The record-borne increase in the US overdoses deaths – now exceeding the maximum annual deaths from car accidents, weapons and HIV – have caused some to guess cannabis legalization. But a new study suggests that cannabinoids can actually help people turn away from lethal drugs.
Yasmin Hurd, Director, Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai
The study of researchers at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, investigated 42 people with problematic heroin disorder who abstained from heroin during the program. Researchers found that people who received CBD experienced significantly reduced heroin needs ̵
The study was published Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
"Our findings show that the CBD has a significant promise of treating people with heroin disorder," Yasmin Hurd, lead author of the study and director of the Addiction Institute on Mount Sinai, said in a statement.
We have already known for a moment that the availability of medical cannabis is associated with lower opioid prescription and overdose death. What has been less clear is whether cannabinoids can reliably help individuals interfere with drug use.
Participants in the Mount Sinai experiment were given either CBD or placebo and then presented with three minutes of video with either "neutral signals" – including relaxing character scenes or "drug-related signs" such as intravenous drug use, syringes or powder packets that looked like heroin. The CBD doses were quite large – either 400 mg or 800 mg CBD – and were taken daily as an oral solution for three consecutive days.
As the participants looked at the videos, researchers measure opioid requirements, anxiety and other health indicators, such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, skin temperature and blood average. The measurements were taken at three video sessions performed at different times: immediately after administration of CBD or placebo, 24 hours later and one week after the final dose. The results were notable:
The study team found that CBD, in contrast to placebo, significantly reduced both the urge and anxiety induced by drug indications compared to neutral signals in the acute term. CBD also showed significant long-term effects on these measures seven days after the final short-term exposure. In addition, CBD reduced the drug-induced physiological measures of heart rate and salivary cortisol levels. There were no significant effects on cognition and there were no serious side effects. CBD's ability to reduce urge and anxiety one week after the final administration reflects the results of the original preclinical animal experiment, suggesting that the effects of CBD are long-lasting, although cannabinoid is not expected to be present in the body.
This is not the first time Hurd and her team have explored CBD's influence on heroin use. But previous studies focused on animals and found that their heroin needs could be reduced by CBD, and Hurd was eager to expand research with humans.
"To address the critical need for new treatment options for the millions of people and families destroyed by this epidemic, we initiated a study to assess the possibility of a non-intoxicating cannabinoid on desire and anxiety in heroin-dependent individuals. "Hurd said. "A successful non-opioid drug would significantly improve the existing drug control toolbox to reduce the increasing death, enormous health care costs and treatment constraints imposed by strict governmental regulations on this persistent opioid epidemic."
The findings of the study, say the hospital, suggest a role for the CBD "to help break the cycle of addiction."
"The specific effects of CBD on cue-induced drug demand and anxiety are particularly important in the development of addiction treatments," Hurd explained, "because environmental angles are one of the strongest triggers for relapse and continued drug use."
Although the initial study is relatively small, it will likely provide fuel for continued research into the use of cannabinoids and opioids. Already, Hurd's research team has been working on two follow-up studies with the aim of putting a belly in the epidemic's overdose. One examines the mechanisms by which the CBD affects the brain, while the other looks at unique medical cannabis formulations that Mount Sinai said "are likely to be a major part of the medical arsenal available to resolve the opioid epidemic."