Scientists in the USA are testing cannabis for its effectiveness in preventing fatal overdoses from fentanyl and other opioids. In 2021, US Government figures showed that over 80,000 people died from opioid overdose, adding to a total of over half a million deaths in the previous two decades.
In the study, conducted by scientists at Indiana University, 15 CBD derivatives were tested in different concentrations to find if they could reverse the effects of a fentanyl overdose. Researchers found several to be effective in reducing fentanyl from binding with receptors, even at ‘incredibly low’ concentrations. Two of the derivatives were found to have a synergistic effect when combined with naloxone.
The US opioid epidemic has driven scientists to develop an alternative to the only opioid overdose anecdote currently available to medics, naloxone.
Naloxone is a very effective anecdote that has saved thousands of lives from suspected opioid overdose, however, its effectiveness against the synthetic opioid fentanyl is hampered due to fentanyl’s strength. Medics have found they have to use multiple doses of naloxone on people presenting with suspected fentanyl overdose.
Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, when the receptor becomes too crowded the body’s respiratory system slows down to such an extent that the person stops breathing, which is what happens during an overdose.
Naloxone prevents overdoses by tackling opioids in the brain for space on the receptors, forcing them away and preventing them from binding. Fentanyl and its close synthetic opioid relatives are better than other opioids such as morphine and heroin at binding to receptors, which makes it harder for naloxone to push them out of the way.
Co-principle investigator of the current research project Alex Straiker PhD said, “Fentanyl-class compounds account for more than 80% of opioid overdose deaths, and these compounds aren’t going anywhere—it’s just too much of an economic temptation for dealers. Given that naloxone is the only drug available to reverse overdoses, I think it makes sense to look at alternatives.”
Similar studies to the current one in America were conducted in Germany in 2006. Scientists tested CBD combined with naloxone and concluded that CBD can change the receptors’ response to stimuli, i.e fentanyl and other opioids.
The 2006 research found that not only did the combination of CBD and naloxone inhibit opioids from binding to receptors, but they also forced the receptors to release opioids, resulting in a faster-acting response in preventing overdose.
In an attempt to improve the results from the 2006 research using CBD, a team from Indiana University Bloomington has developed a range of CBD derivatives. The team tested the effectiveness of these derivatives at preventing an opioid used exclusively in lab tests called DAMGO from binding with opioid receptors.
The team will continue their research on mice with the aim of developing a product that could be more effective in saving lives from opioid overdoses.