As the opioid crisis continues to take its toll on the country, researchers are beginning to explore whether medical marijuana can help mitigate the damage caused by rampant painkiller abuse. Dozens of studies have found that cannabis can effectively treat many pain symptoms that opioids are traditionally prescribed for, allowing patients to effectively wean themselves off these addictive drugs. Several other studies have linked legal medical marijuana to decreased rates of opioid use, abuse, and overdose deaths.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland are looking to expand this body of research further by investigating whether CBD can help reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms. “Based on preclinical research and emerging human research, cannabidiol (CBD; a major constituent of the cannabis plant) is a promising pharmacotherapy for the treatment of opioid withdrawal,” the researchers wrote in their proposal. The proposal also cites recent research finding that CBD reduced drug cravings and anxiety in former heroin addicts.
Instead of relying on store-bought CBD treatments or low-quality government research weed, the researchers will conduct their experiment with Epidiolex, the first cannabis-derived drug to be legally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This CBD medication, which was developed to treat rare forms of epilepsy, was awarded Schedule V status by the FDA in 2018, which makes it relatively easy for researchers to use it in federally-funded clinical trials.
For this new study, Hopkins will recruit 50 subjects who are currently using methadone maintenance treatment to help them quit using opioids. Doctors will cease administering methadone to these subjects, which will cause them to undergo spontaneous withdrawal. Half of the patients will be randomly chosen to take an 8mL dose of Epidiolex every twelve hours for two days (four doses in total). The other subjects will take four placebo doses of cherry-flavored syrup.
Researchers will monitor the subjects to determine if the CBD medication is causing any adverse side effects. Patients will also be asked to self-report their withdrawal symptoms using a common research diagnostic called the Subjective Opiate Withdrawal Scale (SOWS). After all doses are administered, participants will be asked whether they would recommend the medication to a friend or family member that was also trying to quit using opioids.
The study is only preliminary, and its primary goal is to discover whether or not Epidiolex poses any health risks to individuals going through opioid withdrawal. The researchers will also evaluate whether the drug is more effective at reducing withdrawal symptoms than the placebo.
The trials will last from April 1st until December 31st of this year, and the final study will be completed and released before the end of 2021. If the results are promising, the researchers could be eligible for a grant to conduct a larger, more detailed trial to test whether Epidiolex can effectively reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.