaired impulse control increases this. As the number of people affected by drug addiction rise in the United States, there is a rising need for new and effective therapeutic treatments and protocols. Recently, CBD has gained a lot of attention for its potential to treat drug and alcohol abuse.
Research focuses on the pharmacotherapeutic potential of CBD regarding how it could prevent relapse in drug use. Some people believe CBD to be effective in targeting risk states of drug use relapse. It has the potential to do this by reducing stress and anxiety related to drug cues and mediating anti-depressant activity.
More specifically, CBD may be an effective treatment option for heroin addicts. In this article, we will explore how CBD could be helpful for heroin addiction, as well as what the latest research says.
Addiction Is a Brain Disease
For us to understand how and why CBD might be helpful in treating opioid addiction, it’s worth taking a look at how addiction changes normal behavior. The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a complex brain disease that occurs as a result of compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.
They define addiction as a disease because it alters and hijacks the way the brain processes information. Particularly, areas of the brain that are crucial in controlling the perception of daily and enjoyable activities are susceptible to the influence of addictive drugs.
Because of the rewiring of the brain that happens under addiction, the person often perceives the world in context to their choice of drug. Essentially, the brain learns to associate drug activities or the physical location of using drugs in the context of receiving a drug. These cues become essential reminders and reinforcers of drug use.
Addiction often involves the pursuit of a high. However, the majority of addicts continue to use or relapse when attempting to quit using their addictive drug. The difficulty of quitting despite pressure from loved ones is one of the negative effects of drug withdrawal.
A person is normally referred to as “dependent” on a drug when the drug needs to be present for that person to function normally. Depression and anxiety are also often part of opioid dependence. Dependent people don’t perceive ongoing drug use as a conscious choice, but rather an evil necessity.
CBD and Heroin Addiction
CBD may help to reduce drug cravings in individuals with a heroin addiction, a new preliminary study suggests.
The study, for the American Journal of Psychiatry, involved 42 people with heroin addiction who were trying to abstain from the drug. As part of the study, participants visited the lab and looked at “cues” that the researchers intended to trigger a drug craving.
In this case, the triggers were videos of people using heroin or paraphernalia, such as syringes, rubber ties, and other heroin-related objects. The author of the study stated that these types of cues could contribute to drug relapse. Before the lab session, participants took either a dose of CBD or a placebo.
Participants were randomly administered either 400 mg of an oral CBD solution, 800 mg of an oral CBD solution, or the placebo over three consecutive days.
Those who received the CBD reported lower drug cravings in response to cues, as well as lower anxiety, in comparison to those who received the placebo. Furthermore, the effects seemed to be somewhat durable – lasting for up to a week after the participants took CBD. According to the study, CBD also reduced cue-induced physiological measures of heart rate and salivary cortisol levels.
However, the results are far from definitive. Researchers didn’t examine whether CBD could prevent the drug-relapse outside of a lab setting. Future studies are necessary to answer this question. But, these findings do suggest that CBD holds significant promise for treating people with heroin use disorder.
Potential Treatment, but More Research is Necessary
In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died from an opioid-related drug overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This includes deaths due to heroin, opioids, methadone, and fentanyl.
Some studies have looked at the benefits of medical marijuana for reducing the need for prescription opioids by people who suffer from chronic pain. This new study that we’ve referenced above is the first to examine how CBD may help with heroin use disorder.
It’s definitely a step in the right direction, with regards to future studies looking at the potential utility of CBD to help as an adjunct medication for opioid use disorder. However, this initial study was small, and researchers only followed participants for one week.
CBD has received a lot of attention over recent years for the potential it has for therapeutic effects without producing the “high” that people typically associate with marijuana. But so far, the FDA has only approved CBD in the form of Epidiolex – a prescription-drug used for treating childhood epilepsy.
Final Thoughts on CBD for Heroin Addiction
At this point in time, we cannot say with certainty that CBD is an effective treatment for heroin addicts. Only one study exists to date, and while the findings are promising, the study was small and brief.
More research is necessary to determine if CBD would help stay clean for longer and whether it will work in other groups and settings. Experts say that more studies are essential before doctors can recommend CBD as an opioid-treatment option like buprenorphine and methadone.