CBD and opioid

Every day more than 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose. Over 2 million more are suffering from an addiction which they may never escape.

While each of these statistics represents a human being with their own personal story, the vast majority became addicted to painkillers legally prescribed by a doctor to address chronic or acute pain. 

Recognized as an epidemic by the federal government, researchers and officials are searching for a solution to the opioid crisis.

An answer may lie in cannabis.

There is growing evidence that cannabis, including CBD-rich products, may have already blunted the opioid epidemic in states that have legalized cannabis sales.

This also includes preliminary studies on CBD showing its potential to treat opioid addiction.

Cannabis and Pain Management

Cannabis has been used as a medical treatment throughout history for pain management and other health challenges.

For a time, this herb was so well known to doctors for its health benefits that representatives of the American Medical Association testified against the 1937 act that would initially prohibit cannabis in the U.S.   

Since most opioid addictions begin with pain treatments prescribed by a physician, it makes sense that offering a non-addictive alternative to pain management would make an impact in this national crisis.

Ask almost any dispensary and they will tell you about the customers who’ve come in seeking strong indicas or CBD-heavy strains to help them manage arthritis, spinal injuries, or other chronic pain issues.

These same customers are usually distrustful of prescription painkillers, or outright scared of falling into a cycle of addiction. Some that are already on prescription opioids are desperate to stop taking them with or without their doctor’s approval.  

Research Results So Far Are Promising

cannabis research

While any one person's experience may be anecdotal, the statistics are beginning to reflect what is pretty common knowledge in the industry: cannabis is an effective pain treatment alternative to conventional prescription drugs.

In a May 2018 study published in JAMA, researchers found that states that provided medical cannabis access for patients saw a reduction of 2.21 million daily doses of opioids filled per year for Medicare recipients. For context, states averaged around 23 million daily opioid doses under Medicare during 2010-2015.  

The same study also reported that states providing patients access to dispensaries saw a reduction of 3.74 million daily doses per year, and that even access to homegrown cannabis reduced opioid prescriptions by 1.79 million daily doses per year. 

This study was done primarily with data from people 65 years or older who were on Medicare (since this data is free), so one can only guess what the reductions in opioid prescriptions across other age ranges over that same time amounted to.

A separate 2014 study found that medical cannabis states had 25% fewer opioid overdose deaths compared to non-legalized states.

Both of these studies reflect what any cannabis-informed physician will tell you.

Given the choice between risking a potentially fatal addiction that will drain your finances and alienate your loved ones, or treating your pain by consuming cannabis, most people will choose the latter. 

While all of this may still be a case of “correlation is not causation,” researchers are starting to look deeper into this connection, and especially into CBD.

Because the cannabinoid has no inebriating effects, it makes for an even more attractive pain management option.

Both cannabis and opioids can affect mental clarity, so CBD-dominant products may be the best choice for any chronic pain sufferer wanting to remain clear-headed throughout the day.   

Can CBD Treat Opioid Addiction?

CBD treatment for opioid

Besides curbing opioid use as an alternative pain management option, CBD also has the potential to be an effective treatment for the withdrawal symptoms of opioid addiction.

Along with easing the physical pain of withdrawal, CBD treats the accompanying anxiety that causes many to relapse. 

Furthermore, another researcher has found evidence that CBD may even prevent relapse by repairing the brain’s chemistry.

Addiction to opioids and other substances permanently alters the brain’s synapses, preventing them from releasing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin unless the addictive substance is present.

Preliminary studies have shown that CBD can return these receptors to their pre-addiction state.

A third study from the Scripps Research Institute on cocaine and alcohol-addicted rats found that those rats who were also administered CBD gel were much less likely to relapse into their addiction.

This decrease in stress-induced, drug-seeking behavior was observed even five months later, long after the CBD had left the rat's system. 

As promising as these initial results are, more research is needed before anything is definitively proved.

And, as with nearly every issue regarding studies on cannabis’s health benefits, that research is complicated in the U.S. by the federal government’s prohibition on cannabis.

Cannabis Research Continues to Face Delays and Hurdles

CBD, like cannabis, remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S.

To even perform one study on CBD’s health benefits requires a special license from the Drug Enforcement Agency, which can take years to acquire. Then scientists have to get separate approval from the Food and Drug Administration to administer CBD to their test subjects.

Adding to the hurdles, patients enrolled in clinical trials must travel to the research facility to take the drug, which can be impossible for patients with severe medical conditions.

What’s more, the efficacy of CBD given during studies may differ from full spectrum, whole-plant CBD-rich products which contain other advantageous components of the cannabis plant, compounds that work in synergy with each other for an entourage effect.

American Voters Push Progressive Cannabis Legislation Forward

cannabis US map

If there is any concrete news, it’s that the American voters are clearly ahead of both the federal government and the scientific consensus on the medical benefits of cannabis and CBD.

With medical cannabis laws now on the books in the majority of the U.S., more and more people will be able to try medical cannabis and CBD themselves rather than prescription opioids to treat their chronic pain.

If the statistics on opioid abuse dropping in legalized states is indeed causation, the number of opioid-related overdoses will continue to fall as well. 

One would assume that with 115 Americans dying every day from opioid overdose, and millions more addicted, the U.S. government would be open to any option that would combat this epidemic as a form of harm reduction.

The lives lost, the economic and social damage to society, and those suffering in the aftermath are all at crisis levels.

There Is No Magic Bullet to the Opioid Crisis

While cannabis legalization spreads across the U.S. and continuing research into CBD as a treatment for addiction shows promise, there is no magic bullet to the opioid crisis.

Pain treatment and addiction recovery are complex, requiring multiple approaches simultaneously in order to be effective.

Plus, cannabis may not completely replace the need for prescription painkillers.

Anyone attempting to transition from opioids to cannabis-based treatment should be cautious and consult with a physician or specialist.

While CBD and cannabis show promise in curbing opioid addiction – and those suffering from addiction should be open to trying it – successful and lasting addiction recovery requires more than a visit to your local dispensary.

Attempting to treat addiction on your own can lead to relapses with fatal results.

If you or someone in your life is attempting to quit opioids, please beware...

Fatal overdoses can occur when opioid users go back on their medications at previous dosage levels they may no longer have a tolerance for.

WATCH: How to Reduce or Eliminate Opioids with Cannabis

In this eye-opening presentation, Harvard-trained MD, Gregory L. Smith shares research, science and stories detailing how cannabis works as a replacement or supplement to opiate pain treatment, including ways to significantly decrease or discontinue the use of opioid medications and how to talk to your doctor about cannabis therapies.

Watch: Using Cannabis to Reduce or Eliminate Opiates