The following information is presented for educational purposes only.
Medical Marijuana Inc. provides this information to provide an understanding
of the potential applications of cannabidiol. Links to third party websites
do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations by Medical Marijuana
Inc. and none should be inferred.
Heroin addiction affects about 4.2 million Americans aged 12 or older.
Studies have shown cannabis can reduce the withdrawal symptoms associated
with heroin abstinence and increase the rate of successful recovery.
Overview of Heroin Addiction
Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug that produces a euphoric sensation.
Once heroin enters the brain, it converts back into morphine and binds to
opioid receptors, which are involved in the body’s pain and reward
Abusing heroin can cause various serious health conditions, including
infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV and spontaneous abortion. Those
who chronically use heroin can develop liver or kidney disease, collapsed
veins, infections of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, constipation
and gastrointestinal cramping and pulmonary complications. Fatal overdose
can also occur. A heroin overdose typically is associated with a breathing
suppression that prevents oxygen from reaching the brain, which can cause
permanent brain damage or death.
Chronic heroin use leads to physical dependence and the body adapts to the
drug’s presence. Reducing or stopping use abruptly causes severe withdrawal
symptoms, including restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea
and vomiting, kicking movements and goose bumps. The treatment approach for
heroin addiction typically consists of detox, counseling, therapy, medical
intervention and support groups. During the detox period, the patient will
experience withdrawal symptoms.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Heroin Addiction
Evidence suggests that cannabis can help heroin, opioid and alcohol addicts
in their road to recovery by lowering withdrawal symptoms (Walsh, et al.,
2016). One study found that a THC prescription medication reduced the
severity of opioid withdrawals. The study also found that 32% of regular
marijuana smokers experienced significantly lower ratings of insomnia and
anxiety (Bisaga, et al., 2015). An animal study found that chronic THC
treatments significantly reduced the withdrawals associated with morphine
withdrawal (Valverde, et al., 2001). A survey found that using cannabis
helped to curb cravings for alcohol and as a substitute for more potent
drugs, like cocaine (Reiman, 2009).
Cannabis can also potentially help treat heroin addiction by acting as an
effective substitute. Research shows that cannabinoids modulate the brain’s
reward systems that are involved in opioid addiction (Oliere,
Joliette-Riopel, Potvin & Jutras-Aswald, 2013). However, cannabis doesn’t
have the physical addictive components that opiates, like heroin, do.
Therefore, addicts can use cannabis to gradually reduce their use of heroin.
One study found that rats given CBD were markedly less likely to
self-administer heroin after a two week abstinence period. The researchers
concluded that, “CBD may be a potential treatment for heroin craving and
relapse” (Ren, et al., 2009). Another animal study found that THC
administration through injection was effective at suppressing behavioral,
biochemical and molecular dependence to morphine (Morel, Giros & Dauge,
Cannabis has shown to increase the rate of heroin addiction recovery. In one
study, regular cannabis smokers were more likely to complete the 8-week
treatment trial (Bisaga, et al., 2015). Other studies have found similar
results. In one, cannabis users were better able to stick with their
naltrexone pill treatments for opioid addiction (Raby, et al., 2009).
Another study also found that moderate cannabis users, who were also
diagnosed with ADHD, had greater cocaine treatment retention rates compared
to non-users and regular users (Aharonovich, et al., 2006).
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Heroin Addiction
Currently, no states have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of
heroin addiction. However, in Washington
DC, any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a
DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment. In addition, a number of
other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the
treatment of heroin addiction with the recommendation from a physician.
These states include: California (any
debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended
by a physician), Connecticut (other
medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer
Protection), Massachusetts (other
conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other
conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other
conditions subject to approval), Rhode
Island (other conditions
subject to approval), and Washington (any
“terminal or debilitating condition”).
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Heroin Addiction
CBD markedly reduced heroin self-administration in rats.
Cannabidiol, a nonpsychotropic component of cannabis, inhibits
cue-induced heroin seeking and normalizes discrete mesolimbic
THC-based medication reduced the severity of opioid withdrawals.
The effects of dronabinol during detoxification and the
initiation of treatment with extended release naltrexone.
Bisaga, A., Sullivan, M.A., Glass, A., Mishlen, K., Pavlicova, M., Haney,
M., Raby, W.N., Levin, F.R., Carpenter, K.M., Mariani, J.J., and Nunes, E.V.
(2015, September 1). The effects of dronabinol during detoxification and the
initiation of treatment with extended release naltrexone. Drug
and Alcohol Dependence, 154, 38-45.
DrugFacts: Heroin. (2014, October). National
Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from
Heroin Addiction. (n.d.). Addictions.com.
Retrieved from http://www.addictions.com/heroin/.
Morel, L.J., Giros, B., and Dauge, V. (2009, October). Adolescent exposure
to chronic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol blocks opiate dependence in
maternally deprived rats. Neuropsychopharmacology,
Olière, S., Jolette-Riopel, A., Potvin, S., & Jutras-Aswad, D. (2013).
Modulation of the Endocannabinoid System: Vulnerability Factor and New
Treatment Target for Stimulant Addiction. Frontiers
in Psychiatry, 4,
Raby, W. N., Carpenter, K. M., Rothenberg, J., Brooks, A. C., Jiang, H.,
Sullivan, M., Bisaga, A., Corner, S., and Nunes, E. V. (2009). Intermittent
Marijuana Use Is Associated with Improved Retention in Naltrexone Treatment
for Opiate-Dependence. The
American Journal on Addictions / American Academy of Psychiatrists in
Alcoholism and Addictions, 18(4),
Reiman, A. (2009). Cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs. Harm
Reduction Journal, 6,
Ren, Y., Whittard, J., Higuera-Matas, A., Morris, C.V., and Hurd, Y.L.
(2009, November 25). Cannabidiol, a nonpsychotropic component of cannabis,
inhibits cue-induced heroin seeking and normalizes discrete mesolimbic
neuronal disturbances. Journal
of Neuroscience, 29(47), 14764-69.
Valverde, O., Noble, F., Beslot, F., Dauge, V., Fournie-Zaluski, M.C., and
Roques, B.P. (2001, May). Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol releases and
facilitates the effects of endogenous enkephalins: reduction in morphine
withdrawal syndrome without change in rewarding effect. European
Journal of Neuroscience, (13)9,
Walsh, Z., Gonzalez, R., Crosby, K., S Thiessmen, M., Carroll, C., and
Bonn-Miller, M.O. (2016, October 12). Medical cannabis and mental health: A
guided systematic review. Clinical
Psychology Review, 51, 15-29.
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