Death by prescription opioids has more than tripled since 1999. Nowadays, pills like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone kill more people than guns in the US. Unfortunately behind each of these deaths, there are countless family members and loved ones whose lives will never be the same again.
While treatment for opioid addiction is often more opioids (methadone and fentanyl). These solutions would only make matters worse by adding to the staggering statistics. The US is losing more than 50,000 people a year to opioids related deaths. That’s over 100 people a day.
Stephen Mandile served in the US military for seven years before a 2005 motor collision in Baghdad left him seriously injured. Mandile was lucky to be alive. He suffered five ruptured discs, degenerative disc disease, a traumatic brain injury, spinal arthritis, a narrowing spine, and major depressive disorder.
While overseas, Mandile waited for his medical discharge at the “Wounded Warriors Unit.” He was meant to be there for 18 to 24 months. However, Mandile opted to get out of Baghdad and the US military altogether.
Mandile elected an Honorable Discharge instead and was soon back in his home state of Massachusetts. What would follow was nothing short of a nightmare.
Mandile was told he would be in a wheelchair by the time he would be 50 years old.
In the years that followed, Mandile was prescribed more than 50 different medications for pain and depression. He was given nine opioids including methadone, oxycodone, codeine, Percocet, Vicodin, fentanyl, and morphine. He was also prescribed seven different muscle relaxers, six different benzodiazepines including Valium and Xanax. As if that is not enough, he was given seven various antidepressants.
One day, something made Mandile wake up from the horror he was living in.
Mandile described the reality he faced every day towards the end. “I was getting about two hours of sleep every few days, not caring about anything but my next dose. Counting my pills all day to make sure I had enough of everything else for when my fentanyl would wear off and I would go into withdrawal. I just wanted to die.”
While he had to wait three years after receiving a medical cannabis authorization in Massachusetts in 2012, within five months of beginning his medical marijuana treatment. Mandile was able to stop taking almost all his prescription medications.
America has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. There are some 115 opioid deaths each day across the US. In 2016 some 64,000 people died from drug overdoses, up from 52,404 in 2015. While all these weren’t at the hands of prescription medications, a large majority were.
In 2015, 20,101 overdoses were caused by prescription pills. Almost 13,000 people died at the hands of heroin.
These days, death by overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. And prescription opioids are commonly handed out like candies. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions for opioids were written, enough to give every American their own bottle of pills.
Opioid addiction is everywhere. It’s ravaging our nation and doesn’t discriminate. When you think that one in five patients with non-cancer pain or pain-related diagnoses are prescribed opioids in office-based settings and take a deeper look into the mechanisms of opioid addiction, its easier to understand why so many people face a similar situation to Mandile.
Opioids reduce pain, but also produce a sense of euphoria and pleasure which activates the brain’s reward pathways. With continued use, a person’s sensitivity to the drug decreases and a higher dosage is needed to achieve the desired effect.
When they try to quit taking the drug (when their prescription runs out), they may experience symptoms of withdrawal or other adverse effects like anxiety or increased pain. So they end up taking more even when they want to quit. Essentially, trapping themselves in an endless cycle of addiction that can become all but impossible to break.
What’s more is that long-term use of opioid pain relievers for chronic pain are typically associated with abuse, addiction, and overdose.
CBD For Opioid Addiction
How can CBD help with opioid addcition? CBD (cannabidiol), the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis, is making waves in the medical community. It’s also getting more attention from the addiction recovery community.
A 2017 paper published in Trends in Neuroscience indicated that CBD reduces heroin cravings and restores the neurobiological damage. CBD has demonstrated to have a direct interaction with serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain, both which become damaged due to excessive opioid abuse.
Could CBD be responsible for fast-tracking the brain back to its pre-addicted state?
Pre-clinical animal studies (done on lab rats) show that CBD reduces the reward properties of opioid drugs, as well as withdrawal symptoms. Think of it this way. A rat is set up in an experiment to press a lever to receive a reward. The reward might be morphine or an electrical zap into one of the reward centers in the rat’s brain. When there is CBD added to the rat’s system, the rats didn’t press the lever as much.
And while mice are certainly not men, CBD has shown tremendous potential to help individuals through the nightmare of opioid addiction.
Then of course, there is Mandile.
In states that have simply passed medical cannabis laws, opioid overdose deaths reduced by an average of 24.8 percent. The American Medical Association (AMA) reported that each year after a medical cannabis law was passed, the rate of opioid overdose deaths continued to decrease.
CBD has shown to reduce anxiety and control cravings for opioids. And it does so without any side effects or making a person high. Rather than replace one addiction for another (what many opioid replacement therapies, like methadone, do). CBD acts as a natural solution for overcoming the pains of opioid withdrawal.
Yes, CBD is an excellent choice of managing pain. However, CBD shouldn’t be considered an end-all, be-all approach to treating opioid addiction. Overcoming addiction is hard and CBD isn’t a magic pill. But it can help with the anxiety associated with withdrawal.
The potential CBD holds for helping with opioid addiction is tremendous. With the opioid epidemic that continues to destroy more lives each year, it’s more than worth exploring the potential CBD contains to overcome this unfortunate crisis.