Currently, a new treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) using cannabidiol (CBD) is being explored, which may work to curb opioid cravings.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a clinical trial for CBD to treat opioid addiction.
While the drug, Nantheia™ ATL5, has not yet been approved, the clinical trial will reveal whether CBD is an effective treatment for OUD.
Current Medical Uses For CBD
While CBD has been used to treat a range of health issues (such as chronic pain, glaucoma, cardiovascular disorders, and others) there’s only one FDA-approved medication using CBD.
The FDA has approved the cannabis-derived medication Epidiolex, used to treat seizures.
They’ve also approved three synthetic cannabis-related drug products: Marinol (dronabinol), Syndros (dronabinol), and Cesamet (nabilone).
Each of the above synthetic medications is used to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.
The Research Behind CBD And Opioid Use Disorder
Researchers have conducted several studies on the medicinal uses of CBD, specifically for CBD and opioid addiction.
Overall, the studies have shown promising evidence that CBD can reduce cravings during opioid withdrawal.
However, more research is needed to understand the full implications of CBD as a treatment for OUD.
CBD May Reduce Drug Cravings
One researcher named Yasmin Hurd studied the effects of cannabinoids found in marijuana on drug cravings in rats and humans.
While being exposed to the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) increased opioid cravings later in life, CBD seemed to do the opposite.
After being given CBD, the rats were less likely to seek heroin due to environmental factors. This means CBD may effectively reduce cravings in humans, as well.
Because opioid relapse is so closely tied to outside influences — financial issues, social support, etc. — the potential for CBD to reduce cravings in these environments is important.
Other animal studies have found that CBD reduces drug-related memories associated with drug-seeking behavior for different substances of abuse, not just opioid drugs.
Long-Lasting Effects Of CBD
In addition, CBD had long-lasting effects on the rats tested, meaning it may help to curb cravings for an extended period of time.
CBD was found to suppress cravings and drug-seeking behavior for two weeks or more.
This means that for several weeks, environmental cues that would typically lead to a relapse of heroin use didn’t have the same effect.
Not only this, but CBD also effectively reduced cravings and relapse for weeks to come when administered during active heroin use.
This suggests that CBD could impact heroin dependence, even following a lapse after a period of abstinence.
Anti-Anxiety Properties Of CBD
Several studies, such as those published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), have explored CBD as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders.
In her research, Hurd found that CBD reduces stress vulnerability and acts as an anxiolytic, or a drug that reduces anxiety.
CBD also reduces the flight response, which often influences drug use in times of stress, fear, or panic.
Other preclinical studies concluded that CBD reduces symptoms of:
- generalized anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Many people have an addiction and co-occurring anxiety disorder, so a medication that treats both the mental health and substance use disorder would bring added benefits.
How CBD Treats Addiction
CBD can have recovery benefits related to addictions to opioids, cocaine, psychostimulants, cannabis, and tobacco.
This is because CBD can modify the areas of a person’s brain involved in drug addiction.
These areas include opioid receptors, serotonin receptors, and parts of the brain responsible for stress responses and compulsive behaviors.
Is CBD Addictive?
Some people are wary of using a substance to treat another substance disorder, making the CBD trial a divisive subject.
However, many of the current drugs used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to treat opioid abuse are other opioids, which are addictive.
Because CBD is not addictive or psychoactive, it does not produce any of the pleasurable or rewarding properties of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana.
There is a great need for non-addictive therapy for opioid use disorder, as many of the current medications involve the use of opioids. Researchers believe CBD can fill this role.
Clinical Trial For CBD And Opioid Addiction Recovery
With the preliminary work in place, Hurd and a team of other researchers are set to conduct an official, FDA-approved clinical trial.
In the trial, they’ll test CBD’s effect on people in OUD recovery who are abstinent and people who are receiving medication for opioid addiction.
If the trial confirms previous findings of reduced opioid cravings, a new CBD medication may be developed.
Existing treatment methods for opioid addiction include methadone (approved by the FDA in 1972), buprenorphine (approved in 2002), and naltrexone (approved in 2006).
The treatment approach for opioid use disorder has not been revisited in well over a decade, which is why the prospect of a new method of treating this widespread disorder is so significant.
Treatment Options For Opioid Use Disorder
If you or someone you love are overcoming an opioid use disorder, treatments are available.
At this time, opioid addiction is treated with medication-assisted treatment, a combination of medication and behavioral therapies that provide a whole-person approach to recovery.
It’s best to detox from illicit and prescription opioids in a medical setting to prevent serious effects from drug withdrawal.
Here are a few of the treatment options provided at opioid addiction treatment centers:
Buprenorphine For Opioid Addiction
Buprenorphine (Zubsolv, Subutex, Suboxone, and generic buprenorphine) works as a partial opioid agonist.
This means it binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, reducing cravings with weakened effects. Buprenorphine has a ceiling effect that staves off any euphoric effects.
Typically, buprenorphine is administered by a trained addiction treatment specialist and combined with individual and group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapies, and more.
Learn more about using buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction.
Methadone For Opioid Addiction
Methadone is a full opioid agonist and doesn’t have the same ceiling effect as buprenorphine, so it is more susceptible to abuse.
Because of the stronger effects, methadone is often prescribed to people with more severe opioid use disorders.
Find more information on methadone treatment for opioid addiction.
Naltrexone For Opioid Addiction
Naltrexone (ReVia or Vivitrol) is an opioid antagonist and blocks the effects of opioid drugs.
This prevents a person from getting high if they relapse while taking the medication.
Unlike methadone and buprenorphine, naltrexone is not an opioid, and it’s non-addictive.
Learn how naltrexone can treat an addiction to opioids.
Resources For Opioid Addiction And Recovery
As you sift through the research, current treatment options, and potential treatments to come, you may have questions along the way.
The resources below can provide guidance and support for you or your loved one in opioid addiction recovery.
For more information on CBD and opioid addiction recovery, explore the following:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- SMART Recovery
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—Recovery is Possible: Treatment for Opioid Addiction
- CDC—Opioid Basics
- National Institute of Health—Can CBD Treat Opioid Use Disorder?
- Rural Community Toolbox
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit
- National Institute on Drug Abuse—Prescription Opioids DrugFacts
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- American Journal of Psychiatry — Cannabidiol for the Reduction of Cue-Induced Craving and Anxiety in Drug-Abstinent Individuals With Heroin Use Disorder: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial
- Business Wire — ANANDA Scientific Announces FDA approval of the IND for the Clinical Trial on the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)
- Forbes —FDA Approves Trial To Treat Opioid Addiction With CBD
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — Cannabidiol as an Intervention for Addictive Behaviors: A Systematic Review of the Evidence
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — Cannabinoids in health and disease
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — The Influence of Stress on the Transition From Drug Use to Addiction
- National Institute of Health — Can CBD Treat Opioid Use Disorder?
- National Institute of Health — Cannabidiol in the treatment of opioid use disorder
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration — FDA and Cannabis: Research and Drug Approval Process