Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that was originally formulated to assist recovering opioid addicts by blocking the euphoric high experienced from taking opioid drugs. Once the high, or the “reward,” is removed, the person abusing the drug has little to no incentive to continue taking the drug. For this purpose, naltrexone has been incredibly effective. Naltrexone acts by binding to endorphin receptors in the body and completely blocking the pleasurable sensation that one gets from drinking alcohol or taking opioid drugs. Naltrexone has also shown great promise in helping alcoholics overcome their addictions in much the same way as those struggling with opioid addictions.
Naltrexone has been shown to be a safe drug to take — with no risk of dependence and few withdrawal side effects. Naltrexone is not an opioid and will not itself give the person taking it a euphoric high, even in large doses. Therefore, the risk of this drug being abused is relatively low. These factors make naltrexone particularly helpful in assisting recovering addicts.
When most people think of naltrexone, they think of it in the context outlined above: as a drug that assists recovering addicts. However, scientists have discovered that there’s a whole world of possible uses of naltrexone at low doses. It was discovered that at doses approximately 1/10 of the amount used for opioid addiction, naltrexone has interesting anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Potentially, this makes low-dose naltrexone the perfect remedy for autoimmune and pain-related conditions. What is naltrexone used for at low doses? Below, we’ve listed some of the conditions that have seen encouraging improvement from the use of the drug naltrexone at very low levels.
A recent study published by the National Institutes of Health indicated that in two small studies, low doses of the drug naltrexone caused a significant reduction in pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients. Fibromyalgia, as described in the article, “is a chronic pain disorder that is characterized by diffuse musculoskeletal pain and sensitivity to mechanical stimulation as well as profound fatigue, cognitive disruption, and sleep difficulty.” Compared to fibromyalgia patients taking a placebo drug, approximately 60% of the participants felt far less pain when given low doses of naltrexone.
Crohn’s Disease and related conditions (i.e., Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Irritable Bowel Disease) are inflammatory conditions. As such, they seem to be improved by naltrexone at low doses. How does naltrexone work on inflammation? At low doses, naltrexone blocks the activation of microglia, which are a type of white blood cell found in the central nervous system. When activated, these cells cause some common symptoms of illness (e.g., fatigue, fever, inflammation and pain). Blocking activation of these cells results in a reduction of proinflammatory cytokines as well as neurotoxic superoxides, which can control the body’s response to inflammation.
What does naltrexone do for diseases like RA? In low doses, the drug naltrexone has been shown to reduce swelling and joint pain. This reaction likely occurs because of the way the drug interacts with inflammation pathways in the body.
Studies have shown that naltrexone may provide some benefits for multiple sclerosis patients, but so far, the effects seem to be mild and the results somewhat inconclusive. The study, conducted at the University of California at San Francisco, indicated that low doses of naltrexone “significantly improved quality of life (specifically, mental health, pain and self-reported cognitive function), but no impact was observed on aspects of physical quality of life (such as fatigue, bowel and bladder control, sexual satisfaction, and visual function).”
Naltrexone comes in two forms: a pill form called Depade or ReVia and an injectable form called Vivitrol. However, it’s often administered a bit differently when taken at extremely low doses. The website Lowdosenaltrexone.org explains, “The usual adult dosage of LDN for the treatment of MS is 1.75 – 4.5mg taken orally once daily at bedtime. Because of the natural rhythms of the body’s hormone production, LDN is best taken between 9pm and 2am. It is generally recommended that the patient begin on 3.0mg per day, and adjust the dosage if necessary. Prescribing 1.5mg capsules allows easy adjustment of dosage. (For example, the patient can take either 2 capsules for 3mg, or 3 capsules for a 4.5mg dose.)”
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, we invite you to contact our compassionate and well-trained team at The Recovery Village. We’re here to answer your questions and ready to help in any way we can.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.