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Can CBD Reduce Cravings And Stress In Opioid Users?


A new study suggests that a marijuana extract known as CBD can help reduce stress and cravings among people who've been addicted to opioids. The study was published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry. NPR's Allison Aubrey has more on what impact these findings could have.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is found in cannabis. It does not have the same mind-altering effects as using marijuana because it doesn't contain the psychoactive component of the plant. But animal research and a few very small human studies have suggested it does have anti-anxiety properties. Researchers who study addiction wanted to know if CBD could help former heroin addicts avoid a relapse by reducing cravings and stress. Here's study author Yasmin Hurd. She's the director of the Addiction Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

YASMIN HURD: We have treatments available for opiate use disorders. I mean, methadone and buprenorphine, things like that, have definitely saved many people.

AUBREY: But Hurd says there's a big treatment gap. Many people don't get the help they need, and there's an urgent need for new and complementary treatments. Given this, Hurd's study included people who had stopped using heroin but were vulnerable to relapse. Half of them were put on a high dose of pure CBD and the other half were given a placebo.

HURD: Neither the participants nor the clinician, the clinical team, knew what they were getting or giving.

AUBREY: During the study, that participants watched videos of people using drugs and saw other drug-related images that could trigger cravings and stress. It turned out the people taking the placebo reacted strongly. Their heart rates went up. Their levels of the stress hormone cortisol increased. And they reported experiencing significant cravings. But the people taking CBD had a different experience.

HURD: Those who received the CBD, they showed a reduction of their craving and they also showed a reduction of their anxiety.

AUBREY: In addition, their cortisol levels went down. Ziva Cooper is research director for the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative. She says the results of the study are significant but should not be interpreted to mean that CBD is useful for all kinds of garden-variety stress or anxiety. Despite a boom in popularity of CBD, which is being used for all sorts of things, its popularity has gotten far ahead of the science.

ZIVA COOPER: There is very little rigorous data related to a lot of these indications for which people are using cannabidiol. This study is actually a step in the direction of identifying the potential use - potential use.

AUBREY: Cooper says another important point - the CBD used in the study was a high dose, pharmaceutical grade, pure form of the compound.

COOPER: This type of product isn't available at medical dispensaries at this time.

AUBREY: The CBD you can buy online or in dispensaries can vary greatly in dose and purity. And Cooper says even when the quality is good, far more research is needed to understand how it may influence stress. Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey
Allison Aubrey is a Washington-based correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She has reported extensively on the coronavirus pandemic since it began, providing near-daily coverage of new developments and effects. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.