The Natural Remedies for
Heroin & Opioid Addiction
Detoxifying and Regenerating the Brain and Body after heroin/opiate use.After you’ve gone through the Initial Painful Withdrawal Phase lasting a week or two you can start detoxifying and regenerating your brain and body with the following programme.
Most of this page is about brain chemistry/physiology but as you probably already know psychology plays a huge part in addiction and you should combine the methods below with engaging in psychotherapy and drug counselling, it’s not easy to overcome addiction so really treat it aggressively on every front. One more additional thing which I do discussed below is doing brain training exercises such as meditation that have been studied and shown to build up the centres in the brain that give us greater impulse control, self-awareness and manage stress; they are a useful tool that you don’t want to miss out on.
Regenerating the brain and repairing physical health after heroin/opioid useAfter the initial painful withdrawal phase focus should immediately shift to repairing the health of your brain, the quicker you can re-establish healthy brain function and maintain healthy dopamine levels the better; when dopamine and or serotonin levels fall too low we can feel depressed, life becomes boring and intolerable, having taken drugs in the past you know that drugs would immediately drive up your neurotransmitter levels and give you relief from feeling bad albeit temporarily.
Pure heroin if you can get it is surprisingly nontoxic to human organs, pharmaceutical opioids like oxy are also far less toxic than street drugs however the contaminants in street heroin can damage several areas of the body, especially when they are injected. Besides repairing the brain you may want to think about detoxifying your liver and strengthening your immune system if habitual heroin use has resulted in a weakened immune system with chest and skin/wound infections from the use of needles, I’ll discuss these below.
Regenerating Brain HealthOne of the things people that have used a lot of drugs are often concerned about is whether or not they have permanently damage their brain, the good news is science has discovered that the brain is highly repairable and changeable much more so than we ever used to think possible; regenerating the brain is one of the areas I specialise in in my practice.
Unaided it can take the brain at least 18 months and often several years to regenerate and during this phase your brain is still vulnerable to bouts of low dopamine and serotonin particularly during stressful setbacks that may contribute to or cause a drug taking relapse, instead of waiting for your brain to slowly regenerate unaided and leaving yourself exposed to a high risk of relapse you can use natural remedies, brain training exercises etc. that speedup regeneration in your brain.
There are two processes one called neuroplasticity is called neurogenesis. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to grow new synapses to replace both lost synapses and takeover from poorly functioning synapses; and neurogenesis is the ability of the brain to grow completely new neurones, something that until recently were sought not to occur.
Repeated drug use results in significant changes the structure and function of our brain, drugs flood our synapses with elevated levels of feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine or serotonin, the artificially elevated levels of neurotransmitters can so over-stimulate brain circuits (albeit pleasurable brain circuits) that the circuits can become exhausted and burnt out; our synapses quickly start to compensate for the artificially elevated levels of neurotransmitters and become progressively less sensitive or responsive to neurotransmitters, they do this by decreasing the number of receptor sites that the neurotransmitters can attach themselves to. This process is why we become habituated and desensitised to drugs and need to take increasingly higher doses chasing the great highs we experienced when we first took them.
Stimulating Brain Regeneration (neurogenesis and neuroplasticity)
Although the brain is highly repairable if you want to significantly stimulate the repair processes and speed up your recovery you will have to put some work in with your diet, with supplements, with brain training exercises and with physical exercise; I usually run my regeneration treatment programs for three months.
Neuroplasticity and neurogenesis can be inhibited by several things such as constant background inflammation in the brain and so before you can achieve significant increases these processes you need to create the right physiological conditions in the brain.Neuro-inflammation can come from many sources the three most common ones I deal with are:-
- Over-activity in the stress physiology of the body known as the HPA axis.
- The wrong diet, not only do obvious junk food diets produce inflammation but some people think they’re eating a healthy diet but it has elements that promotes inflammation, vegetarian and vegan diets in particular are notorious for promoting inflammation due to an imbalance in omega-3 to omega-6 oils.
- Poor digestive health, a leaky or excessively permeable gut in particular will create such a lot of inflammation in the brain and it will shut down brain regeneration, leaky gut can be the result of several things including yeast, parasitic or bacterial (SIBO) overgrowth, alcohol abuse et al. An unhealthy colony of intestinal bacteria or microbiota also has a profound effect on neuro-inflammation and the health of the brain.
