CBD: An Alternative to Opioids?

A recent survey by AmericanMarijuana.org showed 84% of 1,453 CBD-users polled believe CBD could one day replace opioids as America’s painkiller-in-chief, echoing the findings of other recent surveys on question.

The reasons are worth considering. When AmericanMarijuana.org asked 1017 cannabis consumers what the biggest advantage of CBD use over opioids (such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, and fentanyl) was, participants responded that,

1) It has fewer and less dangerous side effects than opioids

While CBD does not get you “high” like THC would, it does have some negative side effects to consider. Those who use CBD sometimes experience diarrhea, fatigue, and changes in weight or appetite. Compare that, though, to the slowed breathing, nausea, constipation, and sedation opioids can cause.

2) It isn’t addictive

Opioids release endorphins into the brain to create a powerful sense of well being, which can lead to dependency in a matter of weeks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid overdose killed 47,000 Americans in 2018, a number nearly six times what it was in 1999. CBD, on the other hand, soothes pain by decreasing inflammation and increasing the amount of anandamide (a pain-regulating compound) in the bloodstream rather than generating a high.

RELATED: Embrace Medical Cannabis to Fight Opioid Addiction

3) It is more effective

Out of those surveyed by AmericanMarijuana.org, 25% said they used CBD as a pain reliever because they found it to be more effective than opioids, and many high-profile athletes have said they feel the same.

4) It has fewer withdrawal symptoms

While it is still unknown whether CBD withdrawal exists, health professionals agree that, if it does, it doesn’t hold a candle to opioid withdrawal. Whereas suddenly quitting your opioid regimen can cause muscle spasms, heart pounding, vomiting, and temperature irregularity (to name a few), CBD withdrawal would be slightly annoying at most.

More research needs to be done, though, before CBD can begin to compete with opioids as a painkiller.

There is only one FDA-approved CBD product on the market at this time, and most CBD research has been done on rats, not humans. Additionally, many experts who weighed in on this survey said more controlled studies (i.e., studies where one group of people uses CBD and one similar group does not, allowing researchers to compare the results) need to be done on the product to determine conclusively that CBD-users are reporting real results in surveys such as that of AmericanMarijuana.org, and not a placebo effect.

Even then, CBD products may not be strong enough to ease chronic pain the way opioids can. In response to this study, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a professor of medicinal chemistry at Hebrew University known as the “Father of Cannabis Research,” told GreenState,

“Patients using cannabis may need lower doses of opioids for pain, and CBD may help with opioid withdrawal symptoms, but CBD is much less potent than opioids. In order to make it a major competitor, a more potent derivative has to be tested.”

Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to elli.esher@hearst.com.