50,000 Americans die every year of opioid overdose. Ten million Americans consume opioid painkillers for more than the prescribed length of time, abusing these painkillers and ultimately risking opioid addiction.
An increasing number of American people are becoming addicted to opioids such as heroin, opioid-based pain relievers, or manufactured opioids. Sometimes this addiction leads to an overdose, which can be lethal.
The main reason people turn to opioids is to manage chronic pain. Pain can be debilitating. When it becomes chronic and persistent, it keeps people from enjoying their lives. Walks, everyday activities, exercise, and even standing up can become a challenge. Eventually, physical pain also turns into a mental issue because people feel they are missing out on life. Anxiety and depression settle in.
Faced with such challenges, it is no wonder that some people turn to opioids in the quest to improve their quality of life and enhance their mobility.
Opioids provide instant pain relief, which is obviously welcome. However, they also create dependence, which turns into an addiction. Sufferers become reliant on their opioid medication to live their lives.
Unfortunately, consistent opioid use can cause tolerance. Larger doses are required to achieve the same pain-relieving results. Hence, opioid users become further dependent on increasing doses of opioids.
The opioid crisis is a cause of great concern. Physicians, doctors, and researchers are looking into healthier and safer alternatives to opioids. Because of CBD’s potential anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and pain-relieving properties, there is increased interest in the possibility of CBD becoming a more viable and non-addictive alternative to opioids. Researchers are also interested in finding out whether CBD may help addicts overcome their addiction.
How Do Opioids Work?
The human body is equipped with an endogenous opioid system, whose main task is to manage pain.
Aside from pain control, the human opioid system also regulates the sense of reward, our reaction to stress, our feeling of motivation, as well as our propensity to drug addiction and addiction in general.
Just like the endocannabinoid system—the system responsible for maintaining our body’s natural balance—the opioid system works with receptors. These opioid receptors relay messages to the cells. When they get activated, they alert their respective neurons, which create feelings of pain relief and pleasure. Most of these opioid receptors are located in the brain.
Why Are Opioids Addictive?
Research and experience have shown that opioids are addictive.
When you take opioids, your body enjoys an immediate effect on the brain. Instead of producing its own neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, or norepinephrine, the brain relies on an external source of pleasure—in this case, an opioid painkiller.
Slowly, the body and the brain become dependent on opioids. When the level of neurotransmitters in the brain falls below a threshold, the brain experiences withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms commonly manifest as nervousness, depression, moodiness, and the disruption of sleep patterns. Further symptoms include diarrhea or constipation, restlessness, and a general feeling of discomfort.
Addiction also builds tolerance. As your body gets accustomed to opioids, it starts demanding larger doses to achieve the same soothing and relaxing effects.
How Can CBD Help with Pain Management?
Research, clinical studies, and trials suggest that CBD has potential anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, mood-supporting, and pain-relieving properties.
Crucially, the World Health Organization has concluded that CBD is non-addictive and generally well-tolerated by the body. There have not been any mentions of CBD addiction or CBD overdose. Even in large doses, CBD may only cause relatively minor side effects such as nausea, drowsiness, and dry mouth. These side effects will dissipate quickly without causing withdrawal symptoms.
CBD’s beneficial effects seem to be thanks to the interaction between CBD and the endocannabinoid system (ECS). One of the tasks of the ECS is regulating inflammation and pain perception.
The CBD found in Full-Spectrum Hemp Oil interacts with the ECS in an indirect, gentle way and seems to help the ECS make better use of the body’s own endocannabinoids. This interaction may help the ECS better manage pain relief and inflammation.
Various studies and clinical trials have tried to evaluate CBD’s potential in terms of pain management with promising results:
- The Journal of Pain published a study of people suffering from fibromyalgia. The study showed that 72% of participants chose CBD and stopped taking their pain medication, including opioids. Participants who opted for CBD stated they experienced better quality of life, lower pain levels, better memory, and better sleep patterns. The main reasons participants quoted for substituting were fewer side effects and better pain management.
- Another study from 2019 investigated how CBD could help patients who had been on opioids for over a year for pain management purposes. All participants were suffering from chronic pain. 53% of participants reduced their intake of opioid medication and a whopping 94% reported quality of life improvements.
These promising results could open the way to more research regarding the potential for CBD to be used for long-term pain management.
Can CBD help people wean off opioids?
There is another important issue that physicians, doctors, and researchers are looking into. We know that CBD interacts with neurotransmitters. So, perhaps it can help people wean off opioids?
The problem with opioids is that they can create withdrawal symptoms when stopped. Even worse, the pain returns and makes it even harder for patients to willingly stop taking opioid painkillers.
What if CBD could someday be a viable alternative that could offer pain relief and relief from withdrawal symptoms while helping them break their addiction? A number of studies have set out to answer just that question, with mixed results:
- A small clinical trial showed that CBD significantly reduced anxiety and cravings that are related with opioid withdrawal symptoms. The study used Epidiolex, an FDA-approved medication (not to be confused with “medical marijuana”).
- This confirmed the findings of a 2018 preclinical proof-of-principle study. The study concluded that “CBD attenuated context-induced and stress-induced drug seeking without tolerance, sedative effects, or interference with normal motivated behaviour.”
- However, one study from 2018 found that “cannabis use appears to increase rather than decrease the risk of developing nonmedical prescription opioid use and opioid use disorder.” The study used cannabis, which also includes THC—the psychotropic cannabinoid that has its own pronounced effects on the body. We still need to establish whether CBD on its own could display more promising results.
- A similar 2020 study concluded that “evidence from this review cannot be relied upon to promote medical cannabis as an adjunct to opioids in treating non-cancer chronic pain.” Again, the study was done with cannabis rather than CBD. Therefore, we would need more studies to evaluate the potential of CBD alone.
One possibility is that cannabis has a different effect than CBD, probably because of THC. Another is that the dosage plays an important role. CBD may be biphasic, having one effect at one dose and its opposite—or no effect—at another one.
Further research is necessary to answer these questions and determine if and how CBD may help people with opioid addiction.
CBD for Better Overall Health
CBD may someday be a substantial alternative to opioids thanks to its pain management and anti-inflammatory properties. It is still unclear whether CBD may also one day help people struggling with opioid addiction.
What we do know is that CBD may help people rebalance their life and support their vitality by helping them improve their sleep and mood—issues that people with pain management problems often struggle with.
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