CBD vs Opioids

CBD vs Opioids

Posted on March 28th, 2021

Chronic pain is a common condition from which millions of people worldwide suffer from. It can have a very significant impact on one’s quality of life and their ability to carry out simple day-to-day tasks. For a long time, the medical establishment thought of opioids as the most effective way for managing acute severe pain and chronic pain. In almost all parts of the world, they remain the standard of care for pain-related issues and serious conditions such as cancer.

However, in recent years, increasing concerns regarding the effectiveness, safety, and potential for abuse of opioid painkillers started. Reports indicate that from 1999 to 2019, more than 500,000 people died as a result of an opioid-related drug overdose in the United States. That’s a staggering average of 50,000 people per year. Opioid addiction became a full-blown public health crisis in a regrettably quiet way.

Many patients suffering from chronic pain are currently dealing with opioid addiction despite the medical establishment’s assurances. The same drug meant to offer them some much sought-after relief is slowly destroying their lives. As a result, there’s an urgent need to find an alternative, effective treatment that doesn’t have such adverse side effects as opioids. This is where CBD or cannabidiol comes into the picture.

CBD broke into the scene as an apparently viable way of addressing chronic pain, which could potentially rival opioids. So, what do we know about CBD for pain? This article takes a look at everything you need to know about CBD vs Opioids. Let’s start with some basic concepts.

CBD vs Opioids – What is CBD?CBD vs Opioids - cbd oil

CBD is one of the hundreds of active organic compounds found in the cannabis plant. These organic compounds go by the name of ‘cannabinoids.’ More specifically, they classify as ‘phytocannabinoids’ since they are of plant origin. CBD is the second most abundant cannabinoid after THC – the main psychoactive ingredient of the cannabis plant. Unlike its cousin THC, CBD will not get you high at all since it is non-psychoactive. Besides pain management, CBD apparently has many other potential health benefits, according to both enthusiasts and research. Its massive rise in popularity seems to be a hint at the veracity of those claims. It is due to that potential that the CBD vs opioids debate to evaluate it as an alternative treatment began in the first place.

CBD vs Opioids – What are Opioids?

‘Opioid’ is an umbrella term used to refer to all compounds that bind to opiate receptors in the body. Opioids are compounds derived from the opium poppy. They synthesize from naturally occurring opiates such as oxycodone from thebaine or are from synthetic origins like fentanyl and methadone.

How Do Opioids Relieve Pain?

Opioids work in the body by binding to specific proteins known as opioid receptors. These receptors are present on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gut, and throughout the body. The opioid receptors involved in regulating pain are in both the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. By attaching to these receptors, opioids reduce pain sensation, alter your reaction to pain and increase your tolerance to pain.

It is important to note that the human body also produces its own opioids, known as endogenous opioids. These include endorphins, enkephalins, and dynorphins. The endogenous opioids are produced primarily in the brain and cause various effects throughout the body. Endorphins are the main endogenous opioids involved with pain modulation.

When administered, opioids produce their analgesic or pain-relieving effects by binding to opiate receptors involved with pain regulation. However, various other unintended side effects arise as a result of the opioids inevitably binding with receptors involved in other bodily functions. This can lead to effects such as itchiness, respiratory depression, mental clouding, hyperalgesia, and euphoria. Finally, it can also result in increased tolerance to opioids which would lead to needing more and, ultimately, fueling a dangerous dependency cycle.

How Does CBD Relieve Pain?

CBD works in the body to relieve pain through its interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) as well as other receptors in the body. The ECS has three key components:

Cannabinoid Receptors (CB1 and CB2)

CB1 receptors are mainly present in the brain and the central nervous system. These receptors are mainly involved in regulating cognitive functions, mood, and pain perception. On the other hand, CB2 receptors are mainly located in the peripheral nervous system and the immune system. As you can tell, the CB1 receptors are the primary target when it comes to pain relief.

Endogenous Cannabinoids

They are cannabinoids produced naturally by the body. The two main endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-AG.


These are responsible for breaking down cannabinoids once used.

