The opioid crisis is making its mark on public welfare. In response, many people are looking for a safe treatment for opioid addiction, as well as seeking out alternative therapy for chronic pain. Research shows that medical cannabis and the compound Cannabidiol (CBD) could be potential solutions in both scenarios.
Big Pharma’s Opioid Debacle
The problem with opioid abuse, addiction and overdose has grown to such heights that alternatives to these pharmaceutical drugs are much needed. In addition, the public and many policymakers want to understand the role that Big Pharma and the medical establishment in general played in this growing problem.
Many lawmakers want to hold major opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for the thousands of deaths caused by opioids in recent years. As of early 2018, there are lawsuits in 17 U.S. states against the Big Pharma establishment.
The argument is that Big Pharma falsely claimed that opioids can improve function and benefit quality of life long term. Conversely, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that “there is ‘no good evidence’ supporting these claims.” (source)
It’s no secret that Big Pharma is very effective in spending millions of dollars on promoting its drugs. Many of these promotions overstate the benefit of using opioids to treat chronic pain while trivializing their risks.
Furthermore, doctors are getting paid by pharmaceutical companies to write opioid prescriptions. Some 70,000 doctors have received an estimated $46 million in non-research opioid related payments.
Although manufacturers downplay the risk of opioid addiction, the probability of developing an opoioid addiction are staggering. A new study from the CDC reveals:
When patients get an initial opioid prescription that’s just a one-day supply, they have about a six-percent chance of being on opioids for a year or longer. With an initial five-day supply, the chance jumps to about 10 percent. With a six-day supply, the chance hits 12 percent. With 10-day’s worth, the odds of still being on opioids a year later hits roughly 20 percent.
It should come as no surprise, then, that opioids generate billions in revenue per year. In 2014, this drug category generated $11 billion for drug companies.
CBD as a Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Clearly, the pharmaceutical companies have a role to play in the opioid crisis. Regardless of this fact, health professionals must find a safe and effective alternative treatment, as well as a solution to opioid addiction. This is where CBD, the non-psychoactive substance found in the cannabis sativa plant, may be a potential remedy.
A recent pre-clinical animal study from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California examined the effect that CBD has on recovering addicts. Researcher Friedbert Weiss and his colleagues were able to show that the non-psychoactive cannabinoid may reduce the risk of relapse in addicts.
In the study, Weiss used rats that had a history of daily voluntary alcohol or cocaine self-administration. In addition, the animals showed addictive behavior, such as impulsivity.
The researchers applied a CBD gel once per day to the skin of these animals. Then, they conducted various tests to see how the subjects reacted to stressful situations. In addition, the scientists conducted tests to measure impulsivity.
In the end, the researchers found that CBD has the potential to reduce addictive relapse. Science Daily reports:
The researchers reported that CBD effectively reduced relapse provoked by stress and drug cues; CBD also reduced anxiety and impulsivity in the drug-experienced rats.
Further studies showed that CBD was completely cleared from the brain and plasma of the rats three days after the therapy was completed. Quite unexpectedly though, five months later, experimental animals that had been treated with CBD still showed a reduced relapse induced by stress or drug cues.
Consequently, this research shows that CBD may be a safe and effective way to help prevent drug relapse in addicts. What’s more exciting is that this could be a long-lasting therapy that doesn’t require ongoing treatment.
Cannabis vs. Opioids for Chronic Pain
Interestingly, lawmakers in Arizona have recently started the process which would allow physicians to prescribe cannabis therapy for anyone struggling with opioid abuse or dependence. The justification for the new law is an array of peer-reviewed studies that show cannabis can be an effective substitute for opioids.
One study out of Minnesota Deportment of Health was able to show that:
62.6% (221/353) were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after six months (of taking medical cannabis).
Further, a study from Israel published in February 2018 in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, examined the effects of six months of cannabis treatment on the elderly. Here’s what they concluded:
After six months of treatment, 93.7% of the respondents reported improvement in their condition and the reported pain level was reduced from a median of 8 on a scale of 0-10 to a median of 4. After six months, 18.1% stopped using opioid analgesics or reduced their does.
Finally, yet in another study, a group of researchers concluded:
Prescriptions for all opioids decreased by 3.742 million daily doses per year when medical cannabis dispensaries opened …Combined with previously published studies suggesting cannabis laws are associated with lower opioid mortality, these findings further strengthen arguments in favor of considering medical applications of cannabis as one tool in the policy arsenal that can be used to diminish the harm of prescription opioids.”
It is still not fully known which cannabinoids in cannabis can have the most beneficial effect on chronic pain and how they work as a treatment for opioid addiction. What we do know is that safe alternatives are much needed. Please share in the comments if you’ve had any first hand experience with opioids or opioid addiction.
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