Fentanyl overdoses are at an all-time high, and often, there is trouble reviving a person who has overdosed on higher doses of the drug. After all, fentanyl is one of the most potent drugs known to man.
Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid, estimated to be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and about 50 times more potent than heroin. This potency means that a small amount of fentanyl can produce intense and immediate euphoria, making it highly attractive to those seeking a powerful high.
For some people, that high means an overdose. And if a user takes higher doses of the drug, multiple cans of Narcan, the overdose-reversal drug, may not even be enough.
Fentanyl kills over 100,000 Americans yearly, and people often don’t even realize they have taken the drug.
Fentanyl is Highly Addictive
Fentanyl acts quickly in the body, producing a rapid onset of intense effects. This fast-acting nature can be significantly reinforcing for people looking for a quick and intense high.
For some users, this also means they’re high before realizing they’ve taken too much. This swift onset can make it difficult for users to gauge their tolerance and dose appropriately, increasing the risk of overdose.
Fentanyl is also a highly addictive drug; once users have tried it, they may find quitting challenging. Yet, as they develop a tolerance for the drug, their body may be unable to handle the increased dosages.
New Research on Fentanyl Overdose Reversals
Researchers at Indiana University have identified a new method of reversing the effects of fentanyl, which could be used either on its own or in conjunction with Naloxone, which is currently the standard method.
Their study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, was led by Alex Straiker, senior research scientist for the Gill Center for Biomolecular Science at Indiana University.
“The synthetic opiates bind very tightly to the opioid receptors,” Mr. Straiker says. “Naloxone must compete with opioids for the same binding site in the central nervous system to cancel out an overdose. But during a fentanyl overdose, Naloxone and fentanyl bind to different sites, meaning there is no competition. We wanted to see if a negative allosteric modulator could reverse the fentanyl effects.”
CBD Is Promising for Future Overdose Reversals
Researchers say cannabidiol, or CBD, also found in marijuana, can behave as a negative allosteric modulator at the binding site. To do the job, however, they required high concentrations. Then, they decided to modify the cannabidiol structure to be more effective. This experiment, done in vitro on blood or tissue samples, successfully reversed the effects of fentanyl.
“We’ve identified structural parts that are important for the desired antidote effect,” Straiker said. “Some of these compounds are much more potent than the lead. We’ve worked with a third lab to model the binding site that may help identify additional compounds moving forward.”
The next step is testing their findings on living organisms to determine if it reverses respiratory depression, which is the primary part of the overdose that causes death.
CBD is being explored for many purposes. Preliminary research suggests CBD might help reduce inflammation in conditions like Crohn’s disease. It has also recently been studied for its potential role in managing addiction and withdrawal symptoms for substances like opioids and tobacco.
In the United States, the legal status of CBD is complex. Hemp-derived CBD with less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in cannabis) was made legal at the federal level with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. However, state laws regarding CBD can vary. Some states have stricter regulations, while others have embraced the industry. It is not advised to treat yourself solely via natural medicine for any disease, including addiction or overdose.