NOV 20, 2020 10:30 AM PST

Can Cannabis Treat Opiate Addiction?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

As cannabis products become more popular, many healthcare professionals are starting to consider the plant as a part of a therapeutic approach for diverse issues. One such issue is opiate addiction.

While research is still too limited to draw any ultimate conclusions on the utility of cannabis in treating addiction or opiate use, both early studies and anecdotes show that the plant holds promise for treating these conditions at various points in their cycles. This comes as research has started to emerge on how the endocannabinoid system (regulated by cannabinoids) and the opioidergic system (regulated by opioids) interact to modulate conditions, including pain and anxiety. 

Regarding studies looking at the potential for cannabis to help reduce opioid usage, a National Institutes of Health report from 2018 found that cannabinoid 1 receptors (mostly present in the central nervous system) and mu-opioid receptors are usually located in the same areas of the brain.

More than this, they found that their overlap pointed to the systems interacting, especially regarding emotional reward responses and other physiological symptoms that could affect opioid withdrawal. This was seen as the plant could not only be used as an alternative for pain relief but also to alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms and decrease the likelihood of a relapse. 

A further study conducted in 2019 found that cannabidiol (CBD) could reduce cue-induced cravings and anxiety, two key aspects of addiction that contribute to relapse in those using heroin. The researchers noted, however, that their findings could also be applied to addiction to other opiates too. 

Despite the optimism, however, at least one study has found no evidence that opioid-withdrawal symptoms can be relieved by cannabis. While such studies appear to be in the minority, they demonstrate that before firm conclusions can be drawn, further research is needed on how cannabinoids interact with the opioidergic system to know whether cannabinoids can really treat opioid addiction. 


Sources: CannigmaThe American Journal of Psychiatry 

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets.
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