top of page

Can CBD Help with the Opioid Epidemic?

There is a crisis in the United States of people misusing prescription and non-prescription opioids. This problem affects millions of Americans and hurts communities throughout the country. A large number of those affected either currently or previously have misused prescription opioids, often ones given for pain management. Using alternative pain management therapies may be an effective way to curtail this epidemic. Cannabidiol is a strong candidate as a low-risk but effective alternative to opioids.

What Is the Opioid Epidemic?


According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016. Of those, 2 million did so for the first time. Another 886,000 people used heroin. This problem is affecting a huge number of Americans and prescription opioids are front and center of the issue.


Sadly, the problem isn’t just misuse of opioids. The consequences are staggering. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2017, 47,600 people died from overdosing on opioids.


Credit: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The problem is believed to be rooted in a push by pharmaceutical companies starting in the late 1990s to use more opioids for pain management. Consequently, the solution proposed by many scientists is to reduce the number of opioids used in medicine and replace them with lower-risk alternatives.

Can CBD Be Used to Treat Pain?


In a study published in 2016, researchers found that medicinal cannabis use helped improve participants’ pain symptoms and reduce the interference of pain in everyday activities. This suggests that cannabidiol may be an effective option for treating chronic pain, the most common reason for opioid prescriptions.


A review by the National Academies of Science and Medicine recently identified similar results. The review determined that cannabis is an effective way to treat chronic pain in adults. These findings, along with others that have reached similar conclusions, indicate that CBD may be a useful treatment for pain. Significantly, these studies are examining the effects on chronic pain. Long-term pain management is one of the primary sources of opioid prescription misuse.

Is CBD a Viable Alternative to Opioids?


CBD appears to be an effective pain management therapy. However, the main question is whether it can be a viable alternative to opioids. The short answer appears to be yes.


A 2018 paper on the use of cannabis to relieve opioid use disorder, determined that there is compelling evidence that cannabis could reduce opioid use for pain management. Some findings cited within the paper include a 40-60% reduction in opioid use by chronic pain patients and that cannabis may even be effective in treating acute opioid withdrawal.


A researcher examining the effects of medical marijuana legalization determined that, as of 2017, there has been a 23% reduction in the number of hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse where medical marijuana has been legalized. This indicates that not only can cannabis use curtail opioid abuse, it can also help to blunt some of the tragic consequences of the epidemic.


Research at the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai in New York City has found that CBD use can help manage cravings for heroin. This is a very preliminary result but it indicates that CBD may be useful even beyond being an alternative for pain management. There is more to learn about this topic before firm conclusions can be drawn. However, the findings so far are promising.


What Is the Future of CBD in the Opioid Epidemic?


Research into this topic needs to continue because the results so far are promising. There is strong evidence that CBD can help with opioid use disorder. However, the question remains as to whether this treatment is trading one problem for another.


According to Dr. Mark Wallace from the Pain Medicine Department at the University of California San Diego, the short answer appears to be no, cannabinoids are not just a different problem. He believes that it is both an effective alternative and one with significantly fewer downsides.


The 2018 paper on using cannabis to relieve opioid use disorder came to similar conclusions. The authors cited findings that while cannabis withdrawal has non-trivial symptoms, the magnitude and danger are substantially less than opioid withdrawal.


Unfortunately, medical research takes times and there is still more to learn. Nonetheless, the future looks bright for the use of CBD to help with the opioid epidemic.

Learn More From Fire Leaf Extracts


CBD is a potent substance for wellness, health, and other uses. Whether you are interested in pain relief of just overall well-being, Fire Leaf Extracts has products that can help. Contact Fire Leaf Extracts today to learn more about currently available products and the impact of CBD.

bottom of page