The U.S. is in an opiate crisis with an estimated two million people abusing prescription pills and street drugs, but could marijuana be the answer?
When most people picture a drug dealer, they are not likely to picture their family doctor, but in the case of chronic or acute pain, many Americans begin their battle with opiates after receiving a prescription.
Why are Opiates being prescribed?
Opioids have a rich history in the U.S. starting in the Civil war when morphine was used on the battlefield as an anesthetic. This led to a population of soldiers who became dependent after the war.
Heroin was then sold by the Bayer company as a less addictive alternative to morphine. It remained legal in the United States until 1924 with the Anti-Heroin Act.
In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act became law where drugs were classified by their addictiveness. Hydrocodone was originally classified as a schedule III drug. This was only upped to a schedule II drug in 2014.
In 1995 Oxycontin, a drug that works over a 12-hour period, was introduced as a ‘safer’ opioid alternative by manufacturer Purdue Pharma. This is later determined to be false and misleading and the company is sued for $634.5 million.
As a result, approximately 130 people diedevery dayfrom opioid overdose in the U.S. in 2016 and 2017. In 2015, the U.S. represented about 99.7 percent of the world’s hydrocodone consumption.
Why Opiates are so Addictive
Opioids work by binding to the pain receptors in the brain and spinal cord to disrupt pain signals. In addition, they also signal the brain’s reward system to make dopamine which creates a euphoric high.
While the exact reason for substance abuse is not known, there are many risk factors that can contribute to substance abuse such as ADHD, depression, stress and a family history of drug abuse. With dependence on opioids comes an increased tolerance, where users must have higher and higher doses of the drug to produce the same effects. This can lead some to turn to heroin as it is a cheaper alternative to the pricey prescription counterpart. The National Institute on Drug Abuse Estimates that half of young people who abuse heroin tried the drug after abusing painkillers.
Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
Those who stop taking opioids may experience withdrawal symptoms which can range from mild flu-like ailments to even cases of death. Some experiencing opioid withdrawal may experience:
While many of these symptoms are common with a stomach flu, left unchecked the combination of vomiting and Diarrhea has led to death. It is suggested that these deaths are highly preventable with proper medical management, especially in areas such as prisons.
CBD for Opiate Withdrawal
While drug addiction is often characterized as a relapsing disorder where an individual uses drugs without a control over their addiction, many experts are studying the possible benefits of cbd for opiate withdrawal.The Neuronal circuits are the underlying determinants of every behavior ranging from reflexes to advanced cognitive functions.
Their research points to the possibility of CBD having therapeutic benefits for those who are suffering from opioid, cocaine and psychostimulant addiction.
What is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol which is the second most prevalent ingredient in marijuana. Unlike THC, CBD will not get you high, but may have medical benefits. According to a report by the World Health Organization, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
CBD has shown to be effective in the treatment of childhood epilepsy symptoms. It can also aid in those suffering from insomnia and some studies have shown effectiveness in the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis as well as an ability to inhibit neuropathic and inflammatory pain.
A treatment center in Arizona was able to find success with cannabis. Doctors at Blue Door Therapeutics found that administering cannabis pills and patches were able to help their patients with opiate withdrawal symptoms such as nausea.
The anti-anxiety and inflammatory properties of the cannabis were also often able to address underlying conditions that led to the addiction.
Stop Opiate Addiction Before it Starts
Marijuana is also being studied as a possible alternative to opiates for those suffering from chronic pain. While marijuana has been effective in blocking the neurotransmitters that send pain signals, it can also cause adverse side effects such as paranoia and impairment. The National Institute of Health has partnered with UCLA and NYU to study whether they can reproduce the pain blocking benefits of this plant, without the ‘high’.
While still in the early stages, more research is needed to determine what role, if any, CBD could play in the prevention and treatment of opiate abuse.
In 2018, President Donald Trump announced $6 billion in funding for opioid programs, with $3 billion allocated in 2018 and $3 billion allocated for 2019. Although monies have been pledged, it seems they are allocated for public prevention programs and law enforcement activities, rather than medical research.