Could Adaptogens Help Solve the Opioid Crisis?

Opioid addiction is a terrifying result of good intentions that created a completely unintended result: over-prescription that has gotten people hooked on deadly drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 die, per day, from opioid overdose. In the Midwest alone, overdoses increased by 70 percent between July 2016 and September 2017.

But are ways to approach this crisis from the stance of natural medicines; first, advocating for effective and safe pain relief in the first place (like high-dose curcumin supplementation), and secondly, using botanical extracts to help the brain resist addiction and adapt to withdrawal.

Research on rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), a well-known adaptogenic herb seems to indicate that it could help treat individuals who have been swept up in opioid addiction. An Italian laboratory study examined the way that opioids operate in the brain and the way that rhodiola extract intersects with that process. They found that rhodiola reduced the tolerance of morphine (and remember that opioids like fentanyl are simply extremely revved-up synthetic versions of morphine) and also reduced the dependence of morphine. While there is much more work that needs to be done in this category, this research shows, once again, that some of the traditional medicines that have been trusted for generations may rescue us from a current crisis.


Mattioli L, Perfumi M. Effects of a Rhodiola rosea L. extract on acquisition and expression of morphine tolerance and dependence in mice. J Psychopharmacol. 2011 Mar;25(3):411-20.

This study investigated the effect of Rhodiola rosea L. extract on acquisition and expression of morphine tolerance and dependence in mice. Therefore animals were injected with repeated administration of morphine (10 mg/kg, subcutaneous) twice daily for five or six days, in order to make them tolerant or dependent. Rhodiola rosea L. extract (0, 10, 15 and 20 mg/kg) was administered by the intragastric route 60 min prior to each morphine injection (for acquisition) or prior the last injection of morphine or naloxone on test day (for tolerance or dependence expression, respectively). Morphine tolerance was evaluated by testing its analgesic effect in the tail flick test at the 1st and 5th days. Morphine dependence was evaluated by counting the number of withdrawal signs (jumping, rearing, forepaw tremor, teeth chatter) after naloxone injection (5 mg/kg; intraperitoneal) on the test day (day 6). Results showed that Rhodiola rosea L. extract significantly reduced the expression of morphine tolerance, while it was ineffective in modulating its acquisition. Conversely, Rhodiola rosea L. extract significantly and dose-dependently attenuated both development and expression of morphine dependence after chronic or acute administration. These data suggest that Rhodiola rosea L. may have human therapeutic potential for treatment of opioid addiction.


“Opioid Overdose Crisis.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health. Available at: