Article by Scott Johnstone, Lift News
Federal health minister Jane Philpott has described the opioid epidemic as the “greatest public health crisis we face in Canada.” One new study suggests cannabis could be effective in treating opioid addiction through substitution therapy, while another recent study links CBD to the inhibition of opioid rewards in the brain.
In 2016, a public health emergency was declared in British Columbia due to the alarming rate of drug overdose deaths stemming from widespread overuse of prescription opioid painkillers, and an influx of illicit narcotics laced with deadly fentanyl and carfentanil.
CBD as a substitute for opiates
A new study published in the Harm Reduction Journal examines a variety of established research on cannabis as a substitution therapy in the treatment of opioid addiction, and, based on the findings, suggests policy recommendations including the implementation of cannabis therapies to interrupt the addiction cycle at three stages: first as a treatment for chronic pain, before attempting opioid therapies; second as a substitution therapy for patients already using or addicted to opioids; and third, as “an adjunct therapy to methadone or suboxone treatment in order to increase treatment success rates.”
The study is authored by Philippe Lucas, graduate researcher with the Center for Addictions Research of British Columbia and VP of patient advocacy at Tilray, a Health Canada licensed cannabis producer. As was reported in a previous Lift News article, Lucas also led a team that conducted the largest ever survey of Canadian authorized medical cannabis users, with 32% of respondents having reported using cannabis as a substitution for opioids.
“Cannabis alone will not end opioid use disorder and associated morbidities and mortality,” cautions Lucas in the new study’s final remarks. But he also highlights the increasing need for innovative strategies to deal with the epidemic, concluding that “the growing body of research supporting the medical use of cannabis as an adjunct or substitute for opioids creates an evidence-based rationale for governments, health care providers, and academic researchers to seek the immediate implementation of cannabis-based interventions in the opioid crisis at the regional and national level, and to subsequently assess their potential impacts on public health and safety.”
CBD inhibits opioid reward
Another new study published earlier this month indicated a link between CBD use and decreased opioid reward in the brain. It builds upon a prior study which demonstrated that CBD produced a dose-dependent rise in the threshold frequency required for ICSS, or ‘intracranial self-stimulation’ (one of the brain mechanisms involved in opioid reward).