Substance Use

Can CBD Help Heroin Cravings?

Heroin syringe and green cannabis leaves

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Heroin addiction is a painful and deadly issue for addicts and their loved ones. Traditional treatments for this type of addiction usually involve therapy, medication, and support groups, However, lately, there has been growing curiosity in finding out whether alternative methods such as CBD (cannabidiol) work to manage withdrawal symptoms or not. The interest has begged the question – Can CBD help curb heroin cravings and potentially aid in recovery? 

CBD has gained popularity in recent years for its potential therapeutic benefits. These benefits have included the ability to reduce anxiety, ease pain, and create well-being. Researchers and addiction experts have begun investigating new avenues for addiction treatment given the alarming rise of the opioid epidemic. Part of this exploration is the use of CBD as a complementary therapy. 

Although more research still has to be conducted to fully understand the potential benefits of CBD in managing heroin addiction, preliminary studies suggest that this may be possible. Let’s explore the current research on CBD and its probable role in helping individuals struggling with heroin addiction.

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CBD Shown To Help Combat Heroin Addiction, Study Shows

CBD’s effects have shown promise in helping manage opioid withdrawal symptoms and add a potential avenue for combating opioid withdrawal syndrome. This is particularly significant given the devastating consequences of opioid addiction, including the risk of opioid overdose.  

There is a potential consideration of cannabidiol (CBD) as an adjunctive treatment in managing opioid withdrawal syndrome.

CBD has been reported to have several therapeutic properties, including: 

  • Anxiolytic
  • Antidepressant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiemetic
  • Analgesic
  • Reduction of cue-induced craving for opioids 

These are all highly relevant to opioid withdrawal syndrome. (7)

A new study has found that cannabidiol can reduce key features of addiction in drug-abstinent individuals with heroin use disorder. Led by Dr. Yasmin Hurd of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. (8)

Recruited from social service groups, halfway houses, and treatment centers, the participants abstained from any heroin use, fentanyl as well as other opioids used to treat addiction and relieve cravings, such as buprenorphine/naltrexone and buprenorphine. 

Using EPIDOLEX, the first and only FDA-approved cannabis-based prescription medication that has been used to treat and reduce two epilepsy disorders, the researchers separated participants into three groups—one given 800 milligrams of CBD, another 400 milligrams of CBD, and another a placebo. Each participant was dosed once daily for three consecutive days with several sessions following over the next two weeks. 

Over those two weeks, participants were shown images of nature as well as images of drug use and paraphernalia like syringes and packets of powder. The individuals who had taken CBD in both groups experienced a two- to three-fold reduction in cravings compared to the placebo group.

In addition, stress levels while taking CBD were significantly lower than those who hadn’t been dosed with the drug. 

Heroin Effects, Addiction & Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin is a powerful and highly addictive opioid drug derived from morphine. It typically appears as a white or brown powder. However, it can also be found as a black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” (1)

Heroin use can lead to a range of effects, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms. Heroin is an opioid, and opioids are the most widely used pharmacological tool for chronic pain management.

However, repeated use can lead to tolerance, meaning individuals need higher doses to achieve the same effects, increasing the risk of overdose.

Heroin addiction can develop rapidly due to its potent effects and the intense opioid craving it generates. At higher doses over time, the body becomes dependent on heroin. If someone who is dependent on heroin stops using it, they have withdrawal symptoms. 

These symptoms can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle
  • Bone pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps (2)

Effectively treating opioid addiction is essential for safely managing withdrawal symptoms, addressing the root causes of addiction, and fostering long-term recovery from opioid use disorder; with options like cannabidiol offering promising avenues for intervention and support.

Unpacking the Effects of Cannabis

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive component of Cannabis sativa (marijuana), one of more than 80 cannabinoids identified in the plant, and the second most common constituent after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive component. (3)

Unlike its counterpart THC, CBD does not produce psychoactive effects or the feeling of being ‘high’. 

Understanding the effects of CBD involves recognizing the diverse impacts of its components, notably CBD, on the body and mind. CBD’s effects differ from those of THC. While THC can induce feelings of euphoria and alter perception, CBD is non-intoxicating and has been studied for its potential therapeutic benefits.

Apart from THC, CBD is the sole cannabinoid that has been thoroughly tested in humans in numerous controlled experimental studies as well as clinical trials. (4

Most notable was a study conducted at the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research that showed cannabis cigarettes reduced pain by 34% to 40% compared with placebo (17% to 20% decrease in pain). (5) The higher doses of CBD that studies suggest are therapeutic for anxiety, insomnia, and epilepsy may also increase mental sedation. (4)

CBD’s effects have shown promise in treating opioid use disorder. All psychoactive substances that are misused hijack the body’s normal neuron systems in some way.

