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CBD may help curb cravings of opioid addiction, study says

Researchers found an oral CBD solution reduced drug cue-related behaviors and cravings among a small group of heroin abusers.

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Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-psychoactive chemical found in the marijuana plant. In addition to treating chronic pain and some forms of epilepsy, researchers now say the CBD could be used to help opioid abusers resist cravings. File Photo by Atomazul/Shutterstock
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-psychoactive chemical found in the marijuana plant. In addition to treating chronic pain and some forms of epilepsy, researchers now say the CBD could be used to help opioid abusers resist cravings. File Photo by Atomazul/Shutterstock

Cannabidiol, or CBD, has been receiving a lot of attention lately as a potential treatment for everything from epilepsy to anxiety. Now, researchers report it might also help curb the cravings that come with opioid addiction.

Like marijuana, CBD comes from the cannabis plant. Unlike pot, it does not produce a high.

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The study included 42 men and women with a history of heroin abuse who were not current users. Heroin is an illegal opioid. Other opioids include powerful prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, or OxyContin.

For the study, participants received either an oral CBD solution or an inactive placebo and then were shown videos that contained neutral and drug-related cues. Neutral cues included relaxing scenarios such as scenes of nature, while drug-related cues included scenes of IV drug use and heroin-related items such as syringes, rubber ties and packets of powder.

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The researchers found that, compared to a placebo, CBD reduced drug cue-induced craving and anxiety in the participants.

"Our findings indicate that CBD holds significant promise for treating individuals with heroin use disorder," said first author Yasmin Hurd. She is director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai in New York City.

"A successful non-opioid medication would add significantly to the existing addiction medication toolbox to help reduce the growing death toll, enormous health care costs, and treatment limitations imposed by stringent government regulations amid this persistent opioid epidemic," she said in a Mount Sinai news release.

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The United States is struggling with an opioid epidemic that's claimed more than 300,000 lives since it began. Two current opioid addiction treatments are methadone and buprenorphine, which work on the same opioid receptors as heroin and other opioids.

But because these treatments carry a stigma, have their own addiction risk and are tightly regulated, millions of Americans with opioid addiction won't use them, the study authors explained.

That's why there's an urgent need to find other treatments, the researchers noted.

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The report was published May 21 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Hurd's team is now working on two follow-up studies: one to examine how CBD affects the brain; and another to pursue development of CBD-based treatments for opioid addiction.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on opioid addiction.

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