CBD vs Opioids: The Pain Relief Showdown!

Opioid painkillers have been a part of medical practice for a very long time. They are used for a variety of injuries and conditions that cause pain since they have strong, numbing effects, making them very useful in certain situations.

However, their use has become indiscriminate and unnecessary in a lot of cases, and illicit production and sales have risen significantly, which has caused an epidemic of opioid addiction and several cases of overdose which result in death.

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What are opioid painkillers?

Opioids, or narcotics, are a type of drug that produces euphoria, drowsiness, confusion, slow breathing and pain relief. And, because they have a high potential for abuse, they are controlled substances.

They are made from components found in the opium poppy plant, or developed in labs, like fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid.  

For decades, doctors have prescribed opioids like oxycodone or morphine to patients who suffer from strong chronic or acute pain for different reasons: from injuries, to chronic illnesses.

Though these opioids initially do their job and reduce or eliminate pain, they have terrible effects when they are taken long term, as they mostly are nowadays. They create strong dependence, making it very difficult, or even impossible for the patients to stop taking them. But the most serious issue with these painkillers is that they cause an astounding amount of deaths in the United States, and the rest of the world, due to overdose.

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CBD and Opioids

Lately, CBD has proven to be a potential substitute for painkillers as well as helpful in opioid addiction treatments, since it provides pain relief, lifts the mood and lowers anxiety, which is so prevalent in withdrawal syndrome.

Prescription Opioids vs Illegal Opioids

There really is not much difference between opioids prescribed by a doctor and the illegal ones we often hear about in the news. What sets them apart is that legal ones are prescribed and controlled, while illegal ones are sold in the illegal market and completely uncontrolled, which does make it easier for people to overdose due to the uncertainty of what exactly is in them and how strong it is.

The first opium derivative to become popularized for pain management was morphine, which is used to treat moderate to severe chronic pain. Morphine is an isolated compound found in opium poppy which is 10 times stronger than processed opium poppy on its own, which was used for pain relief in the past. And, though it was initially foreseen to have several medicinal benefits, it soon proved to be extremely addictive and dangerous if taken regularly.

Morphine isn’t the only commonly prescribed opioid. We might also know heroin, for example, as a well known narcotic that is illegally sold. However, it is commonly prescribed by doctors for pain management, under the name of diamorphine. Though the name is different, it is exactly the same chemical, and it has the same effects. So, just like a heroin overdose can cause death, so can a diamorphine overdose in a patient who has been prescribed the medication.  

Some of the most common prescription opioids are:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Vicodin  

These are all controlled substances, and are very commonly used and abused by patients or by those who have a narcotic addiction. They might work well for temporary pain relief when a person has been severely injured or has had surgery, but are not recommended for long term use, since they will inevitably cause dependence and, subsequently, are very likely to be abused; or, in the best of cases, they will cause very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

It is estimated that, in 2017, more than 72.000 people died of opioid overdose in the united states. A shocking number, isn’t it? And Fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than morphine, and 50 times more potent than heroin, seems to be responsible for the steady rise in this number. And, just like most opioids, it is marketed both illegally and under medical prescription.

Those at Risk…

In this opioid epidemic, the illegal buyers are not the only ones at risk. Even for patients to whom they have been prescribed, opioid painkillers are dangerous. If a person is feeling pain and, out of desperation, takes more than the prescribed amount, an overdose is highly probable.

The drowsiness caused by them can affect some people more than others. So even if some are perfectly able to go about their day after taking morphine, some might be at risk of fainting, falling over, or tripping. They can be seriously injured or even die for reasons other than overdose.

Because most of these are readily prescribed by doctors, addicts have taken to faking injury and severe pain in order to receive opioids in urgent care or the E.R. And, since it’s not necessarily easy to tell who’s faking and who’s not, many get away with it, which calls us to look into other non opioid pain relief for doctors to use in their practice in order to reduce the likelihood of this happening.  

CBD vs Opioids: What are the Effects?

Though they both provide pain relief, CBD and opioids work in completely different ways.

First of all, opioid painkillers are highly processed or synthetic, which means that they are no longer the poppy plant they once were; they are not at all natural, which causes them to have stronger, more dangerous effects than CBD, which is not nearly as processed and is completely natural.

