Could Cannabidiol Prevent Relapse, Stem Cravings For Heroin?

By Victoria Kim 03/06/18

Researchers are examining whether CBD can help suppress the desire to use heroin and other opioids.

Cannabidiol products surrounded by buds of cannabis

Cannabidiol, the cannabis compound that doesn’t get you high, is the subject of Yasmin Hurd’s research—specifically, whether CBD can curb cravings for heroin.

It’s important work amid the ongoing opioid crisis. Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 deaths in 2016, according to the CDC. About 40% of them involved a prescription opioid.

Hurd, director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, is so far unsatisfied with the federal government’s response to the drug crisis. “You have to treat every epidemic the same, whether it’s a drug epidemic or a viral epidemic,” she said in a recent STAT News feature. She blamed the stigma of addiction for the lack of urgency.

Hurd is currently in the middle of Phase 2 clinical trials, studying CBD’s potential to reduce cravings in people dependent on heroin.

“When we started investigating CBD, we hypothesized that perhaps it could decrease drug-taking behavior, but instead we saw that it actually decreased craving,” she said in a recent interview with her alma mater in Binghamton University Magazine. “It was very specific about what it decreased, and that was surprising. Other researchers have replicated what we found, so we are confident in our results.”

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of hundreds of compounds (or cannabinoids) in the cannabis plant. While tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) produces a high, CBD is non-psychoactive.

States like Alabama and Florida have passed legislation allowing for the use of CBD, usually in oil form, for people with debilitating epilepsy and other chronic illnesses.

Hurd believes CBD has a lot of potential in suppressing the desire to use heroin and other opioids. “If this is something that could be potentially beneficial, and there’s an indication that it could be beneficial, why not put all hands on deck?” she said, according to STAT.

Hurd, who collects brain tissue samples from people who fatally overdosed, also studies how chronic drug use changes the brain.

While she clarified that the purpose of her work is not to prove that CBD is some kind of cure-all for opioid addiction, she’s eager to get the research done and find the answers.

“In my wildest dreams I would like CBD to be an approved medication for addiction and pain management after evidence-based research has proven it to be effective,” she told Binghamton University Magazine. “A lot of people being treated for chronic pain develop an addiction disorder, and we want to be able to offer them a non-opioid treatment, which is why we’re looking at cannabinoids as potential adjunct therapy.”

She added, “Perhaps CBD will be a part of the mix in creating novel medications. We’ll see.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr