The number of people dying by heroin overdose has been on the rise since the early 2000s. In 2017, more than 15,000 people died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists and healthcare providers have been struggling to figure out how to help fight heroin addiction, and CBD may play a role in that space.
A new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry Tuesday shows that CBD helped quell some anxiety and cravings among people who’ve abused heroin in the past. CBD isn’t like THC; it won’t get a person high. That’s why the team of scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai decided to investigate the potentials for the compound in those dealing with heroin addiction.
They began with 42 individuals who were abstaining from drug use. Each received either 400 or 800 milligrams of CBD or a placebo over three days, one dose a day. Then, they underwent three sessions right after they received the dose, 24 hours after, and seven days after the last dose of CBD (or the placebo).
During these sessions, the researchers exposed the participants to, as the study put it, “neutral” cues—think nature video—and “drug-related” cues—imagine a video of syringes—to gauge their physiological reaction, including heart rate and skin temperature.
The placebo ain’t do shit. On the other hand, CBD helped reduce the craving and anxiety that the more drug-friendly videos caused. The participants’ heart rates and salivary cortisol levels were impacted, in particular.
The coolest part, perhaps, is that the compound’s impacts lasted at least a week after the researchers administered it. So CBD has the potential to be long-lasting, reducing the need to constantly consume it and become dependent on it, as some of those recovering from a drug addiction could experience with other anti-addiction medication like methadone and buprenorphine.
That’s, in part, why teams like this one are in search of something new to help people live with their addiction. Also, everyday-life events that remind addiction survivors of their past drug use can cause anxiety and make it harder to continue with their sobriety.
“The specific effects of CBD on cue-induced drug craving and anxiety are particularly important in the development of addiction therapeutics because environmental cues are one of the strongest triggers for relapse and continued drug use,” said lead author Yasmin Hurd, who is the director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai, in a press release.
Her team had first discovered these effects in previous studies they had conducted on animals. This latest study is their attempt to see if it’d play out the same with humans. The results are definitely promising. The authors didn’t discover any negative effects of the CBD administration.
“Our findings indicate that CBD holds significant promise for treating individuals with heroin use disorder,” Hurd said in a statement. “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.”
Still, there’s a lot more research to do. Her team is already planning on doing one to examine how CBD could impact the brain. (Other studies show it could help transmit medicine to the brain!) But the team also wants to figure out special ways to develop CBD medicines so it can help end the opioid epidemic. Heroin is but one piece of that tragic story; more than 47,000 people lost their lives to an opioid overdose in 2017.
These numbers have been on the rise, and cannabis may just help put a dent in them.