Studies and data have already confirmed that cannabis use, containing THC, tends to help people reduce or eliminate opioid use, generally for symptom management when cannabis can act as a suitable substitute. However, CBD might have a substantial role to play in the conversation. New preclinical data published in the journal Addiction Neuroscience suggests that the cannabinoid could hold potential for reducing opioid cravings in rats. To researchers’ knowledge, it’s the first comprehensive study of the behavioral and physiological effects of inhaled vapor from high-CBD whole-plant cannabis (hemp) extract.
Curbing Opioid Use in Rats
Researchers affiliated with Washington State University and Legacy Research Institute in Portland specifically studied the efficacy and safety profile of vaporized CBD among a cohort of female rats. Investigators note the studies demonstrating the “opioid-sparing effects of cannabis,” pointing out that the role of CBD in these effects is “poorly defined” and the potential of high-CBD whole-plant extract (WPE) “to attenuate tolerance and enhance morphine antinociception has not been characterized.”
They also pointed out the need for more studies on WPE products, given the millions of people who consume them worldwide.
Additionally, researchers point out that many prior studies have largely relied on male subjects, a concern given that women have higher prevalence of chronic pain conditions, consume more CBD products than men and are more vulnerable to opioid abuse and withdrawal.
Researchers reference the many potential therapeutic applications of CBD, citing that effects may vary by pain condition and that chronic pain products adaptations in the endocannabinoid systems in brain regions critical for pain processing.
“Thus, it is critical to conduct systematic research about high-CBD WPE’s antinociceptive effects and health impacts in the context of persistent pain and prolonged drug administration,” researchers said.
The study utilized a WPE with 64.2% CBD and 7.1% THC and a placebo (propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin).
Promising Results and a Need for Further Investigation
Researchers examined a number of outcomes among rats exposed to the WPE vapor. In measuring the psychoactivity of the WPE vapor, researchers found no differences in cognitive function between rats using WPE and the control, along with no significant differences in social behavior. There were also no differences in lung morphometrics in rats exposed to the control versus WPE, and WPE had no impact on either the motivation to engage in drug-seeking behavior.
The study also observed whether acute WPE inhalation could reduce the self-administration of morphine in pain-naïve rats.
Authors concluded, “The ability of WPE to reduce opioid reward and drug seeking behavior appears quite robust and of great clinical utility.” They also point out that, unlike their previous studies in male rats with inflammatory pain, “the presence of neuropathic pain in females reduced opioid-seeking behavior.”
Given the (roughly) 10:1 CBD:THC ratio, researchers also concluded that some of their observations may have been due to the interaction between CBD and THC.
Ultimately, researchers said the results suggest that inhaled, high-CBD WPE “has modest anti-allodynic benefits,” or combatting pain caused by stimuli that usually do not elicit pain. They added that this supports the hypothesis that THC is the primary analgesic component of inhaled cannabis, even though WPE seems to carry promise in reducing opioid use and drug-seeking behavior.
“Because of its promising safety profile and the absence of reinforcing effects compared to the standard excipient used in most vapor administration research, WPE may also be a more suitable and clinically-relevant control excipient for future vapor administration studies,” they said. Looking ahead, researchers suggested additional systematic research to fully evaluate the potential of CBD as an adjunct treatment for opioid use disorder.
CBD and Addiction: Adding to Past Research
While this topic may need more attention, previous research has indeed confirmed the potential CBD carries in curbing opioid use.
One 2019 study administered a daily dose of CBD to participants for three consecutive days, followed by exposure to drug cues designed to stimulate physiological responses to addiction. The study found that “acute CBD administration, in contrast to placebo, significantly reduced both craving and anxiety induced by the presentation of salient drug cues compared with neutral cues.” Not only that, but the effects lasted seven days after the final CBD exposure.
CBD could also hold potential regarding addiction in general. One 2013 study found that inhalation of CBD significantly mitigates tobacco smokers’ desire for cigarettes. Using a CBD inhaler and a placebo, instructed to use the inhaler when they felt the urge to smoke, placebo-treated smokers showed no differences in the number of cigarettes smoked. Those treated with CBD reduced the number of cigarettes smoked by around 40% during treatment.
A 2022 review paper also notes that CBD could play a role in mitigating symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
“Growing evidence suggests that CBD may have the potential to reduce anxiety, pain, and insomnia with also some signals for reducing craving, nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, and blood pressure,” authors report. “These clinical symptoms are commonly observed in [opioid use disorder] patients undergoing withdrawal, indicating that CBD could potentially be added to the standard opioid detoxification regimen to mitigate acute withdrawal-related symptoms as well as protracted withdrawal symptoms.”