A new study examined whether CBD oil could curb heroin cravings for long-term users.
Cannabidiol, a compound of marijuana commonly known as CBD, is effective at reducing anxiety and cravings in people who are dependent on heroin, according to a new study that could potentially open up new means of treating opioid use disorder.
As part of the study, researchers gave heroin users doses of CBD in the form of Epidiolex, an FDA-approved cannabis-based medication. They received doses for three days, with follow-up doses over a two-week period.
The study participants were long-time heroin users with an average history of 13 years of heroin use, who had not successfully stayed clean for more than a month, according to CNN.
Researchers found that people who received CBD had 2 to 3 times fewer cravings for heroin than people on a placebo, and also had less stress hormones.
Lead researcher Yasmin Hurd, director of the Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai in New York, said that reducing cravings can help people stay sober.
“The intense craving is what drives the drug use,” she said. “If we can have the medications that can dampen that [craving], that can greatly reduce the chance of relapse and overdose risk.”
Hurd was careful to point out that the study participants were using a regulated medication, not traditional marijuana. “We are developing a medicine,” she said. “We are not developing… recreational cannabis.”
Psychiatrist Julie Holland, former assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, said that the study—though small—is very important.
“This is an extremely significant paper. 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,” she said. “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.”
Hurd said that the study indicated that CBD could be a better alternative to current medication-assisted treatment options like methadone or buprenorphine. Those medications are opioids that can be abused, so their use is tightly regulated. CBD could offer a less restrictive form of medication-assisted treatment.
“It’s not addictive. No one is diverting it. It doesn’t get you high, but it can reduce craving and anxiety,” Hurd said. “This can really help save lives.”
Although some states allow medical marijuana as a treatment for opioid use disorder, there has been controversy over whether cannabis is helpful for people with opioid addiction.
In March, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow said that there is no evidence that cannabis can help treat opioid addiction.