Cannabis-based medicine could be used to help heroin addicts quit, according to research.
A study has found CBD – a chemical called cannabidiol which is found in cannabis but doesn’t make people high – can reduce drug cravings.
Increasingly popular as a health supplement, although its benefits are debated, CBD is now readily available in high street shops.
Scientists have found giving it to recovering heroin addicts can cut their cravings by up to 300 per cent and make them less anxious or stressed.
CBD – cannabidiol – is a chemical found in cannabis which doesn’t make people high and is increasingly available as a legal supplement in high street shops (stock image)
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York tested the effects of cannabis-based medicine, Epidiolex.
Epidiolex is a CBD medication approved by the US’s Food and Drug Administration and was designed to reduce seizures among epilepsy patients.
The research, led by Dr Yasmin Hurd, followed on from her past work which found CBD reduced heroin dependency in animals.
It comes as the US is in the grip of an opioid epidemic, with almost 400,000 people dying of overdoses from drugs including heroin, morphine and fentanyl since 2000.
Cravings are a huge problem for recovering addicts because they draw them into relapsing and may lead to overdose if their tolerance dropped while they were clean.
Drugs already used to try and help heroin addicts, such as methadone, cause concern because they are part of the same drug class as heroin, are addictive themselves, and are tightly controlled by the government.
CBD, however, was not found to be addictive and is widely available and affordable.
‘Our findings indicate that CBD holds significant promise for treating individuals with heroin use disorder,’ said Dr Hurd.
DOES CANNABIS HELP ALCOHOL AND COCAINE ADDICTS OVERCOME THEIR DEPENDENCIES?
A supplement derived from cannabis may help alcohol and cocaine addicts overcome their cravings, research suggested in March 2018.
Recovering rats given cannabidiol (CBD) are less likely to relapse when exposed to drugs, a study, by the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, found.
This is thought to be due to the supplement easing anxiety and stress, as well as reducing impulsive behaviour, according to the researchers.
After just three days of receiving CBD, recovering rats are still less likely to relapse five months later, the study found.
The researchers hope the findings will assist in the development of treatments to prevent human drug relapses.
CBD is a cannabis-derived nutritional supplement that is thought to possess a range of medicinal benefits and has been reported to help people suffering from migraines, psoriasis, acne and depression.
Legal in the UK, it does not contain any THC, which is the psychoactive component of marijuana that makes users ‘high’.
Speaking of the findings, lead author Dr Friedbert Weiss said: ‘The efficacy of the CBD to reduce reinstatement in rats with both alcohol and cocaine – and, as previously reported, heroin – histories predicts therapeutic potential for addiction treatment across several classes of abused drugs.
‘The results provide proof of principle supporting the potential of CBD in relapse prevention along two dimensions: beneficial actions across several vulnerability states and long-lasting effects with only brief treatment.
‘A successful non-opioid medication would add significantly to the existing addiction medication toolbox to help reduce the growing death toll, enormous health care costs, and treatment limitations imposed by stringent government regulations amid this persistent opioid epidemic.’
In Dr Hurd’s study a group of 42 former heroin addicts were split into three groups and given either 800mg of a CBD solution, 400mg, or a placebo.
Having been addicted to heroin for 13 years on average, the people were then forced to watch videos of people taking drugs or shown syringes and packets of powder which looked like heroin.
Afterwards the patients were asked to rate their drug cravings and anxiety levels, and experts measured their body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate.
Men and women in CBD groups were found to rate their cravings two to three times lower than the placebo group.
The CBD also reduced the former addicts’ heart rates and blood pressure, as well as their levels of cortisol – a stress hormone – suggesting it was calming them down.
And the amount of CBD someone was given did not appear to affect the amount by which their responses changed, it was simply an on or off effect.
Side effects were mild, with only some patients suffering headaches, tiredness or diarrhoea.
The use of cannabis to help quit heroin is not a new phenomenon and has been reported by users for years, according to one expert.
Ian Hamilton, a mental health lecturer and substance abuse researcher at the University of York, told MailOnline: ‘The idea that some chemicals found in cannabis could help people who have developed problems with opiates has been talked about for some time, particularly by patients who have tried using cannabis to help ease their withdrawal from heroin.
‘So this new study adds some evidence to suggest cannabidiol has potential to help.
‘However, there is still a lot of work to be done on understanding the best dose and over how long it should be given.’
Dr Julie Holland, a psychiatrist in New York who was not involved in the research, agreed the breakthrough was promising.
‘This is an extremely significant paper,’ she told CNN.
‘We need to utilize every possible treatment in helping people with chronic pain to find other ways to manage their symptoms and in people with opiate addiction to find relief.
‘CBD not only manages the anxiety and cue/craving cycle, it also diminishes the original pain and inflammation that leads to opiate use in the first place.’
Dr Hurd’s research was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
She plans to follow it up with follow-up studies to understand exactly how CBD affects the brain and to examine its effects over a longer period.