- Perform 45-50 hours of brain training to train your brain to switch off overactivity in the HPA axis, see The Stress Response.
- I discussed the Anti-Inflammation Diet in detail elsewhere.
- I discuss how to treat intestinal disbiosis including yeast (Canada), SIBO and parasites.
Anti-inflammation remedies include:-
- Curcumin/turmeric with piperine for improved absorption.
- NAC cysteine.
- Scutellaria which you may have used in phase 1 of your opiate withdrawal.
- EGCg’s which are antioxidants found abundantly in green tea.
- Rutin which is an antioxidant obtain from citrus fruit.
- Very low-dose aspirin.
- The bioflavonoids found in celery, green peppers, parsley, basil and artichokes, you can buy these antioxidants but I recommend consuming them by putting large quantities these foods into your blender.
BDNF boosting remedies I use on my brain regeneration protocol include:-
- Low-dose lithium orotate.
- Turmeric/curcumin with piperine for enhanced absorption.
- Magnolia bark*.
- Omega-3 fish oil.
- Citicholine CDP*.
- Alpha GPC*.
- Panax ginseng.
- Eugenol/clove oil.
- Nicotine (pure nicotine not delivered from smoking tobacco).
- Ginkgo biloba*.
- HIIT exercise, although not technically a remedy HIIT exercise is a powerful BDNF booster.
Lithium is perhaps the single most powerful brain regenerating remedy I know of, I’ve ridden several pages about the benefits of and how to use low-dose lithium orotate.
The two best things to stimulate neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells) are the amino acid taurine and vigourous exercise.
Choosing the Right Exercise to Stimulate Neurogenesis
There’s an interesting TED talk you can watch on YouTube discussing research that showed vigourous physical exercise stimulates more regeneration of new cells in the brain than brain training exercises, however not all exercises are equal in this regard. Short bursts of highly demanding vigourous exercise are far more effective at stimulating neurogenesis and neuroplasticity than prolonged aerobic exercise. There is an ultra time-efficient form of exercise called HIIT (high intensity interval training) which takes about six minutes to complete including the warm up and recovery phase.
Putting a Regeneration Programme Together1. Start following the anti-inflammation diet and start practising the HPA relaxation brain training exercises see below for more on additional information on useful brain training for addiction.
2. Start being more physically active building up your fitness levels to the point at which you can do the HIIT exercise every second day, if you fit just begin with brisk walking and get professional advice from a fitness centre/trainer.
3. Spend 4 to 6 weeks on step 1 and 2 while taking the anti-inflammation remedies mentioned above, the point is to give the anti-inflammation treatment a head start before investing in remedies to promote regeneration. I would also add low-dose lithium orotate because it is so many helpful things for the brain including reducing inflammation, also add scutellaria at this stage if you’re not already on it.
4. Now add the full BDNF/neuroplasticity boosting remedies:-
- Lithium orotate,
- Magnolia bark, gastrodia, Pollygala (this herb has useful antidepressant or mood lifting effects),
- turmeric/curcumin plus piperine,
- increase your total zinc intake you ask me up to 60 mg a day,
- omega-3 to include 1000-2000 mg of EPA and
- pick out at least two of the following optional extras.
- Include Panax Ginseng if you are suffering from exhaustion and adrenal fatigue.
- Eugenol/clove oil if you’re suffering from candid, parasites SIBO.
- Ginkgo biloba if you also tend to have poor circulation, cold hands and feet.
- Citicholine CDP and alpha GPC the two remedies enhance the growth of neurons in general but they are specifically helpful when you feel you’ve had a decline in your cognitive/thinking abilities, if you feel less smart than you used to all have noticed a distinct decline your ability to learn new things and keep up.
- Nicotine, pure nicotine actually boosts BDNF, unless you’re desperately suffering from a decline in your neuroplasticity I wouldn’t start taking nicotine if you’re not already a smoker, but if you are already a smoker you will be pleased to know that you don’t have to give up the use of nicotine you just have to deliver pure nicotine by an alternative means other than smoking.