Some of the differences in effects are:

Opioids

  • Cause drowsiness and confusion
  • Slowed breathing and hypoxia (not enough oxygen reaching the brain)
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Euphoria
  • Death (caused by overdose)
  • Tolerance, which causes the person to need higher doses or a stronger opioid

CBD

  • Doesn’t cause drowsiness or confusion; it has even been shown to improve concentration and alertness during the day
  • Doesn’t affect oxygenation, but might reduce blood pressure during stressful events
  • Is often used to reduce nausea
  • Doesn’t cause constipation, but in extremely high doses, it might cause diarrhea in some people
  • Improves mood, but doesn’t produce euphoria
  • Has never been observed to cause death, even in extremely high doses
  • Hasn’t been shown to produce tolerance

It is important to point out that this list of effects is for CBD on its own, it doesn’t take into account the effects that supplements that include THC might have.

Opioids, regardless of them being illegally taken or prescribed, shouldn’t be taken by pregnant women, since they could cause miscarriage, low birth weight, and even cause the baby to develop dependence and withdrawal symptoms after birth.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

Sometimes, people who use marijuana consistently (daily) in high doses, begin experiencing something called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which causes vomiting and severe stomach cramping, which are only relieved by hot baths. In these cases, the only solution is to stop consuming marijuana.

This syndrome is believed to be caused only by THC, since it hasn’t been observed to occur in people who use high doses of CBD on a daily basis (like children and adults who suffer from epilepsy), only by frequent high THC marijuana consumption.

Is CBD addictive?

This is an interesting question. CBD on its own has not shown any potential for dependence. However, when it comes to THC, or marijuana, about 9% of people who use it regularly develop something called “marijuana use disorder”, which is not necessarily an addiction, but a form of dependence.

Since THC produces psychoactive effects, it is likely the reason marijuana causes dependence, particularly if the habit of consumption begins before the age of 21, when the brain is more susceptible to alterations. However, this dependence and its withdrawal symptoms are usually very mild and go away fast, compared to those of strong opioids like morphine, oxycodone, and others.

CBD derivatives have not been shown to cause dependence, but since they have mood lifting effects, people might report not feeling as uplifted when not using them. In this sense, CBD can be compared to antidepressants: used on their own, they might keep you afloat, but stopping them would cause you to sink back into depression. However, if they are taken along with a disciplined therapeutic and growth process, there might come a time when you can decide, along with your doctor, to stop taking them without issues.

Facts!

Is cannabis an opioid?

No! Cannabis is not an opioid. Opioids are drugs (legal or illegal) derived from the opium poppy plant, or made in a lab to enhance some of its properties (like fentanyl). Cannabis is a different plant entirely.

Are there CBD withdrawal symptoms?

CBD has not been observed to produce withdrawal symptoms when suspended, but changes in dosage might cause different effects, and some people might miss the benefits and take a little while to adapt to not taking it.

CBD helps with withdrawal symptoms…

When you’re wondering how to get off opioids, it is important to work with a healthcare professional. Effects can be varied and hard to deal with, so you’ll need support, and your doctor might recognize CBD as a valid option to facilitate the process. It all depends on the type of opioid you’ve developed dependence to, the dosage you’re currently taking, and the way your body reacts to it. It’s different for everyone.

However, CBD has shown to be helpful for opioid withdrawal in most cases, since it reduces anxiety, improves mood, enhances sleep, and reduces pain, which are all issues that are encountered during the process.

CBD vs Opioids What’s the best option?

Though many would prefer certain opioids, like morphine, since they lack the social stigma that cannabis comes tied to, the truth is that:

  • CBD is not addictive, while opioids are
  • You cannot die of CBD overdose, but you can easily die of opioid overdose
  • CBD hasn’t been shown to produce withdrawal symptoms, while opioids produce plenty, which disable the person suffering from them
  • CBD can be used long term without causing the patient to develop resistance to its effects, while opioids do, and eventually results in the need for a stronger version

Clearly, CBD is the least harmful option of the two. And, though it might not have the numbing effects that opioids are capable of producing, if CBD turned into a routine, along with other small life changes, like exercise, meditation and healthy eating, the effects are likely going to be even better and less risky than those of opioids, at least when it comes to long term use.

When it comes to short term use, like after an accident, or surgery, opioids do have their benefits and, as long as they are carefully administered can be a good option, but should not become a habit, or they will surely generate life threatening addiction.

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