With opioid and heroin related overdoses on the rise, millions of Americans, from Main Street to Capitol Hill, are desperately searching for a solution. Researchers have discovered a compound called cannabidiol (CBD) within the controversial cannabis plant that is producing enormous pain relieving benefits for patients and expanding our understanding of pain and addiction mechanisms. CBD not only provides relief of pain, but also disrupts the addiction cycle, allowing individuals to get clean of opioids, including heroin, and begin living a normal life again. This article will summarize a key study conducted by Ren, et al in November 2009 and published in the Journal of Neuroscience that explored the effects of CBD at reducing drug seeking behavior in individuals addicted to heroin.
CBD is a unique cannabinoid because, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it is non-psychoactive and not habit forming. THC is known to induce hallucinations, anxiety, enhance the potential for abuse and addiction of heroin, and even potentiate the tendency of an individual to develop psychosis. CBD, however, exhibits the exact opposite effects as THC, resulting in relief from anxiety, depression, and pain, and even enhancing cognition. Both cannabinoids act upon receptors within the endocannabinoid system, a vast network of neurons within the body responsible for initiating multiple physiological and psychological responses. Additionally, CBD has been found to act upon other receptors in the body, including ones called glutamatergic receptors that regulate glutamate production in the brain and alleviate harmful toxins that are produced from heroin addiction.
The researchers in this study were specifically looking at whether CBD had the ability to reduce the relapse rate of individuals addicted to heroin. This was done utilizing a well established rat model in which the rats were trained to self-administer heroin at leisure, resulting in heroin addiction. Once the rats were deemed to be addicted, they were then removed from this environment and placed in a heroin free environment for two weeks. During this time, half of the rats were given different doses of CBD at varying intervals to determine if it would prevent them from experiencing any withdrawal effects or relapsing. The other half received no CBD intervention. After the two weeks of abstinence, all of the rats were placed back into the previous environment where they were free to self-administer heroin.
The results of this study were very striking. The researchers utilized a well-established model used to train rats to perform a particular task by offering them a reward. In this case, the reward was administration of heroin. If the rat wanted heroin, then all it had to do was flip a lever. The rats were trained to respond to a light being turned on above the lever, indicating that heroin was available for them to administer. Researchers noted that those rats that received CBD during the abstinence phase did not seek out heroin with the light induced cue. This indicated that the CBD administered rats were effectively treated for the addictive properties of the environmental context associated with heroin usage. It is very well known that when an individual returns to an environment that was previously associated with substance abuse, it is highly likely that the individual will be vulnerable to the temptation to use again even after a prolonged abstinence.
It was noted, however, when CBD treated rats were injected with heroin they did develop addictive behavior again. This indicates that CBD is effective at reducing the urge and addictive cravings of heroin usage, but not after heroin has been administered. It is worth mentioning that researchers observed the beneficial effects of CBD at preventing drug-seeking behavior up to two weeks after initial CBD administration. This could prove to be a very successful strategy to maximize efforts in assisting individuals to stay clean from heroin after participation in a substance abuse rehabilitation program.
In summary, this study confirms that CBD is effective at reducing the drug-seeking behavior that is associated with heroin addiction. As a result, CBD may fulfill a necessary and crucial role in substance abuse or drug rehabilitation programs and ensure individuals remain substance free. Additionally, CBD not only alleviates addiction of heroin, but is also an effective, non-addictive, plant-based pain management therapy that is safe and well tolerated by individuals with long term doses up to 1,500mg per day. For more information on CBD dosing or other health conditions that CBD may be beneficial for, read the other articles located on this site.