Most of us who are familiar with CBD know it as a balm to anxiety, an anti-inflammatory supplement, a topical wonder compound, and an effective sleep aid. In a medical context, it’s also used safely by patients of all ages to manage seizures. A new study CBD may very well have another headline-worthy use: It can curb opioid cravings. A study released this week by the American Journal of Psychiatry suggested that CBD has the potential to play a key role in curbing opioid addiction rates by reducing cravings and anxiety in an addiction treatment setting.
Opioids are highly addictive, and addiction is accompanied by intense cravings, so the most effective treatments currently on the market function by way of craving reduction. A report in CNN pointed out that while buprenorphine and methadone are already approved to offset these intense cravings, only one in three people at addiction treatment centers actually receives them. Due to a variety of factors, there’s also a huge racial disparity in addiction treatment.
These existing treatments are opioid formulations, so they can cause side effects like constipation and headache, not to mention a whole list of other effects that can occur if the dosage is not calibrated correctly. In contrast, the CBD study showed that even large doses of CBD had no serious adverse effects and did not affect participants’ cognition in a significant way. Study author Yasmin Hurd added to CNN, “It’s not addictive. No one is diverting it. It doesn’t get you high.”
More importantly, CBD worked to reduce cravings and anxiety for her study’s participants, all of whom were long-time heroin users recruited from various treatment centers and halfway houses. The participants were given a dose of either 400mg of CBD, 800mg of CBD, or a placebo once a day over the course of three days, then monitored at several different periods to see what effects the dosage would have on measures like heart rate, cortisol levels, and cognition. (Neither the participants nor the researchers knew who was on what course of treatment.) In addition to undergoing physiological measurements, participants were asked to self-rate their level of craving and anxiety after being presented with visual cues like images of drug paraphernalia. Hurd explained to NBC News that these visual cues were critical to the study because “environmental cues are one of the strongest triggers for relapse and continued drug use.”
The results were conclusive: in the one- and two-hour window following either the lower or higher CBD administration, participants experienced less anxiety and significant reductions in their cravings for heroin, rating their cravings as two to three times weaker than had those who’d taken the placebo; these benefits lasted a week after they completed their three-day course of treatment and long after CBD is thought to remain in the body. Heart rate and cortisol levels in the CBD groups were measurably lower too, reinforcing the participants’ subjective reports.
With only 42 participants, the study was small, so the findings are considered preliminary. The results, however, demonstrate the clear precedent for researchers to conduct further CBD-opioid studies with a larger pool of participants. “A successful non-opioid medication would add significantly to the existing addiction medication toolbox to help reduce the growing death toll and enormous health care costs,” said Hurd in a statement. Future research will need to confirm the findings of this study, as well as tease out whether CBD will be beneficial for users of all types of opioids, including prescription drugs.