Brain Training for Addiction Recovery
Over-activity in the HPA-axis causes overproduction of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines in the brain resulting in chronic (long-term) silent inflammation. This constant inflammation causes a loss of connections (synapses) in the key parts of the brain that control mood, self-awareness and impulse control which are important with addiction. The brain makes a growth hormone called BDNF that protects the neurones from the damaging effects of inflammation and we can increase the production of BDNF with supplements however for this to be effective it’s essential to switch off overactivity in the HPA axis; failing to correct this problem may prevent the brain regeneration treatment from working in the first place, it may also lead to relapses in the future. If you do not train your brain to deal better with stress every once in a while all when your life goes through an intensely stressful period you may overproduce cortisol/cytokines, lose healthy functioning key parts of your brain and relapse.
The only way to permanently switch off over-activity in the HPA axis is by reprogramming the brain with repeated training sessions, it’s like training a muscle all you have to do is repeatedly perform the same exercise and it will grow bigger and stronger. It’s important to understand that there is absolutely nothing that can substitute for performing the exercise, there are no remedies you can take that can train the brain to do something new, you couldn’t for example take a pill that would teach your brain how to play the piano you have to actually put in the practice.
The relaxation response brain training exercises switches off stress responses after they have happened, for most people this is sufficient to enable the brain to repair however for some people their amygdala triggers new stress responses so frequently that no sooner have they switched off the last stress response they produce another.
When this happens the solution is to remodel the stressful memories and psychology with psychotherapy techniques, in my practice I use cognitive hypnotherapy and NLP for this purpose.
Once you’ve completed 45-50 hours of relaxation response brain training you should follow it on with an intensive course of 45-50 hours of mindfulness meditation brain training. Brain scans of people with bipolar have shown there is often a loss of size and density of synapses in the frontal lobes of the brain and an increase in the size and density of synapses in the amygdala.
The frontal lobes of the brain have many critical functions including moderating our emotions, controlling our temper, impulsivity and our ability to focus and think clearly. The amygdala is a structure in the brain involved in storing memories and associations that trigger stress responses in our brain and body and overactivity in the amygdala can have profound detrimental effects on our physical health, the health of our brain and mental health problems including addiction, depression, bipolar depression, OCD and anxiety disorders; in the body overactivity of the amygdala can lead to adrenal fatigue, weakening of the immune system and imbalances in our hormonal glands.
Brain scans have shown that with just as little as 30 hours of mindfulness meditation we can increase the size and density of synapses in the prefrontal cortex and shrink the amygdala; although brain scans have shown changes with as little as 30 hours I do not recommend doing just the bare minimum, I always recommend doing minimum of a 45 to 50 hours to achieve really worthwhile and long-lasting benefits.
Everyone I’ve worked with that completed 45 to 50 hours of appropriate meditation brain training has experienced significant and lasting benefits, it’s not a miracle cure obviously but brain training can lead to permanent reduction of mental health problems and improve quality of life.
There are many different types of meditation and each practice will produce different effects in the brain, I believe the two most useful techniques for the health of the bipolar brain are the off-stress-switch/relaxation brain training followed on by a course of mindfulness meditation. Another potentially useful meditation technique for depression is called metta bhavana, lovingkindness or kind friendliness meditation, in this meditation you cultivate and strengthen the quality of lovingkindness for oneself and others. If you’d like to pursue other techniques I’m available for private coaching and small group meditation training.
Don’t forget physical exercise has a powerful effect on the health of the brain the very best exercise to boost BDNF and stimulate regeneration in the brain exercise is high intensity interval training, do this every second day; even just vigorous walking is better than nothing. A great piece of indoor exercise equipment I recommend is one of those mini trampolines called a rebounder, it’s an efficient way to move your circulation and exercise every day even when the weather is bad.
The brain friendly anti-inflammation diet
To avoid inflammation coming from your diet you must avoid producing excessive insulin after meals and you achieve this by combining a palm of protein with quarter portion of carbohydrates with the GI less than 70, the diet must also avoid excess consumption of omega-6 oils and include the consumption of omega-3. The other key component of the neuroplasticity promoting anti-inflammation diet is making half the volume of the food you eat brightly coloured vegetables and fruit, this provides polyphenols that switch off inflammation and promote neuroplasticity, it also provides huge amounts of fibre which further reduces after a meal insulin levels.
You can lookup the glycaemic index or GI of carbohydrates at http://www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm
Do not eat any carbohydrates with the GI value above 70.
