Scientists believe that a chemical found in cannabis could be the most effective way to prevent an opioid overdose.
Scientists at Indiana University have identified 15 chemicals derived from cannabidiol (CBD) – one of the primary compounds in cannabis – that can reverse the effect on the brain of deadly drugs like fentanyl.
They found it to be more effective than Narcan, which is designed to combat this type of overdose, at stopping fentanyl in the brain.
The discovery could be a breakthrough in the fight against fentanyl, the extremely powerful drug that kills 1,500 Americans every two weeks.
However, cannabis use has been associated with issues of its own. Long-term use has been linked to cognitive and heart problems through previous studies.
Fentanyl-related deaths rose in the United States in 2010. At the start of the decade, 2,666 Americans died of a fentanyl overdose. This number rose to 19,413 by 2016. Covid made the situation worse, with 72,484 deaths recorded in 2021
The fentanyl crisis has helped fuel the sharp decline in life expectancy in the United States in recent years. Americans now live an average of 76.4 years, down from 78.8 years in 2019. In the UK, which has experienced the Covid pandemic just as much as the US, but not the fentanyl crisis, life expectancy has increased slightly from 81.3 years in 2019 to 81.52 in 2021.
The two primary ingredients in hemp are CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The latter is what causes the well-known “high” feeling a person often has while using a medication.
But, CBD has its uses, too. It has been linked to relaxing a person’s muscles and helping treat anxiety. However, there are many skeptics about whether or not it is effective.
Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex to treat seizures caused by Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in people over two years of age.
This drug is the first of its kind to use a cannabis extract and to receive regulatory approval.
Now, Indiana researchers think they may have found a second crucial use for the drug extract.
The research team, who will present their findings this week at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society, tested various extracts on CBD’s ability to disengage opiates from brain receptors.
Narcan, sold under the brand name Naxalone, works by fighting opioids from openings in the brain’s receptors for the drug.
This stops the symptoms of an overdose, which often results in death as a person’s breathing slows – depriving the brain and other vital organs of oxygen.
Indiana researchers show that fentanyl is more powerful than Naxolone. For this reason, many people who take excessive doses need to use the medicine twice in the nose.
Alex Straker, co-principal investigator of the research from the school, said.
Given that naloxone is the only drug available to reverse overdoses, I think it makes sense to look for alternatives.
‘Ideally, we’d like to discover a more effective alternative to naloxone,’ said Dr. Michael Vanniwenhze, who is also a co-principal investigator from Indiana.
“However, finding something that works synergistically with it, and reducing the amount needed to treat an overdose, would also be a success.”
Using a synthetic opioid called DAMGO, which is only used if available, the researchers investigated whether CBD compounds could break down the fentanyl molecules that bind to the brain.
If the drug is able to do this, it will likely be able to reverse the symptoms of an overdose.
In the lab, 15 different cannabidiol extracts were found to be up to the task. The researchers now hope to conduct studies in mice to see which, if any, are effective in preventing overdoses.
“We hope that our approach will lead to the birth of new therapies, which, in the hands of emergency personnel, could save more lives,” said Taryn Bosquez-Berger, an Indiana graduate student contributing to the research.
The biggest drug threat in America right now is in fentanyl.
It is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and is one of the most popular pain relievers in the world.
It only takes a small dose of fentanyl to cause an overdose. Just two milligrams – the equivalent of five grains of salt – is enough to cause death.
Because it is cut into other common drugs, many people who die from an overdose do not know they are taking fentanyl. Fentanyl has been partially blamed for the sharp decline in life expectancy in America over the past three years.
Dr Nora Volkow, principal, said: “Substance use is more dangerous than it has ever been as fentanyl continues to penetrate the illicit drug supply, increasing the risk of overdoses among people with substance use disorders as well as those who abuse drugs. From time to time”. From the National Institute on Drug Abuse, he said last year.
Experts described the drop in life expectancy from 78.8 in 2019 to 76.4 in 2021 as “dramatic” and “significant”.