Vitamin D Deficiency Strongly Exaggerates the Craving for and Effects of Opioids – Supplements May Help Combat Addiction

Vitamin D Supplement Softgels

Vitamin D deficiency strongly exaggerates the craving for and effects of opioids, potentially increasing the risk for dependence and addiction, according to a new study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). These findings, published in Science Advances, suggest that addressing the common problem of vitamin D deficiency with inexpensive supplements could play a part in combating the ongoing scourge of opioid addiction.

Earlier work by David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, director of the Mass General Cancer Center’s Melanoma Program and director of MGH’s Cutaneous Biology Research Center (CBRC), laid the foundation for the current study. In 2007, Fisher and his team found something unexpected: Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays (specifically the form called UVB), causes the skin to produce the hormone endorphin, which is chemically related to morphine, heroin and other opioids — in fact, all activate the same receptors in the brain. A subsequent study by Fisher found that UV exposure raises endorphin levels in mice, which then display behavior consistent with opioid addiction.

Endorphin is sometimes called a “feel good” hormone because it induces a sense of mild euphoria. Studies have suggested that some people develop urges to sunbathe and visit tanning salons that mirror the behaviors of opioid addicts. Fisher and his colleagues speculated that people may seek out UVB because they unknowingly crave the endorphin rush. But that suggests a major contradiction. “Why would we evolve to be behaviorally drawn towards the most common carcinogen that exists?” asked Fisher. After all, sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer, to say nothing of wrinkles and other skin damage.

Fisher believes that the only explanation for why humans and other animals seek out the sun is that exposure to UV radiation is necessary for production of vitamin D, which our bodies can’t formulate on their own. Vitamin D promotes uptake of calcium, which is essential for building bone. As tribes of humans migrated north during prehistoric times, an evolutionary alteration might have been needed to compel them to step out of caves and into the sunshine on bitterly cold days. Otherwise, small children would have died of prolonged vitamin D deficiency (the cause of rickets) and weak bones might have shattered when people ran from predators, leaving them vulnerable.

This theory led Fisher and colleagues to hypothesize that sun seeking is driven by vitamin D deficiency, with the goal of increasing synthesis of the hormone for survival, and that vitamin D deficiency might also make the body more sensitive to the effects of opioids, potentially contributing to addiction. “Our goal in this study was to understand the relationship between vitamin D signaling in the body and UV-seeking and opioid-seeking behaviors,” says lead author Lajos V. Kemény, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in Dermatology at MGH.

In the Science Advances paper, Fisher, Kemény and a multidisciplinary team from several institutions addressed the question from dual perspectives. In one arm of the study, they compared normal laboratory mice with mice that were deficient in vitamin D (either through special breeding or by removing vitamin D from their diets). “We found that modulating vitamin D levels changes multiple addictive behaviors to both UV and opioids,” says Kemény. Importantly, when the mice were conditioned with modest doses of morphine, those deficient in vitamin D continued seeking out the drug, behavior that was less common among the normal mice. When morphine was withdrawn, the mice with low vitamin D levels were far more likely to develop withdrawal symptoms.

The study also found that morphine worked more effectively as a pain reliever in mice with vitamin D deficiency — that is, the opioid had an exaggerated response in these mice, which may be concerning if it’s true in humans, too, says Fisher. After all, consider a surgery patient who receives morphine for pain control after the operation. If that patient is deficient in vitamin D, the euphoric effects of morphine could be exaggerated, says Fisher, “and that person is more likely to become addicted.”

The lab data suggesting that vitamin D deficiency increases addictive behavior was supported by several accompanying analyses of human health records. One showed that patients with modestly low vitamin D levels were 50 percent more likely than others with normal levels to use opioids, while patients who had severe vitamin D deficiency were 90 percent more likely. Another analysis found that patients diagnosed with opioid use disorder (OUD) were more likely than others to be deficient in vitamin D.

