Can Cannabidiol Benefit Heroin Abusers?

The use of cannabidiol (CBD) could effectively treat patients with heroin addiction, mitigating their cravings and anxiety, according to the findings of a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

“The intense craving is what drives the drug use,” said Yasmin Hurd, lead researcher on the study and director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai, in a CNN article. “If we can have the medications that can dampen that [craving], that can greatly reduce the chance of relapse and overdose risk.”

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial, researchers evaluated the acute (over one to two hours, and 24 hours), short-term (three consecutive days), and long-term (seven days subsequent to the last of three consecutive daily administrations) effects of CBD on drug-induced cravings and anxiety in drug-abstinent individuals with heroin use disorder. They enlisted 50 participants (aged between 21 and 65 years) via board-approved advertisements posted newspapers, social service organizations, half-way houses, and college campuses throughout New York City. Eight of the original participants were excluded due to voluntary withdrawal, positive drug tests, or health issues unrelated to the study drugs.

Of the 42 participants analyzed in this study, 78.6% preferred intranasal heroin use, and 83.3% reported currently using 10 bags of heroin daily. In reporting abstinence, 64.3% had refrained from heroin use for less than one month, 14.3% for one to two months, and 24.1% for two to three months. The average participant had been a heroin user for 13 years. The participants were arbitrarily designated to receive either 400/800 mg of CBD once daily for three consecutive days, or a placebo. Secondary measures of the study gauged participants’ positive and negative effect, cognition, and physiological status.

Findings ‘Can Really Help Save Lives’

Results of the study indicated that acute CBD administration notably reduced cravings compared to placebo, and perceptibly reduced both craving and anxiety induced by the presentation of primary drug cues compared with neutral cues. Moreover, CBD also exhibited significant long-term effects on these measures seven days following the final short-term CBD exposure. Furthermore, CBD diminished the drug cue–induced physiological measures of heart rate and salivary levels. Overall, the study indicated no significant effects on cognition, and no serious adverse effects were reported.

“This is an extremely significant paper, said Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist in New York and former assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. “We need to utilize every possible treatment in helping people with chronic pain to find other ways to manage their symptoms and in people with opiate addiction to find relief.”

Dr. Holland also noted that CBD “not only manages the anxiety and cue/craving cycle, it also diminishes the original pain and inflammation that leads to opiate use in the first place,” adding that “it’s not addictive. No one is diverting it. It doesn’t get you high, but it can reduce craving and anxiety.”

Dr. Holland feels strongly about the positive implications these findings can have on heroin users, and she believes that ultimately, “this can really help save lives.”

Source: The American Journal of Psychiatry, CNN