CBD for opioid withdrawal: does it work?

Early studies suggest that cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in the cannabis plant, may help in the treatment of opioid withdrawal.

A 2021 study reported that CBD could reduce anxiety and nausea, two symptoms that can occur during opioid withdrawal. The study also found that pain sufferers took fewer opioid medications when they also received CBD.

That said, health authorities have not approved the use of CBD in opioid withdrawal. Also, CBD may cause Side effects.

Below, learn more about using CBD for opioid withdrawal, including its safety and how it compares to traditional treatments.

People who regularly take opioids for a long time and then suddenly stop taking them may experience withdrawal symptoms. This is true whether a person is using the drug to treat pain, another health condition, or if they have an opioid use disorder (OUD).

Withdrawal symptoms can be debilitating, and they are usually the most intense for the first 1 to 2 weeks. However, they can persist for months. And inadequate management of opioid withdrawal can lead to poor outcomes. This can, for example, lead to unsafe opioid use and overdose.

The 2021 research involved an in-depth review of 44 investigations into the use of CBD for various other medical conditions, such as anxiety, pain and insomnia.

A study in the review found that the compound reduced opioid cravings in people with UDO who had previously stopped using opioids. The researchers also found that CBD reduced:

Most of these symptoms can also occur during opioid withdrawal.

This theoretically means – although it has not been directly studied – that doctors could consider adding CBD to opioid withdrawal treatment plans to reduce withdrawal symptoms. However, directly studying the effects of CBD on opioid withdrawal and defining the best dosages and formulations requires more research.

2018 research notes that the effects of CBD on pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms may be beneficial, either as an alternative or as an adjunct to current treatment. Details are below.

Pain relief

CBD and other compounds from the cannabis plant from which it is derived have analgesic properties. People taking opioids for chronic pain can reduce their opioid use by 40–60% if they also use cannabis. As people who do report fewer side effects from cannabis than from opioids, this is an advantage.

Avoiding higher doses could lead to safer use of opioids. Higher doses are more likely to cause respiratory depression and overdose, among other negative effects.

Reduction of opioid withdrawal symptoms

Medications for the treatment of OUD, such as methadone (Methadose), buprenorphine (Subutex), and buprenorphine-naloxone (Suboxone), help reduce symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

However, the stigma associated with TOU can prevent people from accessing drug treatment services. These also introduce legal and logistical challenges in obtaining the drugs.

And while some medications for OUD reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms, getting through this phase of treatment remains difficult.

These and other factors can cause a person to pursue other treatments.

Research on the effectiveness of cannabis for opioid withdrawal is inconsistent. But studies that specifically focus on CBD for this purpose suggest that it helps relieve cravings and limits the rewarding effects of various drugs that can cause substance use disorders.

Additionally, oral doses of CBD of 400 and 800 milligrams seem safe and tolerable. Research from 2018 found no heightened effects of the opioid fentanyl when researchers administered it with CBD. The authors conclude that CBD has “great therapeutic potential” for aiding opioid withdrawal, but that further studies are needed.

Results indicate that CBD can cause:

  • Dose-related liver damage: The risk of this damage increases when a person takes CBD with certain other medications.
  • Sedation: This effect may decrease over time, but taking CBD with medications that have sedative effects can severely depress breathing.
  • Increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors: For someone taking CBD, any change in mood or behavior requires a doctor’s evaluation.

Doctors do not recommend CBD for people with:

  • allergies to CBD or sesame oil
  • a history of substance use disorder
  • depression or suicidal thoughts

Moreover, as the FDA warns, research has not proven CBD to be safe, and determining its long-term effects requires further study. He also notes that CBD products can contain contaminants, pesticides, and bioactive chemicals.

Drugs for OUD remain the gold standard of treatment, as they are the options proven to reduce overdoses and deaths.

However, researchers continue to study other options.

Acupuncture

A 2018 meta-analysis assessed the effectiveness of acupuncture or electroacupuncture as OUD treatment, compared to no treatment.

After reviewing nine studies involving a total of 1,063 participants, the authors concluded that, compared to no treatment or sham acupuncture, acupuncture and electroacupuncture can reduce opioid cravings. Still, they add, more studies are needed.

Opioids are a group of drugs that includes painkillers and substances like heroin. The opioid overdose crisis refers to the widespread harmful use of prescription and over-the-counter opioids.

In 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services declared it a public health emergency.

From April 2020 to April 2021, there were 75,673 deaths due to an opioid overdose. This is an increase from the 56,064 opioid overdose deaths seen in the previous 12 months.

The following resources offer help for people with substance use disorders or addictions:

A study exploring the use of CBD for anxiety, insomnia, and pain indicates that the compound may be helpful in treating opioid withdrawal symptoms.

That said, the FDA did not endorse CBD for this purpose. He cautions that research has yet to conclude whether CBD is safe.

Medications for OUD, such as Suboxone and Methadose, are the gold standard approach to treatment. These are the only treatments proven to reduce overdose deaths. Anyone wishing to try an alternative option might consider acupuncture.

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