Cannabinoids like CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that causes its intoxicating effects, work through a naturally occurring system that influences eating behavior and pleasure. In our bodies, a chemical similar to CBD and THC called anandamide uses this system.

Injected directly into the brain of an animal, anandamide triggers a pleasurable response to food and also stimulates hunger. (6)

There are studies currently ongoing to fully understand its effects. These also aim to ensure its safe and effective use as part of comprehensive treatment approaches for opiate withdrawal and other medical conditions.

What Does CBD Help With?

The therapeutic effects of cannabidiol have led to the development and activation of CBD-infused products, which are increasingly popular for promoting overall well-being and managing certain medical conditions. However, further scientific studies are needed to fully understand the long-term effects and potential applications of CBD.

CBD, which acts on several neurotransmission systems involved in addiction, was shown to effectively manage the anxiety and cue-induced craving cycle, two critical aspects of substance use disorder that often lead to relapse and continued drug use.

The study maintained that CBD diminished the pain and inflammation that led to opiate use in the first place. This reduces physiological measures of heart rate and salivary cortisol levels with no significant effects on cognition and no adverse side effects. 

In addition, CBD has been shown in several clinical trials and clinical studies to be well-tolerated with no significant adverse effects, even when co-administered with a potent opioid agonist. (9)

The phytocannabinoid is increasingly being looked at as a therapeutic remedy for a diverse array of medical conditions such as:

  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders 

It is also being considered as a treatment for other addictive behaviors such as cannabis and tobacco dependence. (10) (11)

The DEA removed EPIDOLEX from the Schedule I classification, a category of dangerous drugs deemed to have no medical value. It is now considered a Schedule V drug, the least dangerous under the designation of the Controlled Substances Act. (12)

Cannabis and CBD, however, remain on Schedule I as an illegal narcotic, as the DEA currently recognizes only pharmaceutical CBD. (13)

What Other Drugs Can Help with Heroin Addiction?

OUD affects over 16 million people worldwide and over 2.1 million in the United States. More than 120,000 deaths worldwide every year are attributed to opioids. (14) FDA-approved medications such as buprenorphine/naltrexone and buprenorphine curb cravings in a similar way to cannabidiol.

They are considered “essential medicines” according to the World Health Organization, but they are not yet widely used.

Researchers found that in 2021, an estimated 2.5 million people aged 18 and older had opioid use disorder in the past year, yet only 36% of them received any substance use treatment, and only 22% received medications for opioid use disorder. (15) Since drugs like buprenorphine (often prescribed in a formulation with naloxone) are still opioids, they are highly regulated in terms of who is able to prescribe how much.

A stigma also exists in buprenorphine/naltrexone and buprenorphine as somehow substituting one addiction for another. It reduces cravings and withdrawal by restoring balance to the affected brain circuits, allowing the brain to heal toward recovery.

Methadone (Methadose) is also another medication treatment that is well known for helping in reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Limited non-opioid medication options have been developed to treat the health crisis that is the opioid epidemic, which opens up the opportunity for further investigation of CBD as a treatment option for opioid use disorder. The research team’s next step is to develop a longer-term study that follows participants for up to six months.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that “nearly all U.S. states do not have sufficient treatment capacity to provide Medication Assisted Treatment to all patients with an opioid use disorder.” Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders to provide a “whole patient” approach on the way to recovery. 

What Types of Addiction Treatment Programs are Available?

Heroin, in particular, is not only extremely addictive, but its withdrawal can have severe, life-threatening symptoms. Battling heroin use disorder is a delicate process that should involve a supervised detox and adequate treatment program. Those who receive long-term treatment & follow-up with healthcare practitioners have a higher success rate in overcoming addiction.

The diverse array of addiction treatment programs at Zinnia Health is designed to offer both compassion and fully customizable structured care as your “hope away from home.” Given heroin’s status as one of the most habit-forming substances and its undeniable capacity to ruin lives, our team understands the care needed in administering a clinically supervised detox program that will smooth the transition of the substance and stop addiction. 

We’ve helped thousands of people find their truth away from drug and alcohol dependence, and we create a healthy and positive environment that puts the power back in the hands of the individual. 

No matter what type of addiction you or your loved ones face, you don’t have to face the battle alone. Give us a call 24/7 at (855) 430-9439.


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Ready to get help?
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