The way this diet stabilises blood sugar levels also provides the brain with a continuous supply of energy, to further stabilise your brain’s fuel supply please include beans/lentils with each meal and one of the following foods/oils with each meal: avocado/coconut/peanut. Beans and lentils are also amongst the best foods to feed your intestinal microbiome (the bacteria that live in the bowel) and this can significantly improve the health of the brain and the outcome of your treatment.
Initially adjusting to eating a lot more vegetables and beans/lentils may cause some temporary bloating and changes in bowel regularity, it’s a good idea to increase the intake of these foods gradually over a two-week period to allow your intestinal microbiota to adjust. If after several weeks you’re still experiencing digestive upset particularly bloating and gas in the upper abdomen after eating then you may have an overgrowth of bacteria in small intestines (SIBO) and you should stop eating large amounts of beans and vegetables and follow the FODMAP diet until we can test and treat SIBO.
This diet derived from the work of Barry Sears and the zone diet, I recommend buying zone diet cookbooks as the original text books on the zone diet are a bit long winded, see the following:-
The last book is a combination of the zone diet with a Mediterranean style and the Mediterranean style diet is associated with the highest production of BDNF and best brain health.
Another really good thing to do is to go to the zone diet website and click on the recipe section, just even looking at the pictures of the recipes can be helpful (to access the recipe section you have to give your email address but I haven’t received spam by doing this).
This a simple, tasty and cheap diet to follow; basically looks like a Mediterranean style diet with significantly reduced carbohydrates and a high intake of EPA/fish oil, another way to look at the anti-inflammation diet is it looks like a Palio diet high protein and vegetable diet with the addition of very small amounts of good quality carbohydrates and a high intake of EPA/fish oil.
Also it is not just the food you eat that’s important but the scheduling of how we eat has a profound effect on the health of the brain. Do not eating anything (water/plane tea is OK) for twelve hours a day and for three hours before going to bed; we do not want any digestive processes or insulin responses when we are asleep, it inhibits brain regeneration.
For a more in-depth description of this diet see The Anti-Inflammation Diet
Maintaining Neurotransmitters and Mood
It may take some time, six months or more on the brain regenerating regime before you can maintain healthy levels of serotonin and particularly dopamine sufficient to maintain a positive mood and prevent depression; until you get to this point you may want to continue with mood enhancing antidepressant remedies.
To maintain healthy dopamine levels you can continue to use:-
DLPA, Tryptophan and Rhodiola, Rhodiola is also and adaptogen which can help chronic fatigue.
As stated elsewhere also continue to take NAC cysteine.
If you suffer from PMS include Chaste Berry also known as Vitex Agnus castus, this herb regulates menstrual hormones and boosts dopamine.
I’m available for consultation either at my London clinic or via Skype, I can offer treatment and coaching advice on how to use natural remedies, diet and exercises (both physical exercises and brain training exercises) to stimulate neuroplastic regeneration of your brain, to detoxify your liver, the rest of your body and improve your overall health.
Regenerating the brain and maintaining healthy levels of dopamine and serotonin is important because when these neurotransmitter levels fall you decline into a low mental state that can drive you back into using drugs to get high again.
Sleep well to regenerate your brainI’ve seen it estimated that 300% more brain regeneration occurs while we are asleep and when we are awake and the better your sleep the better your brain treatment will be. If you’re not sleeping well you could continue to use CBD oil is available and or use of melatonin. If you’d like to learn a lot about how to improve your sleep I wrote a book called Sleep Better with Natural Therapies in which you’ll find many sleep improving techniques.
One important thing to do to increase melatonin production and improve sleep is to protect our eyes from blue light for 2 ½ hours before going to bed with either dim lights or blue blocking glasses, just a few minutes looking at a computer screen or tablet device can shutdown melatonin production for several hours thankfully you don’t have to give up using these devices you just have to wear amber coloured blue blocking glasses when using them before bed.
CBD from Cannabis
Just to repeat what I’ve said elsewhere there are two principal ingredients in cannabis one is called CBD and the other is called THC, they basically have polar opposite effects. THC is stimulating and can increase agitation, anxiety, sleeplessness, paranoia et cetera, CBD on the other hand is very sedating and calms the nervous system, it interacts with the enkephalins and endorphin systems in the brain. CBD is helpful for sleep, anxiety and agitation, I highly recommend using it if you can get a hold of it as an aid to going through withdrawing from opiates. CBD is not addictive like opiates, it also as far as I can work out not harmful so you can use it to help you give up heroin and worry about giving it up later on.
