cbd and the opioid crisis

CBD vs The Opioid Crisis

By Thomas Wrona

CBD sales have been trending up every year since 2014. And with annual growth rates projected to stay above 100% for the foreseeable future, it's safe to say that this plant compound's popularity isn't slowing down anytime soon.

Pretty impressive for a market whose products are heavily restricted as far as advertisements go! Indeed, CBD's growth has happened largely thanks to good old fashioned word of mouth.

At the same time as CBD's takeoff, a crisis has been raging. Opioid use and abuse rates have risen nearly as quickly as CBD's popularity has - and, unlike what's being seen with the plant compound, the opioid crisis' aftereffects have been nothing but devastating.

Now for some good news: if you or someone you know has been impacted by opioid abuse, CBD may be just the thing to help. According to this Forbes survey, nearly half of all people who use CBD products stop taking traditional pain medicine. These figures aren't all that surprising, once you take a look at some of CBD's most powerful benefits...

CBD for Pain

CBD's impact on pain is quite different than what you'd see with opioids - or even with NSAIDs, for that matter.

While opioids overwhelm the body's endo-opioid (endorphin) receptors to temporarily blunt pain, CBD seems to attack pain at its most likely source: chronic inflammation. This means that CBD may take a while to fully "kick in" for some users, but it also means that CBD comes with a minimum of side effects.

If you're in chronic pain, have hope. That's what Dr. James Taylor, an MD who provides CBD oil to thousands at his pain clinics, tells his patients:

"...for a patient to come back and say they are feeling more hopeful, we can't quantify that [...] But with hope, they may be more willing to engage in yoga, in exercise, with things they need to do to get to optimal health."  CBD oil may be able to reverse the cascade of imbalances that put you in pain in the first place, paving the way toward a new-and-improved lifestyle.

Though CBD's approach is gentle, the compound definitely still works. According to the same Forbes survey we mentioned earlier, eighty percent of CBD users said they found the products to be "very or extremely effective" for conditions like anxiety or joint pain. Effective enough for them to stop using "traditional medications like Tylenol pain relievers or prescription drugs," at least.

CBD for Addiction

In short, CBD's pain-relieving qualities may be strong enough to reduce one's physiological reasons for opioid use. But what about those who've been roped in by something much worse - full-blown opioid addiction - already?

According to the latest scientific findings, there's hope for them too! CBD may very well be anti-addictive by nature. One 2018 study discovered something especially interesting: just a week of transdermal CBD dosing was enough to practically erase both cocaine and alcohol addiction.

This study was done in rodents, but it likely paved the way for more clinical trials in humans in the future. And the biochemistry that made CBD work in the lab still holds true for us humans; we already know that the compound promotes new brain pattern formation and more flexible thinking (aka neuroplasticity), for example. CBD may also quiet down overactive "feedback loops" that could otherwise be hijacked by addictive drugs.

Jennifer Cornish, the author of a similarly-themed 2019 study, put it this way: "Cannabinoids are showing promise as medications for a number of mental health disorders and symptoms [...] including drug addiction and relapse for opiates and psychostimulants."

Perhaps it's only a matter of time until methadone and suboxone clinics become a thing of the past, having been swapped out in favor of medically-run CBD clinics?

CBD as a Safeguard

We've already covered CBD's utility for those who either a) want to avoid using opioids entirely and b) those who need to break free of opioid addiction. Yet there's an important third option: responsible, doctor-guided use.

Opioids do have some legitimate medical uses, after all, and in many cases they do effectively alleviate pain.

Even so, opioids come with a long list of side effects that includes muscle pain and lung infections. And because they hit the body's bliss-producing endorphin receptors so directly, opioids are almost inherently addicting. Could CBD make responsible opioid use safer?

Many hemp and CBD pioneers think so. According to osteopathic doctor Dustin Sulak, "cannabis makes opioids stronger, a phenomenon called the 'potentiation of opioid analgesia'." In this case, added strength is a good thing: it makes finding success with lower, safer dosing strategies possible.

Another benefit? Better results at almost any reasonable dose. This makes enough sense, intuitively speaking: the therapeutic index (i.e, optimal dosing range) for CBD is very broad, while the therapeutic index for opioid drugs is very narrow. Putting two and two together, CBD could make one's ideal opioid dose a much easier target to hit.  

Perhaps it's no surprise that CBD use has risen in tandem with the opioid crisis. Could a sort of collective intuition be at play here, where people affected by opioids are awakening to a more holistic solution?

It might be. In order to really fight the opioid crisis, though, some CBD-fueled action steps will be needed. If you'd like to give your body its best chance at becoming pain and opioid-free, consider CBD. It could be just what your body and its endocannabinoid system need...but there's only one way to find out.


Thomas WronaThomas Wrona is a cannabis consultant, health + wellness advisor, and former professional athlete. He enjoys writing about all things CBD, both here and at Wrona Inc.

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