Science Saturday is here, and we're interested in sharing the results of a widely circulated study. Even CNN is on board with this one.
History of the Issue
For years it was thought that Cannabidiol could treat opioid addiction. A new study is giving credence to that.
Given to patients with heroin addiction CBD reduced their cravings for the opioids, thought to be triggered by dealing first with their levels of anxiety.
"The intense craving is what drives the drug use," said Yasmin Hurd, the lead researcher on the study and director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai. "If we can have the medications that can dampen that [craving], that can greatly reduce the chance of relapse and overdose risk."
Now it's still difficult to treat addiction, as we've learned with the opioid crisis, but it's interesting to see that medical professionals will start implementing a form of CBD into their toolkit.
Currently, the available medications for opioid addiction, such as buprenorphine and methadone, act in a similar way, curbing cravings based on anxious modalities. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, just one-third of US patients with opioid dependence in private treatment centers actually receive these kinds of medications.
This is because only 1 in 5 people who needed treatment for opioid use disorders was receiving any sort of therapy.
Public health experts say there are obstacles to getting these drugs, which are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, widely distributed. Because methadone and buprenorphine are still opioids, who can prescribe and how much can be prescribed are highly regulated.
Treatment with these kinds of medications can create their own kinds of addictions, and come with a whole other set of side-effects.
Concerns about diversion and addiction to these drugs remain, despite their success in reducing mortality by up to 59% a year in the year after treatment. As of 2018, there's a new war on opiates headed by the FDA.
First, let's go over the difference between two very misused phrases.
Classically, the term opiate refers to natural substances that come from opium. Opium itself can be extracted from the opium poppy and contains chemical compounds, including morphine and codeine.
There are also products that work by binding to the same receptors as opiates but do not occur naturally, known as semi-synthetic or synthetic opioids. While synthetic opioids are manufactured chemically, semi-synthetic opioids are a hybrid resulting from chemical modifications to natural opiates.
Thus, examples of opiates are morphine and codeine. Examples of synthetic opioids include fentanyl and methadone, while oxycodone and hydrocodone are examples of semi-synthetic opioids.
Nearly 400,000 Americans have died of opioid-related causes since 2000. Flash forward to 2019, the first FDA-approved cannabis-based drug is now available in the US.
Back to The Study
For their study, published Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Hurd and her colleagues looked at 42 adults who had a recent history of heroin use and were not using methadone or buprenorphine.
Recruited from social services groups, halfway houses and treatment centers, the participants had used heroin for an average of 13 years, and most had gone less than a month without using. They had to abstain from any heroin use for the entire trial period.
All the participants were dosed with various amounts of CBD or a placebo, once daily for three consecutive days and followed over the next two weeks.
During those two weeks, over the course of several sessions, the participants were shown images or videos of nature scenes as well as images of drug use and heroin-related paraphernalia, like syringes and packets of powder that resembled heroin. They were then asked to rate their craving for heroin and their levels of anxiety.
A week after the last administration of CBD, those who had been given CBD had a two- to three-fold reduction in cravings relative to the placebo group. Hurd said the difference between the two CBD groups was insignificant.
The research team also measured heart rate and cortisol, the "stress hormone," and found that the levels in those who got CBD were significantly lower than those who hadn't received the drug.
The researchers used Epidiolex, the first FDA-approved cannabis-based medication, as their source of CBD.
With many CBD products on the market now the exact concentration of CBD is difficult to know without third-party testing.
The study's potential was not lost on other experts in the field.
"This is an extremely significant paper. We need to utilize every possible treatment in helping people with chronic pain to find other ways to manage their symptoms and in people with opiate addiction to find relief," said Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist in New York and former assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.
CBD is coming to be a larger part of medicine today, and we have some very impressive scientific credentials to thank for that. This study is just one of many happening today that will only earn more notoriety for the compound.
Thanks for reading, and share your own interesting finds in the comments!
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