Medical Cannabis Stops Brain Reward Component That Leads To Opioid Addiction

New research offers promising possibilities toward the effort to curb the opioid epidemic in the United States. Cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component of cannabis, was shown to block the opioid reward receptors in the brain in a study published in the journal Planta Medica. These receptors typically recognize opioids as “rewarding” compounds, which is what leads many users to become addicted to opioids. Citing the high prevalence of opioid addiction among users (which may be as high as 50%), the authors designed a study that explored how CBD benefits the patient undergoing addiction recovery by disrupting these receptors.

A Closer Look at the Research

The University of Mississippi researchers examined 100 mice. They injected one group of mice with morphine, a potent opioid, to induce strong place preference — an indication that the morphine injections had a rewarding effect upon the mice, causing them to return to a particular “place” associated with the reward. They then injected a control group of mice injections of saline, which did not affect place preference.

After the morphine mice developed strong place preference, they were given morphine in combination with four different doses of CBD. At the proper dosage, CBD completely blocked opioid reward mechanisms, suggesting that CBD can help addiction recovery patients manage or eliminate cravings that lead to relapse. Meanwhile, the control group of mice experienced neither rewarding or aversive effects of the CBD which suggests its safety when utilized in substitution therapies for addiction treatment (such as methadone detox programs). The discover echoed the conclusion from a 2015 study that cannabis can indeed be a useful component of addiction treatment for cocaine and meth, in addition to heroin.

Cannabis in Context

The results from this study complement the findings of a survey that saludmóvil™ covered earlier this year, where “97 percent of the sample ‘strongly agreed/agreed’ that they are able to decrease the amount of opioids they consume when they also use cannabis.” While opioid overdoses currently account for three out of five overdose deaths, the DEA has not reported a single death caused by cannabis overdose.

The authors of the University of Mississippi study expressed the possibility that a cannabis-opioid blend can offer effective pain-killing benefits to patients while tempering the opioid’s addictive qualities; while opioids provide effective relief from acute and chronic pain, cannabis also has analgesic qualities that may complement or even replace opioids. A survey cited by saludmóvil™ this summer reported that over a third of medical marijuana users had replaced their prescription painkillers with cannabis to treat their symptoms of pain effectively.

Despite the growing body of evidence supporting not only the health benefits of cannabis but also its potential to address the opioid addiction epidemic, its classification as a Federal Schedule 1 drug makes it difficult for researchers to conduct game-changing medical studies. Current U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, went so far as to mischaracterize cannabis as “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

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