Study Suggests Cannabis' Potential to Treat Opioid Addiction

FEBRUARY 06, 2017
Jennifer Barrett, Assistant Editor

Although previous reports have cited certain health benefits of cannabinoids, widespread legalization of the substance still faces scrutiny due to a lack of research. However, researchers argue there is a strong scientific basis for cannabinoids as a therapeutic benefit for substance abuse disorders, which could aid in the United States’ staggering opioid epidemic.
 
 A neuroscientist who studies the molecular and neurochemical effects of both cannabinoids and opioids argues that the area of medical marijuana research is largely neglected, in a recently-published Trends of Neuroscience report. Yasmin L. Hurd, PhD, and the Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Director of the Center for Addictive Disorders for the Mount Sinai Behavioral System addresses the benefits of cannabidiol found in several animal studies and a small human pilot study.
 
Preclinical animal studies demonstrated evidence that the substance reduces rewarding properties of opioid drugs and withdrawal symptoms, and directly reduces heroin-seeking behavior. These results mirrored those of the human study led by Dr. Hurd, which revealed that the drug decreased cravings and anxiety induced by heroin cues.
 
The review indicates that both cannabinoids and opioids have pain-relieving properties, but opioids particularly target acute pain, while cannabinoids have a primary effect on alleviating inflammation-based chronic pain. Both drugs affect separate areas of the brain, and cannabinoids’ low potential for lethality reduces concerns about overdoses. Cannabinoids even retain their safe profile when combined with a strong opioid agonist, and have demonstrated therapeutic value in children with epilepsy.
 
A previous retrospective, cross-sectional survey of patients with chronic pain underscored an association between cannabis use and lower opioid use. Overall, cannabis use was associated with 64% lower opioid use in the patients who completed the survey. Patients also reported better quality of life and fewer medication adverse effects.
 
“We have to be open to marijuana because there are components of the plant that seem to have therapeutic properties,” Dr. Hurd said in a statement, “but without empirical-based research or clinical trials, we’re letting anecdotes guide how people vote and how the policies are going to be made.”
 
A landmark report released in January provided a comprehensive review of both the positive and negative health effects related to marijuana use.
 
References
 
Hurd YL. Cannabidiol: Swinging the marijuana pendulum from ‘weed’ to medication to treat the opioid epidemic. Trends in Neurosciences. 2017; doi:
 
Mount Sinai Neurobiologist Illuminates the Underexplored Potential of Cannabis to Address Opioid Addiction [news release]. New York. Mount Sinai Health System. . Accessed Feb 6, 2017. 
 

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