Back in the lab, one of the study’s other critical findings could have significant implications, says Fisher. “When we corrected vitamin D levels in the deficient mice, their opioid responses reversed and returned to normal,” he says. In humans, vitamin D deficiency is widespread, but is safely and easily treated with low-cost dietary supplements, notes Fisher. While more research is needed, he believes that treating vitamin D deficiency may offer a new way to help reduce the risk for OUD and bolster existing treatments for the disorder. “Our results suggests that we may have an opportunity in the public health arena to influence the opioid epidemic,” says Fisher.

Reference: “Vitamin D deficiency exacerbates UV/endorphin and opioid addiction” 11 June 2021, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe4577

Fisher is the Edward Wigglesworth Professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School. Kemény is currently working as a resident physician in Dermatology at Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary.

This work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation.

38 Comments on "Vitamin D Deficiency Strongly Exaggerates the Craving for and Effects of Opioids – Supplements May Help Combat Addiction"

  1. Johm Richards | June 12, 2021 at 3:36 am | Reply

    I don’t want this. I didn’t ask for it. It doesn’t have an unsubscribe. which it should have by law. So please, no more emails.

  2. said elkhamrihi | June 12, 2021 at 6:29 am | Reply

    Bonjour….merci..

  3. Everything created by the govt has a purpose…everything

  4. I believe that drug addiction is connected to mental illness. I believe that people become addicted to drugs because drugs help them feel better mentally. I know for a fact that once I was diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency and was prescribed vitamin D supplements I feel so much better. I even stopped taking Prozac and I still feel good. I’m still taking the vitamin D. However, I’m not telling anyone to stop taking their meds. I am saying that if you’re depressed talk to your doctor about having your vitamin D levels checked. Also, know that sufficient Vitamin D levels are based on sex and age. Though my primary care physician said that my vitamin D levels were good (34), my endocrinologist said that they were low for my age (I’m 54). The endocrinologist said that for my age my vitamin D level should have been at least 50.

  5. I’m sorry vitamin D is not going to stop addiction.. Maybe it could help a little while in treatment, but for addicts that go through violent withdrawals vitamin D is not going to stop that.. I guess if the person is off of opiates, and it’s out of there system it could kinda help prevent use. Anyone that’s gone through true withdrawals “myself included” knows there’s nothing to stop that terrible emotional and physical pain but opioids.. if you came up to somebody having terrible withdraws and handed them a vitamin D pill, I promise you it would get thrown back at you..

  6. I have MS. I take 2000 iu a day of Vit. D. I have for many years. I get sun, enough to slightly tan, although heat enervates me,heat intolerance being very common in MS. My levels are always low. Could it be a matter of not synthesizing Vit D, rather than a lack of it?

  7. This is bs science to imply black people use opioids more because they need more vitamin D than others.

  8. interesting study. low vitamin D level is widespread and a chronic problem . I had mine tested before supplementation and it was 27. I started taking a vitamin D with vitamin K as a facilitator and now my level when tested is in the 40’s. Increased level definitely improves mood and energy level, so the findings do not surprise me.

  9. Or… People who have opiod dependents tend to stay indoors and not get sunlight which causes vitamin D deficiency, Which would also cause a correlation.

  10. For 5 years I’ve been battling with the misdirection of info such as this. We aren’t mice, no matter how much we have in common. Patients with severe daily pain from diseases, injuries and genetic defects have been denied their pain medication because of the misdirected “fixes” (and deliberately named to implicate prescriptions) opioids crisis. So please do not implicate prescription medications for pain in your studies – we’ve proven so many times that it’s not what’s driving the crisis. How can it be, when in the last decade prescriptions have dropped 40% while rates of addiction have risen 1040% during the same time frame! So please leave medications and patients far away from the equation when there are far more addictive substances on the streets to worry over.

