Medical Marijuana May Help Opioid Addiction, More Research Needed

Medical Marijuana May Help Opioid Addiction, More Research Needed

By Staff

Neurobiologist Yasmin Hurd of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has a beef with the lack of research on how cannabinoids and extracts of cannabis from medical marijuana can reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms of heroin users.  She has been studying how both cannabinoids and opioids act on the brain and recently published her position in Trends in Neurosciences.

“If you look at both drugs and where their receptors are, opioids are much more dangerous, in part because of the potential for overdose–the opioid receptors are very abundant in the brainstem area that regulates our respiration, so they shut down the breathing center if opioid doses are high,” Hurd says. “Cannabinoids don’t do that. They have a much wider window of therapeutic benefit without causing an overdose in adults.”

Both cannabinoids and opioids regulate the perception of pain, but they affect different parts of the brain and how the sensation is communicated from neuron to neuron. This translates into cannabinoids having, for example, a stronger effect on inflammation-based chronic pain. Meanwhile, opioids are particularly good at relieving acute pain, which is why they are used in surgery. The problem is that opioids can quickly lead to a deadly addiction.

A specific cannabinoid, cannabidiol, has been seen to reduce heroin cravings in animals more than a week after abstinence, and seems to restore some of the neurobiological damage induced by opioid use. A small pilot human investigation led by Hurd mirrored these findings in rodents. In the study, cannabidiol particularly helped relieve anxiety related to cravings in heroin users abstaining from use.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is asking researchers to think creatively about new strategies for pain relief. While there has been a growing interest by the scientific community in cannabinoids since the legalization of medical marijuana, but that has not translated into much greater knowledge about how it could be used therapeutically, despite at least a million people having prescriptions.

“We have to be open to marijuana because there are components of the plant that seem to have therapeutic properties, but without empirical-based research or clinical trials, we’re letting anecdotes guide how people vote and policies that are going to be made,” Hurd says. “It’s one of the first times in our history that we’re making laypeople and politicians decide whether things are medicinal or not. If we want to say something is medical marijuana, we have to prove that it is medicinal.”

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Authored by: Staff

There are 7 comments for this article
  1. Jean Price at 6:36 am

    Until it’s legalized in the whole country or at least okayed medicinally, this means little! Maybe it’s a step to doing that, but I would hate the legalization of marijuana to just be another nail in the coffin of having the option of opioids denied! ALL possible pain lessening modalities are imortsnt because people are all so different in their make up and diseases also vary with many factors!

  2. HJ at 11:47 am

    I am resistant to conversations like this turning into an “either/or” discussion. I want to maintain access to the treatment that is working for me (a mild opiate). MMJ may not be a “one-size-fits-all” treatment. We may not find that out until people are PUSHED onto MMJ. It should be an option, but it cannot be “Use MMJ or suffer.”

  3. spkavyo at 5:10 pm

    Just got totally off morphine after 16 years of opioids for chronic nerve pain. Cannabis is my only pain medication now. Still some physical effects of the change, but I’m hopeful I can eventually use cannabis to get off the rest of the meds I’m on.

  4. Bob at 1:20 pm

    Please provide the correct link. This link, “recently published her position in Trends in Neurosciences.”, is to an article by two other writers named Eldridge and Richmond who are writing about Contextual Decision-Making. Kindly find Professor Hurd’s article and publish the correct link to it, so that readers can see her article.


  5. Mark Ibsen at 10:37 am

    I have had success in abandoned pain patients
    Using cannabis to help them wean off opiates.

    80% success.

  6. Ben Aiken at 10:15 am

    That’s GREAT. Help for those addicted to opioids. The CDC has the answer to medicinal opioid addiction. Stop the doctors ability to prescribe opioid medication with threat of license revocation. I endorse ANY research and will contribute to any expedited research for help with chronic pain. Marijuana has great potential. At least from what I have read. Problem is, it is illegal in over half the states and federally. kinda screwed up. Do what you gotta do. The CDC does not offer advice, referrals, medication, or research for the MILLIONS that live in severe chronic pain. .How can any person in chronic pain be told “x” amount of medication is “enough” for ALL chronic pain patients without even examining the patient? These guys must be really sharp. Either that or they don’t give a. Sorry to get off the subject. What is it going to take to amend the “guideline” from the CDC. Class action possible? Hate to single out the physicians that are being blackmailed with action. ?

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