The United States is facing a nationwide epidemic of opioid and opiate addiction (and subsequent opiate withdrawal), with nearly 100 Americans dying a day from such drug abuse. Opiates are drugs derived from opium (e.g., morphine and codeine) and opioids are synthetic versions of these drugs (e.g., Vicodin and Percocet), although in popular culture these terms are used interchangeably. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid-related deaths have quadrupled in the past 18 years.
In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical corporations promoted prescription opiates as the solution to America’s physical pain. As a result, many people found themselves taking drugs like OxyContin and Percocet regularly — and eventually wound up addicted.
Fighting Opiate Withdrawal
Part of the opiate crisis stems from the immense challenge of overcoming opiate addiction, due to a painful and exhausting withdrawal process. There are a number of unpleasant symptoms that take a physical and emotional toll.
Opiate withdrawal symptoms usually include:
- Extreme cravings and excessive irritation.
- Chills, shakes, and hot and cold flashes.
- Diarrhea, queasiness, and nausea.
- Depression and uncontrolled anger.
- Muscle pain, cramps, and bone and body aches.
- Insomnia and restless leg syndrome.
- Flu-like symptoms, e.g., feeling sick all over.
- High blood pressure
New studies have found a pharmaceutical drug that shows promise of alleviating opiate withdrawal symptoms. But why replace one type of drug for another, and risk more side effects? Especially since recent studies from the CDC and National Institute of Health have demonstrated the promise of natural remedies to fight common symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
Here are the top 6 natural remedies for opiate withdrawal:
1. A Nutrient-Dense Diet
Most withdrawal symptoms begin within two days of discontinuing opiate use and can last many days. If the patient is able to make it through withdrawal without relapsing, the chances of recovery from addiction increase greatly. Because patients in withdrawal usually experience nutritional deficiencies of magnesium, calcium, and potassium, it is important to increase the proportion of those minerals in the diet, either by eating foods containing high doses of such minerals, or taking them as supplements. Magnesium is best absorbed transdermally (through the skin) so bath salts are a great choice. Calcium and potassium can be taken in supplement form but should be taken along side vitamin D, as we find in this blend. Counteracting the nutritional deficiencies associated with opiate addiction and withdrawal will vastly improve the body’s ability to fight the negative symptoms of withdrawal, thereby increasing the patient’s potential to beat addiction.
2. Adequate Hydration
Dehydration is also a major concern in opiate withdrawal. Many patients experience frequent diarrhea as a backlash to the chronic constipation experienced while addicted to opiates. Diarrhea, along with increased sweating, can be severely dehydrating. Patients must dramatically increase their water and electrolyte intake during the recovery process. Interestingly, electrolytes are the minerals most often depleted in an addict (calcium, potassium, magnesium). Getting these important minerals as well as enough water will help keep a person fully hydrated.
3. Natural Anti-Inflammatories
Other common — but certainly uncomfortable — symptoms of opiate withdrawal include muscle pain and cramping, as well as troubled sleeping. Much of these issues are a product of high levels of inflammation — a natural outcome of opiate withdrawal. Natural anti-inflammatories treat bodily inflammation and resulting pain. Recommended remedies include fish oil, turmeric, green tea, astragalus root, and passionflower. Passionflower is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, and a demonstrated treatment for the worst symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
When used as a supplement in patients of opiate withdrawal, passionflower induces feelings of relaxation by increasing the levels of a compound that lowers brain cell activity, thereby easing anxiety and depression. Passionflower also reduces feelings of agitation, restlessness, and irritability. These powerful benefits stem from the plant’s release of natural chemicals that are calming, sleep inducing, and relieving of muscle spasms and cramps. In fact, passionflower has been used for hundreds of years as a remedy for insomnia, and has been found to be especially powerful in treating withdrawal-related sleeplessness. The mechanism in passionflower that allows it to be such a potent warrior against the more prevalent symptoms of opiate-withdrawal is the plant’s neurotransmitter, called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA).
These natural anti-inflammatory remedies are easy to find, and can make the difference in helping patients achieve the sleep they need to enable the body to heal itself.
GABA, which can be obtained through passionflower or be taken as a supplement, is the key inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human central nervous system, meaning it precludes nerve transmission in the brain and thereby quiets nervous activity. This triggers feelings of tranquility, which allows a patient in opiate-withdrawal to obtain much needed rest and relaxation.
5. Activated Charcoal
Through its natural anti-inflammatory and detoxifying properties, activated charcoal is a potent remedy for many of the side effects of opiate withdrawal. Activated charcoal is essentially burnt plant material. Heated to high temperatures in an environment devoid of oxygen, the material develops pores that absorb different types of toxins.