How Does CBD Work

It is important to note that, unlike other cannabinoids, CBD doesn’t actually bind to the cannabinoid receptors. Rather, it works by influencing other components of the ECS producing various effects, including the possibility of pain relief. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how CBD affects the endocannabinoid system as a whole to bring about its potential pain-relieving effects.

Another way CBD may help with pain relief is by inhibiting the transmission of pain signals to the processing centers in the brain. It does so by binding to TPRV1 receptors, which are very involved in modulating pain and inflammation.

CBD also relieves pain and reduces pain sensation by inducing the reuptake of the neurotransmitter adenosine. By boosting adenosine levels in the brain, CBD will also help inhibit pain sensations a little bit more.

Both Opioids and CBD work in the body to produce pain-relieving effects through their action on various receptors in the body. However, one seems to have more adverse side effects than the other.

What are the Side Effects of Opioid Pain Medications?CBD vs Opioids - woman addicted to opioids

Many chronic pain patients are choosing to steer clear of opioid pain medications due to the side effects associated with them. It is important to note that opioids have different strengths. The stronger an opioid is, the higher the probability and severity of its side effects. Some of the most common side effects of opioids include:

  1. Nausea – This is among the first side effects experienced once someone starts taking opioid medications. However, this symptom tends to go away with time.
  2. Constipation – This another common side effect associated with opioid treatment.
  3. Fatigue and Drowsiness – Alcohol tends to worsen these symptoms.
  4. Dry MouthPretty self-explanatory and very uncomfortable.

In some serious cases, opioid medications can lead to

  • Respiratory problems.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Slurred speech.

The long-term use of opioids carries a very high risk of tolerance, dependence, and addiction as well. To be more specific, these are the definitions and consequences of each of those terms.

  1. Tolerance – This means that the drugs gradually stop working as effectively as they used to before. Meaning, you may need higher doses to alleviate your pain.
  2. Dependence – As your body develops more tolerance to the opioid, you may start becoming dependent on it. When this happens, you tend to experience withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking them or miss a dose. Some of these withdrawal symptoms include sweating, insomnia, anxiety, diarrhea, cramps, yawning, and muscle pains.
  3. Addiction – This is the uncontrollable urge to use the opioid. If you become addicted to the opioid, you have an excessive craving for the opioid even if your body is no longer dependent on it.

Side Effects of CBD

CBD is generally a safe substance to use. However, according to clinical research, CBD can lead to some mild side effects. Depending on various factors, including the amount of dosage, you can experience some of these common symptoms:

  • Drowsiness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea

CBD also appears to potentially increase liver enzymes. Thus, it is important for people suffering from liver disease to use CBD with extra caution, preferably under the care of a medical specialist.

Some studies also found that CBD can affect a baby’s development during pregnancy, so it is important for expectant mothers to avoid it.

CBD can also interact with various medications, for example:

  • Certain drugs used to treat epilepsy
  • Antipsychotic drugs
  • Atypical antidepressants
  • Immune-suppressive drugs
  • Migraine medications

Drug-to-drug interactions can lead to increased toxicity in the body or reduced effectiveness of said drugs. It is, therefore, important to consult your doctor before taking CBD if you are already on other kinds of medication.

CBD vs Opioids – Can CBD Help with Opioid Addiction?

The United States is currently in the middle of a devastating opioid misuse and addiction epidemic. In the past decade, there have been over 50,000 deaths each year as a result of both prescription and illegal opioid drug overdose. It goes without saying that this is a very serious problem that authorities are so far unable to address effectively.

While there are several medications administered to help treat opioid addiction, they are often underutilized or hard to access. As a result, experts actively seek alternative treatments for opioid use disorder, and an important item on their research list is CBD.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, patients administered CBD treatment reported reduced cravings for heroin and other opioids compared to those administered a placebo and those who got no treatment at all.

The study also found that CBD is effective in treating symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal.

By dampening cravings for opioids, CBD can significantly minimize the risk of relapsing for those who’ve recently abstained from the drugs and also the risk of overdosing.

So yes, CBD might help with opioid addiction, and there is emerging scientific evidence to back it up.

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