CBD is rarely out of the news these days.
A steady body of research and countless anecdotal accounts support CBD’s effectiveness at treating the symptoms of a variety of illnesses, from anxiety to multiple sclerosis.
Recent research suggests that the cannabinoid may even help solve one of the biggest social and medical plagues of our time: the opioid epidemic.
Opioids are psychoactive drugs commonly prescribed for pain relief. The word encompasses drugs derived from opium, such as morphine and codeine, and synthetic analogues that produce similar effects, like tramadol, hydrocodone and fentanyl.
Initially prescribed to ease painful cancer symptoms, synthetic opioid prescription skyrocketed in the late 90s and early 00s after small studies demonstrated their effectiveness at easing other types ofpain.
It was around this time that Purdue Pharma began marketing their new synthetic opioid drug to medical practitioners at conferences around the US. Oxycontin was slated as low-risk. But the ensuing high availability of the drug led to a tide of addiction. By 2004, Oxycontin had become the leading drug of abuse in the US, contributing to a 41 percent increase in opioid-related deaths over a 12-year period.
Opioids are now responsible for the deaths of 90 Americans each day.
Opioids are now responsible for the deaths of 90 Americans each day, roughly the same number as die in car accidents. And while the vast majority of people who legally obtain prescription opioids do not go on to abuse illegal substances, 80 percent of heroin users in the States started their habit after abusing prescription opioids like Oxycontin.
There is some debate about whether the policy-driven reduction in opioid prescription has led a significant number of people to seek out heroin, which is cheaper, stronger and easier to obtain. What we do know is that heroin itself is deadlier than ever. It is increasingly laced with fentanyl, which is so strong that first responders treating overdoses have themselves overdosed just by touching or inhaling small amounts of the drug.
With tighter oversight and the private sector making up just one percent of prescriptions, the UK’s opioid situation is far less dire. Nonetheless, many fear that the UK is on the precipice of an opioid crisis of its own.
Opioid prescription in England nearly doubled in the past decade and more than three million UK adults were prescribed opioid medications in 2017. Almost all these prescriptions were for chronic pain. Between one third and a half of the UK’s population suffers from chronic pain,with many being prescribed ineffective opioid drugs to paper over the cracks.
The effectiveness of CBD and other cannabinoids on treating chronic pain was investigated in a 2012 studypublished in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. The researchers reported that administration of CBD in rodents significantly suppressed chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain without causing a tolerance.
The researchers concluded: “These cannabinoids may represent a novel class of therapeutic agents for the treatment of chronic pain and other diseases involving GlyR [glycine receptor] dysfunction.” The glycine receptor is involved in pain perception.
Vaping is by far the most effective method of ingestion. Vapourised CBD enters your lungs and diffuses straight into your bloodstream, bypassing the gut and liver. Around 50 or 60mg per 100mg of CBD ingested this way will enter your bloodstream, compared to 15mg of 100mg when swallowed. This results in greater pain relief and the fastest possible onset, enabling users to respond to pain as it occurs.
CBD may also help the other problem integral to the opioid epidemic – addiction.
A 2013 study conducted in Greece found that not only does CBD not exhibit reinforcing properties at any dose, it actually decreases the reward-facilitating effects of morphine. CBD is both non-addicting and alleviates the addictive effect of the opioid drug.
Similar findings were reported in Nature earlier this year. Researchers found that after being administered CBD, rats addicted to cocaine or alcohol were less likely to relapse and also showed reduced anxiety and impulsivity – two symptoms synonymous with addiction. The effect lasted a full five months after the last dose was administered.
In The Role of Cannabis Legalization in the Opioid Crisis published earlier this year, JAMA Internal Medicine reported that opioids were being prescribedless in states where medical marijuana was legal, indicating that cannabis was filling the role previously filled by prescription opioids like Oxycontin and Vicodin. They also found that opioids and cannabinoids “shared signalling pathways central to tolerance, dependence and addiction.”
While it’s important to note that illegal cannabis component THC appears to play a greater role in relieving pain, these early studies suggest that CBD and other legal cannabinoids do have significant potential on their own. Partnered with the efficient and fast onset provided by vaping, CBD could help bring decades of chronic opioid over-prescription to an end.
This article was featured in Issue 17 of Vapouround Magazine and was written by Gordan Stribling.