Activated charcoal has historically been used to counteract poison. It helps suck up the poisonous chemicals in the bodies of those addicted to opiates. It is most effective as a treatment opiate overdose in adults by decontaminating the digestive system, but it can also be used to treat gastrointestinal symptoms in patients working through opiate withdrawal, such as uncomfortable diarrhea. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, activated charcoal will help ease withdrawal symptoms associated with inflammation and can improve overall hydration. It can be taken either in capsule-form, or be absorbed through the skin.
One of the most powerful tools in the fight against the anxiety, irritation, and pain triggered through opiate withdrawal is cannabis. It is especially effective when administered as CBD oil, a non-psychoactive oil derived from the cannabis plant. Remarkably, new research indicates that cannabis serves as a remedy for opiate withdrawal — with no harm to the user. It is already well documented that cannabis combats anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, as well as a host of other ailments in sufferers of epilepsy, cancer, and chronic illness. Many of the symptoms experienced by patients of those conditions are also features of opiate withdrawal.
Super rich hemp oil doesn’t make users high or carry a risk of permanent physiological damage or overdose, but it can lessen the severity of a number of symptoms associated with opiate withdrawal. Studies show it inhibits drug-seeking behavior in those suffering or with a history of drug addiction. Furthermore, scientific studies have demonstrated that cannabis reduces the euphoric effects of opiate drugs, by decreasing the impact of opiates on the body’s central nervous system, thereby making opiate use less attractive during the withdrawal stage.
According to Dr. Zachary Walsh, professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia and Co-director of the Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law, cannabis can either be used as substitution for opiates by patients trying to overcome opiate addiction, or to manage the side effects of opiate withdrawal. Says Walsh:
We are facing this massive opioid epidemic, and it seems to be coinciding with the de-stigmatization of cannabis use. It is certainly interesting timing. What we are seeing anecdotally from patients is that they certainly do report using cannabis to help with side effects from opioid withdrawal.
Essentially, properties within cannabis influence the primary neurotransmission systems involved in addiction, including opiate addiction, in a way that reduces desire for the drug in question, while combating the most uncomfortable side effects of withdrawal from that drug. Cannabis has long been understood to protect against neurotoxicity, while exhibiting no side effects itself, as it does not contain the addictive properties that opiates contain. CBD oil has proven its potential to reduce the discomfort of withdrawal, thereby increasing the likelihood that patients will successfully overcome opiate addiction.
Walsh notes the pain management capabilities of cannabis, in particular. He says that “when it comes to opioid withdrawal, there is a lot of agitation, poor moods, and trouble sleeping.” Cannabis can help with all of that. “One of the things that is promising about cannabis medicine is that they have anti-anxiety effects, and at the same time have anti-pain effects,” says Walsh.
Many people find that ingesting cannabis through edibles, including Cannabinoid oil capsules or ingestible oils, is especially helpful in managing withdrawal symptoms. Patients of opiate withdrawal, from across the country, have found relief by taking cannabis through a variety of methods. Dr. Alan Miller, a chiropractor, found himself addicted to opioids following a series of fractures as the result of an active lifestyle. Miller began to looking into cannabis as a treatment for both his chronic pain and to help him wean off of opioids. He “decided on a high CBD, low THC formula” that he ingested twice daily in edible form at a dosage of 20 milligrams.
“For people looking for long-term pain management, edibles are the way a lot of people are going,” says Walsh. A non-smoker, Miller transitioned between a number of different products, and also used THC ointments for localized treatment of muscle soreness.
Miller’s treatment was so successful that he became an advocate for medical cannabis, writing and speaking publicly about its ability to treat the chronic pain most responsible for opioid addiction, as well as to “fill the void of painkillers,” as he puts it, for those addicted to opioid drugs.
Cannabis is being used more frequently as a substitute for opioid drugs for patients struggling to overcome cravings. Walsh, too, notes the potential for cannabis “to serve as a substitute for opioids, but without the same risk factors. It can be a way of people getting off opioid medications.”
Unfortunately, cannabis still suffers from a significant degree of stigma, and medical marijuana is far from legal everywhere. Walsh and Miller are working to change that, through both scientific study and advocacy. Walsh’s recent study was the first to conduct a comprehensive survey of patients enrolled in a Canadian program designed to treat patients of opioid addiction using medical marijuana. His study could pave the way for further scientific research on human patients that will lead to increased access and availability of medical cannabis for those suffering from opioid addiction and chronic pain.
Opiate Withdrawal: Can Natural Remedies Really Work?
The short answer is: yes! These natural remedies work together to help combat the opiate withdrawal side effects a user is experiencing.
Maggie Tennis is a writer based in Washington, DC. She enjoys adventuring in the city’s many parks, paddle boarding on the Potomac River and walking until her feet ache. Maggie believes that wellness means pursuing that balanced feeling of feeling good—for your mind, body and spirit—and sometimes that means eating popsicles for breakfast.
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