The Opioid Crisis: CBD can be a safe and effective treatment for opioid withdrawal

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The opioid crisis – an ongoing public health emergency in both the United States and British Columbia, Canada – might be getting worse.

In the US, for instance, opioid-involved overdose deaths rose from 21,088 in 2010 to 47,600 in 2017 and remained steady in 2018 with 46,802 deaths. This, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, was followed by a significant increase in 2019 to 49,860 overdose deaths, the last year for which statistics are available.

To reduce the carnage, researchers at the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai say we have to find an effective way to treat the brutal symptoms of opioid withdrawal. They explain:

Withdrawal can be debilitating and include a range of symptoms such as anxiety, pain, insomnia, and gastrointestinal symptoms … and can persist for months after the cessation of opioids … [and] often leads to devastating results including treatment failure, relapse, and overdose. 

Thus, there is a critical need for … nonopioid medications, with minimal side effects to help in the medical management of opioid withdrawal syndrome. 

So they turned to CBD because:

CBD has been reported to have several therapeutic properties including anxiolytic, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-emetic, analgesic, as well as reduction of cue-induced craving for opioids, all of which are highly relevant to opioid withdrawal syndrome. In addition, CBD has been shown in several clinical trials to be a well-tolerated with no significant adverse effects, even when co-administered with a potent opioid agonist. 

And after reviewing every study they could find – 41 in all – that evaluated the ability of CBD to treat these symptoms, they concluded: Growing evidence suggests that CBD could potentially be added to the standard opioid detoxification regimen to mitigate acute or protracted opioid withdrawal-related symptoms.

Since the research is still in its infancy they also call for larger controlled studies looking at the effect of CBD on opioid withdrawal.

In the meantime, as psychiatrist and cannabis researcher Julie Holland, MD, said this week, the evidence to date looks quite good:

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