    • I would welcome any new info on how to lower withdrawal for people who are addicted. I battled a fifteen year oxycodone addiction after a neck and back injury. Pain pills work great for short term use or for people suffering from cancers or terminal illness. But I would never recommend using any addictive pain pills for an injury or pain for very long. My one or two vicodon pill addiction increased over years to about three to six oxycodone 30s a day. The longer yours on it, the more you need for the same effect. Soon all you’re doing is keeping from being sick. So you take more than prescribed. Then you run out of your prescription and left dope sick so you buy them on the street. Then one day you have been off them for a week so you are desperate but no one has any. But one friend can get heroin. Your sick and tired and an emotional reck. So you give in and buy some and do it. You say hey it’s fine. I am snorting it not shooting so it ok. But it’s not because you can never tell how strong it is. But you still get a prescription so you will go back to pills then
      That works. Until one day you’re drug tested by your pain doctor. He kicks you out of his office with not even one last script. You try other doctors. Get kicked out eventually everywhere. So you buy pills on the street. At 30 a pill it’s expensive. Your bills get behind and you loose your jobs from being dope sick all time and calling off. Now you’re really broke. But still need those pills. They become most important because how can you take care of your kids if you’re sick. You borrow, beg, and steal. You always need money, always need more pills. You try heroin again cause it’s way cheaper. How did things get so bad. Those fucking pain pills. Your friends all start dying from overdose and you’re ready to loose everything. But luckily I gave in to recovery. It took months at a methadone clinic and counseling to get better, but now I’m clean and free from those opioid hand cuffs. I am still trying to undo the pain I have caused my child. I regret ever taking one pill. I should have dealt with my physical pain better because now my child has to be in emotional pain from it. I still have back pain today. Some days I can’t do as much. But it’s better than life before. Next time I have an accident or injury I will take Motrin when needed instead. I hope people can get help from vitamin D for pain pills addiction. And I am glad there are people trying to find ways to help because withdrawal is so terrible.

      • I can totally agree with you. It is such a pain in the rear when you are going through all the ups and downs of opioid use. To keep it short the methadone helped and continues to help me. But of all the choices I had and have to make it seemed that once I made the choice to help myself the rest was easy. I’m still on the clinic and my life is stable and I have a piece of mind and I don’t regret staying on the methadone. As with all medications there are good and bad points but in my case the good outweighed the bad so it’s easy for me to choose my path. I think about what life would be like without methadone and from what I can see are a few grey areas that can go either way for me and I really don’t think I want to find out what I’d do without it during those times because I know the cost could be devastating to me and definitely to those closest to me and being that I’ve been down that road before I’m not in any hurry to go back.

  11. One more reason to correct Vitamin D Deficiency which is a global pandemic. For just $20 per year in D3 opioid addiction and cravings can be fought.

  12. Ryan Waldron | June 13, 2021 at 3:13 am | Reply

    Wow….it amazes me how political and biased science is these days. This is obviously not true. I am Vit D deficient and I regularly take absolute minimum amounts of opioids prescribed to me after surgery or the like. I have opioid pain relievers from a kidney stone 6 years ago, back when I was not even taking Vit D replacement. If this deficiency gives an uncontrollable urge to take opioids, how is it I can’t stand taking them? Could it be that this is all BS and we should stop wasting time and money on those that choose to be addicts and spend it on helping worthwhile people in the world? I certainly think so. I personally am tired of seeing tax dollars taken from hard working people used to narcan the dregs of society for the 15th time. The fact that none of you do gooders want to admit is these people don’t want to change and until they do, no amount of the rest of our money is going to change that!

  13. Frank Hernandez | June 13, 2021 at 4:43 am | Reply

    I love this info, I always had hope in supplements, it’s great what you are providing out there to those who are hoping for natural alternatives for health, wellbeing and then some. Thankyou,
    Frank, LA, Ca.

  14. What if you take a massive dose of vitamin D and go by every recommendations to make it higher but your levels are still very very low?

