The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both declared the United States to be in an opioid epidemic. Opioids take many forms. Most are familiar with heroin, but other forms of opioids are prescription drugs like fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. They can be prescribed by a doctor for pain or purchased on the street for the purpose of intoxication or maintaining an already established addiction to the drug.
The Chemical Process
While named differently and very slightly different chemically, all of the opioid drugs are able to interact with the opioid receptors and nerve cells in the body and brain. When opioid molecules move through the bloodstream and into the brain, they attach to the receptors on the surface of some cells. This triggers a chemical response in the brain’s reward center releasing a pleasurable feeling. This is a natural response of the body, however when the reward center is activated by opioid receptors, it releases dopamine in excess amounts. The amount released is far more than any person would naturally produce. When this happens, the brain thinks that something extremely important has happened and it creates the need for it to be repeated. This leads to addiction. It should be noted that these prescription drugs are considered safe when taken for a short amount of time and as prescribed, however these drugs are also the most commonly abused after a legal prescription has been given .
Every day 128 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids . While the country has been trying to get a handle on this crisis for years, each year we see more and more overdoses and more and more deaths. Treatments can be prohibitively expensive and sometimes ineffective, causing addicts to relapse or die before they’re able to find a treatment plan that works for them .
Due to the highly addictive nature of opioids, rehabilitation often fails because of the severe withdrawal symptoms. Addicts often experience fever, sweating, nausea, vomiting, body aches, anxiety, and insomnia while trying to detox themselves from these drugs. It’s an extremely difficult process and 72 to 88% of people will relapse after recovery .
There are a variety of treatment options, ranging from cold turkey withdrawal to 12-step recovery programs and of course in-patient rehabilitation at specialized facilities. The guided treatment plans that utilize medical professionals and therapy will often include medication designed to help the addict disconnect themselves from opioids. These drugs are meant to reduce cravings and prevent relapse as well as reduce withdrawal symptoms.
How CBD Can Help With Opioid Addiction
Cannabidiol (CBD) is found in the cannabis plant and the most prominent cannabinoid extracted from it. CBD produces no psychoactive results, therefore making it perfect for therapeutic and addiction assistance purposes. Cannabidiol is currently undergoing scientific scrutiny for its abilities to provide its users with relaxing, pain relieving, and anti-anxiety benefits. Currently there is only one FDA-approved CBD medication that’s used for the treatment of certain types of epilepsy, but different varieties of CBD are available over-the-counter.
The Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a necessary part of human physiology. It’s responsible for maintaining the body’s state of homeostasis and keeping all systems functioning if a disturbance is introduced to the body. If a disturbance does happen, the ECS will work to make sure all systems remain at stable and optimal levels. All the internal systems need to be in a state of equilibrium to work effectively, so the work of the ECS is essential to good health.
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system:
- Endocannabinoids: These are compounds that are naturally produced by the body and are chemically very similar to the cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis.
- Cannabinoid Receptors: These receptors are found on the surface of cells in different systems throughout the body. The endocannabinoids the body naturally produces, as well as any cannabinoids ingested, will bind to these receptors. Once they are bound, they allow communication with different systems in the body, helping the ECS maintain an equilibrium in each of the specific systems.
- Enzymes: After the endocannabinoids or cannabinoids attach themselves to the receptors and the ECS has achieved stabilization in the body, enzymes break down the compounds to avoid a possible overcorrection.
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating several of the most important bodily functions, including the brain and the reward center. When the receptors notice an imbalance in one of these systems, the ECS acts with precision to pinpoint the issue and works to stabilize the problem and get back to homeostasis. Since endocannabinoids and cannabinoids from cannabis plants are so similar chemically, it’s possible for cannabinoids like CBD to attach themselves to the receptors in the same way the naturally occurring endocannabinoids do. CBD has the ability to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Once attached, CBD acts as an antagonist, or blocker, binding to receptors and dampening their signals.
CBD for Opioid Rehabilitation
Research has shown that multiple cannabinoids from the cannabis plant have the potential to provide a variety of benefits, however they have not all been studied yet. They have started in-depth studies on CBD and THC and how they can assist those seeking relief from pain and how that benefits those looking to rehabilitate from an opioid addiction. So far research suggests that CBD has limited abuse potential and works to inhibit drug-seeking behavior .
CBD has been shown to be able to help recovering addicts manage and overcome terrible withdrawal symptoms  as well as helping them to reduce their cravings for opioids during and after rehab . Recovering opioid addicts often struggle with cravings for the drug they’ve left behind. It’s one reason many of them relapse and may end up worse off than they were before treatment. However researchers have discovered that by giving recovering addicts a high dose of CBD they show a noticeable reduction of craving for the drug and in their overall anxiety about the recovery process than those who do not take CBD during treatment. This effect was not only immediate, but it also reduced their desire to take opioids again for a period of up to one week after ingestion of medical-grade cannabidiol .
This works in a similar way to drugs that are currently used in the treatment of opioid addiction that are meant to reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms. Since some of the most popular medications for opioid addiction are also types of opioids and highly regulated, the option of CBD has the potential to open up recovery possibilities for many who suffer.
Which Type of CBD is Best
This is ultimately up to the user, but each type offers different potency and period of efficacy. CBD can be consumed in tinctures, capsules, edibles, or smokeables like hemp or marijuana flower. While smoking pre-rolls or flowers will allow the CBD to enter the bloodstream fastest and without impediment, some may not like the process of smoking or vaping. For those individuals, tinctures might be a great solution. Putting a few drops under the tongue as part of a daily routine is an easy and effective way to get the benefits. Edibles are also an easy and incredibly potent way to consume CBD, if a little delayed as the compound needs to get through the digestive system before entering the bloodstream. Whatever a person’s lifestyle of preferences, there is a form of CBD available to them. With such great strides being made in the treatment of opioid addiction assistance, it’s more important than ever that CBD be available and affordable to those who would like to try it for themselves.