Opiate withdrawal is the condition that occurs when a regular user of an opiate discontinues its use. While not generally dangerous to one’s health, opiate withdrawal symptoms are often severe enough to cause significant physical and emotional stress. There is no single cure for opiate withdrawal, but it’s possible to treat the individual symptoms using a variety of herbs and natural remedies.
Among the most troubling aspects of opiate withdrawal are the gastrointestinal symptoms. These can be mild to severe and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, acid reflux and intestinal cramping.
Ginger and peppermint are two excellent remedies for nausea. According to PubMed.gov, ginger is as effective as the popular anti-nausea medication Dramamine at relieving some types of nausea, often with fewer side effects.
Diarrhea can also be treated using herbal remedies. The herb bilberry eases diarrhea by preventing water from entering the intestines, while marshmallow root is useful for soothing inflamed tissues in the digestive tract. Chamomile, cayenne and agrimony are other well-known traditional remedies for diarrhea.
Because opiates are potent painkillers, withdrawal often causes rebound pain in muscles and joints throughout the body. Salicin—the active ingredient in aspirin—occurs naturally in the herb willow bark, making it a good choice for inflammation-related pain. According to MotherNature.com, natural willow bark is less irritating to the stomach than its synthetic cousin and has even been used to treat ulcer pain with few side effects. To obtain its healing benefits, simply drink two cups of willow bark tea or take one to two droppers full with a meal.
Other popular and effective painkilling herbs include turmeric, meadowsweet, feverfew and ginger, all of which can be taken in supplement form or brewed into tea for their healing effects.
Many opiate users report insomnia as a chief complaint during withdrawal. It can be caused or worsened by restless legs, nightmares and other withdrawal-induced symptoms.
Kava and valerian root are two of the most effective remedies for insomnia. Valerian contains valerenic acid, a compound with effects similar to the prescription benzodiazepine Valium. Other popular sedating herbs include passionflower, catnip, skullcap and hops, all of which have the added benefit of easing anxiety and restlessness.
As bad as the physical aspects of opiate withdrawal can be, the psychiatric symptoms are often just as severe. Depression, anxiety, drug cravings and mood swings are among the most frequently reported mental and emotional symptoms.
St. John’s Wort is one of the most popular herbal depression remedies on the market today. According to Aafp.org, St. John’s Wort may be as effective as SSRI antidepressants at alleviating mild to moderate depression. The natural supplements 5-HTP, SAM-e and DHEA can also help ease depression symptoms and are available over the counter in most health supplement stores. The South American beverage yerba mate has both stimulating and MAO-inhibiting properties, making it especially helpful for treating depression accompanied by fatigue.
Herbs may change the way supplements and medications affect the body. To avoid unwanted interactions, consult a health care professional before attempting an herbal opiate detox regimen.