  15. Vitamin D levels must always be optimized for your general health and wellbeing. Your body converts it into needed hormones so a daily dose of fully direct unprotected sun exposure is a good thing. They say 15 minutes at high noon is good for 400iu of direct D. This is the minimum as 1000iu is now considered the daily norm. Some suspect even higher amounts may be needed for optimal health as absorbtion may be affected by one’s auto immune condition’s,biome or seasonal/latitudenal exposures. Note, your eyes and circadian rhythms are also affected by sun exposure and work synogesticly with vitamin d to improve ones well being. So forget about the mice unless your that small minded about addictions.

  16. My labs came back with vitamin d, was 14 . ! I am waiting for
    A shot to boost my immune system.

  17. If Vitamin D can possibly make me feel just a little better, I say why not try it!? Even if your on medication for MS, arthritis or any kind of pain or depression, sitting in the sun for a little while or taking a Vit. D supplement may help, so I think it’s definitely worth giving it a try. I don’t think it’s going to cure any of these diseases, but it may help you feel better.

  18. Paul Zehner Jr. | June 14, 2021 at 9:07 pm | Reply

    Vitamin D has been credited to prevent or treat almost every ailment under the sun. I’m surprised they haven’t said it cures baldness. I think It’s going to take far more than a vitamin to affect opioid dependency. If vitamin D did everything they claim, we could have put doctors in the unemployment line by now.

  19. How does any doctor know how much vitamin D an individual really needs?
    Every humans DNA is different and many may even function better without so much vitamin D….Milk may do the body good for one person, but to another it may kill them…Food for thought!

  20. Wow really? You people get your “research” from mice???? I take 50,000 units of vit d once a week, been 420 since i was 8 & cant stand pills especially the ones that keep you in bed or puking when u run out!!! Get a medical license for humans & try again before you apply this bullsh*t to people w REAL issues & pain!!!

  21. Julia and Heather speak from experiences. What they’re saying is so true, pain prescriptions decrease and opioid use increases. Sounds like a vicious cycle and I think it’s time for and doctors to stop being afraid to uphold their oath in treating their patients who are in pain. When you’re in so much pain you cannot function you will find a way to relieve it. Ryan have you ever truly been in pain? Did the study note that vitamin d deficiency causes pain? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? There’s more to the story and I hope we find the answers. Sarah mine was 9. Hopefully you will get the right treatment that will help you. Kenya thank you for your open-minded comments very refreshing unlike Ryan who obviously doesn’t have a clue. Dr Page and you should be embarrassed by your simple comments.Good luck and best wishes to all!

  22. Old people,especially those in care homes, may not get enough sunlight leading to vitamin D deficiency. When they have opioids for pain, such as following surgery, they could have an exaggerated response to them resulting in disorientation and confusion.

  23. A specialist | June 16, 2021 at 1:21 pm | Reply

    Always looking for reasons not to help suffering pain patients.Opioids are pain blockers.Everyone that suffers from pain are not drug addicts.There are people who want to live not die from a drug overdose.You can take pain medication and not be over medicated and live a normal life, drive a car, work and enjoy life.To some there is no life with out pain blockers…The risk out ways the means.