In the UK CBD is not illegal, it’s very expensive but you can buy it online.
Melatonin for improved sleep
You can take melatonin continuously at a low-dose say up to 1 mg even during periods of depression as a sleep aid but during times of mania use high doses up to 5 mg to help you sleep, if you wake up too early take another small dose to help maintain a long period of sleep in a darkroom)
Melatonin is actually more than just a sleep aid is also a powerful antioxidant that has many effects including improving neuroplasticity and repairing the digestive system so I recommend a daily moderate dose of melatonin, it is not habit-forming in the same way that sleeping pills are although if you have taken it for an extended period the first one to 2 nights you don’t have it you may notice not sleeping as well.
I believe a superior way to take a low dose melatonin through the skin (transdermal), when we take it internally (swallow it) the liver breaks it down more quickly producing a shorter affect; when taken through the skin however we bypass the liver completely and only need to take a very small amount compared to taking it by mouth.
Transdermal melatonin dosage:
From as little as 0.05 mg (50 mcg) can be effective and you probably don’t need to take more than 0.5 mg for daily use. During periods of mania you can go up to 5 mg if needed but probably somewhere between 1 to 2 mg should produce a sufficiently powerful effect.
Unfortunately most of the melatonin liquids available are designed to be taken internally and are mixed with sticky glycerin and sweet tasting flavouring agents which makes them sticky and difficult but not impossible to apply to the skin. If you do use one of these sticky liquids I recommend mixing it in the palm of your hand with aloe vera gel, spreading it over a largish area, allowing it to drive then reapplying some aloe vera gel if it’s still sticky. I would always recommend using the same cream experiment with the dosage from 1 to 3 drops, also experiment with how long before bed to take it, if you still feel drowsy in the morning take it a bit earlier.
So far the only brand I have found that does not use glycerin and is not at all sticky in the skin is: NeutraMedix Melatonin Sleep
Because this product is not in sticky glycerin you can simply rub the drop into any area of thin skins such as your wrists for the inside of your forearms without needing any cream.
The NeutraMedix liquid is quite concentrated, the serving size on the label is 15 drops taken internally which is equal to 1.875 mg so one drop of Melatonin Sleep contains about 0.125 mg which is enough for daily use and you could use 10 to 20 drops to assist deep sleep during times of mania.
NB: melatonin is an incredibly safe and non-toxic substance even for long-term use. Even when taken for a long time I have not found melatonin to create the same type of dependency problem has sleeping pills almost always cause; however if you take melatonin every day for 10 days or more it’s quite common that you will experience difficulty sleeping for just one and maybe two nights when you stop taking it compared to weeks and often months of bad sleep when you give up sleeping pills.
In addition you should maximise your own body’s natural production of melatonin by protecting your eyes from blue light for 2 ½ hours before going to bed. Do this by wearing blue blocking glasses available from Amazon for 2 ½ hours before bed.
Additional Health Problems Caused by Heroin/Opiates
Injecting drugs regularly exposes you to a considerable risk of infections, not just from HIV and hepatitis C but infections in the heart, lungs and skin are also common.
Opioids also suppresses the cough-reflex and this often leads to chest and bronchial infections.
See Maximum Immunity for techniques to improve your immune system.
Heroin can cause severe constipation amongst regular users because it suppresses acetylcholine activity, furthermore as already mentioned if you want to improve the health of the brain you should improve the health of your intestinal microbiota with probiotics and the anti-inflammation diet that feeds a healthy microbiota.
See How to cleanse the Colon if you suffer from constipation.
Many long-term drug users will have damage their liver function, thankfully the liver has a tremendous ability for regeneration when it is given sufficient stimulation.
NAC cysteine serve multiple roles, it has anti-addiction effects, anti-inflammatory effects, it protects and regenerates dopaminergic pathways and it also is a great remedy for detoxifying the liver; another remedy that can be used to detoxify the liver is St John’s wort which also promotes serotonin production and neuroplasticity.
See Liver Detoxification
If you have damaged veins from intravenous drug use there are natural remedies including butchers broom, horse chestnut, diosmin, silica and picnoginol that you can use to promote regeneration in your circulatory system.