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Some research evidence and considerable anecdotal evidence (forum chatter) indicates that nigella sativa reduces opiate withdrawal symptoms.

  1. However, no authoritative source has yet published comprehensive guidelines on the use of nigella seeds for opiate withdrawal.
  2. This article pieces together initial research findings, traditional uses and anecdotal reports to provide an overview of the current and potential uses for this seed as an opiate withdrawal aid.
  3. Please do not take this information as medical advice (though you might want to use this information as a basis for a conversation with your doctor about nigella sativa or other natural withdrawal-aid options.)

Caution!

Be careful - though the seeds are likely safe when used after you quit opiates (to ease a cold-turkey detox) many people use nigella sativa seeds to aid in opiate tapering. This may work, but there is no research evidence to support this practice. Given that the seeds increase the potency of opiates and increase neural serotonin levels, taking nigella with opiates likely increases the overdose risks and combining nigella with tramadol may also increase seizure and serotonin syndrome risks.

Read on to learn more about:

  1. The long traditional history of use
  2. Research evidence that supports the use of nigella seeds to treat opiate withdrawal symptoms
  3. Information on safety concerns and risks
  4. A review of some of the pros and cons of use and some general recommendations

What Is Nigella Sativa?

Nigella sativa is also known as black seed, black cumin, black caraway, kalonji and black onion seed.

Nigella sativa is a plant that grows naturally throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia. The plant’s seeds are used as a cooking spice and also as traditional medicines. People have used the seeds for more than a thousand years as a traditional medicine for conditions like:

  • Cancer
  • Inflammation
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Allergies
  • Many other conditions1

As a Treatment for Opiate Withdrawal?

A couple of animal-model studies provide evidence that nigella sativa limits the development of opiate tolerance and dependence.

  • In one study, it seemed to work almost as an opiate, inducing conditioned place preferences in mice, just like morphine does.2
  • Another study revealed that it inhibits the nitric oxide overproduction and oxidative stress that normally accompanies opiate or tramadol abuse - and this may account for its beneficial opiate withdrawal properties.3

Human Withdrawal Study

At least one study on human opiate dependent volunteers provides encouraging results.

  • In a Pakistani study, motivated opiate-dependent study subjects took three daily 500 mg capsule doses of ground up seed (not oil) and experienced an immediate lessening of acute opiate withdrawal symptoms and a sustained reduction in opiate craving over a 12 week course of treatment. The researchers suspect that nigella sativa’s calcium channel blocking effects account for the positive outcomes.4

What do the experts say?

  • Well, Natural Standard gives the evidence on nigella sativa for opiate dependence and withdrawal a C grade - indicating unclear scientific evidence for this use. (Though this sounds unimpressive, it’s actually a middling grade that indicates some evidence.)

An Opiate Potentiatior = Increased Overdose Risk

Using the seeds as an opiate tapering aid may increase your risk of an adverse reaction or a fatal overdose.

The seeds potentiate opiates through the inhibition of liver P450 enzymes CYP2D6 and CYP3A4 (similar to grapefruit juice.) Knowing this, you need to be very cautious when combining any opiate with nigella sativa.

Mixing opiates with substances that potentiate (increase) their effects can lead to overdose. Be careful.

Use Cautiously with Tramadol

An SSRI-like substance?

There is at least some evidence that the seeds may increase serotonin levels in the brain.

  1. In an experimental model, animals that took a regular daily dose of oral nigella sativa had elevated serotonin in the brain.
  2. Nigella seed may work similarly to SSRIs, by blocking the re-uptake of serotonin in the brain.5
  3. Nigella sativa will also partially potentiate tramadol, and since it also increases endogenous serotonin levels, it may increase the risks of serotonin syndrome.6

It’s unclear how much the seeds boosts serotonin levels, especially at low doses. This makes it difficult to estimate how dangerous it could be when combined with other serotonin boosting substances, like SSRIs or tramadol.

So as far as tramadol is concerned:

  1. The serotonin boosting effects likely increase the dangers of using it concurrently with tramadol
  2. However, any SSRI-like effects would likely ease the atypical withdrawal symptoms associated with a cold-turkey tramadol withdrawal

So don't underestimate the risks of taking nigella seeds and tramadol together.

Safety Concerns

According to the FDA, nigella sativa seeds are generally recognized as safe.

  • The seeds are toxic at high doses, but they are considered safe at doses normally associated with food.7
  • A very high dose of 2g per kg of the fixed oil of nigella sativa caused liver and kidney damage in rats.

Nigella Sativa Seeds - The Pros and Cons

The Pros

  • There is research evidence that the seeds may ease opiate withdrawal symptoms
  • They have a very long history of traditional use and are generally recognized as safe at amounts normally consumed as food (think up to a few teaspoons of the whole seeds per day, or less of the oils.)
  • They are a low cost, no-prescription substance that induce few side effects. (As an example, a pound of organic seeds on Amazon goes for about $20. This amount would last for a while.)

The Cons (Cautions)

  • There is little information from authoritative health sources on how to use the seeds safely to alleviate opiate withdrawals. It is uncharted territory and you may be putting your health at risk by experimenting.

Should You Try Nigella Sativa?

Firstly, talk to your doctor to make sure that nigella sativa makes sense for you.

  • There is probably little risk in using nigella sativa seeds or extract, at moderate doses, after opiates have cleared from your body. If going through a cold-turkey detox, nigella seeds may ease the discomfort.
  • Though many people on forums will recommend the seeds and extract to ease tapering-related withdrawal pains, this is a more dangerous practice without research evidence to support it. Be cautious with combining nigella sativa with opiates. This is dangerous, you risk overdose and if you decide to do it make sure you understand the risks.
References
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Page last updated Oct 09, 2013

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