Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Opiate dependency is at an all-time high in the United States — so much so that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has called this crisis an epidemic. Opiates are sometimes prescribed as pain medications for many different medical conditions, but some patients can develop a physical reliance on these drugs. This can cause patients to misuse these medications, form an addiction and potentially experiment with harder drugs, like heroin.
Opiates are any drugs derived from opium or developed by pharmaceutical companies to mimic the properties of opium-based drugs. During the 1990s, the medical community believed patients taking these prescriptions would not become addicted, which lead to an increase in the number of opiate medications being prescribed.
Eventually, many patients — especially those with conditions causing chronic pain — became dependent, leading to widespread misuse. The crisis became so bad that in 2017, the HHS declared it to be a public health emergency. Today, more than 100 people a day die from an opioid-related drug overdose. To combat opiate dependency, the HHS has developed a five-point plan:
To find a solution for opiate dependency, many are turning to medical marijuana — and specifically the non-psychoactive compound cannabidiol (CBD). Infused medications could help those held in the clutches of opioid addiction.
The endocannabinoid system consists of a series of receptors found throughout the body. Naturally produced cannabinoids, or biochemicals produced by our bodies, bind to these receptors and help bring balance to many physiological functions. It’s believed that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a role in bringing the body to a state of homeostasis. It helps regulate mood, sensations of pain, digestion, immunity and much more.
Opiates, on the other hand, do extensive damage to the body and have been shown to bring impairment to the endocannabinoid system. Thus, the ECS is unable to help patients regulate their withdrawal symptoms as they attempt to get off opiate drugs. Cannabinoid therapy using CBD is a treatment option that could lead to an increased number of successfully rehabilitated patients.
Cannabinoid therapy is a concept that has been around for decades. As the healthcare world began to understand the importance of the endocannabinoid system, they realized it could be utilized to treat many different medical conditions. Cannabinoids found in cannabis, like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD, are similar those produced by our body. They provide similar effects and bind themselves to endocannabinoid receptors.
Cannabidiol has the added benefit of being non-psychoactive. Unlike THC, CBD will not get users high. This is what makes it an effective option for those looking to break opiate dependency. CBD helps regulate the endocannabinoid system in many different ways, but it has four effects that help patients deal with opiate withdrawal:
Researchers have found one of the main reasons patients with opiate dependencies quit rehabilitation programs is due to painful withdrawal symptoms with nothing to alleviate them. Most patients either go cold turkey or are weaned off opiates — both methods have a high failure rate. That’s why those in the medical field are searching for ways to help patients make it successfully through rehab.
Although CBD is derived from the marijuana plant, and thus federally banned, it does not make users high. Using medication infused with CBD extracts could be an effective method to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and help patients break their addiction to opiates.
Plus, CBD treatments come in several forms, including:
Although many physicians prefer to prescribe non-smoking options, vaporizing or smoking CBD treatments is a fast and effective method for instant relief. This is especially important for patients who are used to instant gratification. If the effects of their CBD treatments take too long, they may be tempted to drop out of rehabilitation. Tinctures are another good option, as CBD medications placed under the tongue are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.
Edibles and topicals are probably not the best products for those with opiate dependency. Topicals deal with external issues, usually related to skin disorders or muscle pain. Edibles may also be difficult for patients to digest, especially since their withdrawal could cause nausea and vomiting.
If you would like more information about using CBD as a treatment for opiate dependency, be sure to contact a marijuana doctor in your state.
Learn more about Opiate Dependency and what makes medical marijuana an effective treatment for Opiate Dependency’s symptoms.