CBD as a solution to the opioid crisis

CBD as a solution to the opioid crisis

The opioid abuse epidemic is a serious public health issue on a global scale. This crisis has highlighted an urgent need for new therapeutic options, as current treatments like methadone and buprenorphine, despite their effectiveness, carry their own stigmas and risks of dependency, making them underutilized. In response to this critical challenge, cannabidiol (CBD) has emerged as a potential harm reduction tool in the fight against substance abuse.

Recent studies suggest that CBD may have utility as a harm reduction modality for those with problematic substance use. Its applications are varied, from using cannabis to treat chronic pain to its potential in reducing opioid dependence.

What are opioids?

Opioids are a crucial resource for treating severe pain, especially post-operative pain or in the context of serious chronic illnesses such as cancer. However, like all medications, they carry significant risks, particularly in the long term. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the use of prescription opioids can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, depression, confusion, and drowsiness. Additionally, it can lead to the development of drug tolerance, increased pain sensitivity, and physical dependence. This means that over time, higher doses of the drug may be required to achieve the same analgesic effect.

Opioids like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone, tramadol, and fentanyl not only relieve pain but can also induce euphoria, increasing the risk of addiction, especially with prolonged or off-label use. At high dosages, opioids can cause severe respiratory problems that can lead to death, and this risk is heightened if they are used in combination with alcohol or sedatives. The opioid epidemic, defined as one of the most severe public health issues of our time, underscores the critical need to reassess the use and management of these drugs to mitigate their devastating impact on public health.

The Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis is a global phenomenon of alarming proportions, affecting the non-medical use of opioids worldwide. In the United States, this crisis has been characterized by four waves: the rise in prescription opioid overdose deaths in the 1990s, followed by an increase in heroin overdose deaths in 2010, and subsequently by overdose deaths from synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyls, starting in 2013. In 2021, about 70,600 people died in the United States from overdoses involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, mainly fentanyl.

Globally, the illicit cultivation of poppy increased by 26% in 2022, reaching approximately 316,000 hectares, with Afghanistan traditionally holding the majority of global production and Myanmar emerging as another major producer. The seizure of opioids worldwide has remained high since 2016, with a significant increase in the seizures of medicines containing opioids.

Countries like Iran and Pakistan accounted for most of the illicit opioids seized in 2021. Additionally, the production of synthetic opioids is associated with a few key countries such as China, India, Mexico, and Russia, with China in particular undergoing significant legislative changes to control the production of fentanyls and related substances.

How does CBD work to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms?

There is increasing evidence of the benefits of using cannabis in treating opioid dependence. CBD works through the body’s endocannabinoid system, a fundamental system for maintaining balance and overall well-being. This system is composed of cannabinoid receptors located primarily in the brain and central nervous system. When CBD is consumed, it binds to these cannabinoid receptors, helping to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Moreover, CBD is known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, which can alleviate muscle pain and inflammation often associated with opioid withdrawal. Additionally, CBD can also reduce anxiety and irritability, common symptoms during opioid withdrawal, improving mood and helping to prevent relapse. However, it is important to note that CBD is not a cure for opioid addiction; it is a temporary solution to alleviate symptoms. It is only a temporary solution to relieve symptoms.

The research

A new study published in 2023 by seven researchers in “The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry” aims to synthesize the available evidence on CBD as a potential harm reduction tool for people who use drugs, providing clinical and research insights. The research consists of a systematic review conducted on databases such as EMBASE, MEDLINE, CENTRAL, and CINAHL in July 2022. For inclusion, studies had to meet the following criteria: (1) conducted on an adult population of people who use drugs; (2) investigate CBD as an intervention for problematic substance use or harm reduction outcomes; (3) be published after the year 2000 and in English; and (4) be primary studies or review articles. A narrative synthesis was used to group relevant harm reduction findings and provide clinical and research insights.


A total of 3,134 articles were screened, of which 27 studies were included. The evidence remains limited, but the available studies support the potential of CBD in reducing drug-induced craving and anxiety in opioid use disorder. The studies suggest that CBD could improve the mood and overall well-being of people who use drugs. The evidence indicates that CBD monotherapy may not be sufficient as a harm reduction strategy for problematic substance use but rather as an addition to the standard of care.

The evidence suggests that CBD could reduce drug craving and other addiction-related symptoms and may have utility as an additional harm reduction strategy for people who use drugs. However, there is a significant need for further research that accurately reflects the dosages of CBD and the administration regimes used in real-world settings.

A study in the United States

In a significant study in 2014, a group of researchers examined data from across the United States over a ten-year period. They found that in states where cannabis was legalized for medical purposes, the rate of opioid overdose deaths was 25% lower than in states where medical cannabis remained illegal.

These analyses paved the way for further research exploring the link between medical cannabis laws in the United States and the potential reduction in prescriptions, misuse, opioid dependence, hospitalizations, and non-fatal overdoses associated with these substances. Additionally, the rise in opioid overdose deaths stabilized after the legalization of personal-use cannabis in some states, such as Colorado, where a recent study revealed a slight decrease in opioid overdose deaths compared to two other states.


In light of the opioid epidemic, it is important to identify as many strategies as possible to curb opioid dependence. These studies clearly indicate the need for further experimental and clinical research on the potential of CBD as a solution to the opioid crisis. It is crucial to better understand how cannabinoids can interact with the endocannabinoid system to influence pain management and withdrawal symptoms, providing safe and effective alternatives to traditional approaches. To stay updated on new discoveries and insights into how CBD can complement comprehensive health and wellness treatment, we invite you to follow our blog and try our products on NativaCBD.it.

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