  24. Liam Allan-Dalgleish | June 16, 2021 at 7:20 pm | Reply

    Ever since that self-serving sycophant, Chris Christie came out with that ridiculously irresponsible statement about his friend who was a wonderful lawyer, became addicted to opioids, his life was ruined, and he was outed by the great humanitarian Christie, those who need the drug—or even if you don’t need it but are addicted, your life has been miserable. That stupidly incompetent organization , the CDC, with its irresponsible establishment out of the blue with the help of a Quizi board of dosage amounts that should not be exceeded. Nothing about that goddamn CDC is responsible or even informed. The ongoing statements about the deaths related to opioids are totally not to be trusted and are completely political. They include all types of deaths. If you take one pill of ocycodone and die of a heart attack, your death is reported as connected to opioids even though the death is actually from natural causes. I am eighty years old. I am in constant pain. I am a writer. If I sit for a while writing, my pain gradually increases by geometric proportions. But I can’t get what, as a patient, I should be able to have as a matter of course, namely increase in my meds when I need it. But the doctor is terrified to cater to my needs because another highly respected doctor told me in detail how they are intimidated by theDEA. They are namely summoned to meeting where those useless crew-cut escapees from the 1950s stand in front of them with their usual mrgatonage of Huns strapped to themselves and tell them things like: “we want you to be terrified of us. We’re coming for you.” What the hell is this nonsense. The government treats us like we were children. The sudden removal of those drugs from the people who were taking them is CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT. In my case, what in God’s name am I being protected from. At eighty bI might become a drug addict. It was wrong to give these drugs wholesale to people who didn’t need them. The medical profession made them addicts. But maybe their life was made better by them. Not everyone is a rich Protestant with a Victorian sense of morality. In any event, I’d like to go before Congress and tell that bunch of self-righteous hypocrisy what their self-serving political machinations are doing to me.

  25. Someone in scitech daily needs to do some fact checking.
    Need to keep your eye on the scientific ball.
    This statement is false news but is one which is being pushed by companies interested in selling sunlotion and creams.
    ““Why would we evolve to be behaviorally drawn towards the most common carcinogen that exists?” asked Fisher. After all, sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer, to say nothing of wrinkles and other skin damage.”
    The issue is that studies over the years have not taken into consideration full spectrum daylight. Isolating UVB light within research parameters is not adding in the regenerative effects of mitochondria contained in full spectrum daylight.
    Coupled in with the fact that it is the lifestyle we like to enjoy which forces into midday sun and away from early morning and even sunrise light which develops within us a solar callus. Health professionals and scientists focus within their discrete specialities which end up being blinkered specialities. Not taking into account multifactorial affects at a quantum (light) level. Factor in the recent discoveries of ocular melanopsin in the eye in the late 1990’s and subq melanopsin in fat and skin in late 2017 and you are in danger of propogating serious and dangerous untruths.
    This study is one of many which you need to familiarise yourself with.
    T Cell activity is key in good immunoligical function (think covid) and is increased with sunlight exposure. Mitochondrial activity ( Ref Doug Wallace) increased by sun exposure improves autophagt, the list is endless. Blinker off please otherwise readers will think you have an agenda different to the one you suggest with a name like scitechdaily
    Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for all-cause mortality: results from the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24697969/

    ““Why would we evolve to be behaviorally drawn towards the most common carcinogen that exists?” asked Fisher. After all, sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer, to say nothing of wrinkles and other skin damage.”

  26. Mr Sohail Yusuf | June 18, 2021 at 10:41 am | Reply

    I only take prescription drugs to treat a long term health condition. The medicine I take is known to lower vitamin D absorption so I take a Vitamin D 25ug once daily.

    That does not mean I’m addicted in this matter.

    I have mental health concerns, but know illegal drugs are deadly and if you survive, you risk harm and prison e.g cocaine.

  27. Meh, Kratom is the only cure for opiod addiction. Order in bulk for best pricing. Mix in water. Drink.

    If you are a first time user don’t take too much or you’ll get the spins and feel like death. They also sell it headshops and gas stations now. So maybe if u are a fist time kratom user over pay at a headshop. Headshops charge about $60 for one to servings. It will stop the Withdrawal Symptoms in 10 minutes. I go through about a half kilo per month and on the web u can get a Kilo for about $110 delivered. I found a local shop with similar pricing so I get next day delivery. I’m worried they’ll ban it soon and then I’ll have to start buying expensive pills off the street again or get back on suboxone. My favorite blends are hybrid house blends but you can never go wrong with any Maeng Da. It’s pretty much my coffee in the mornings. Some taste awful, greens and whites taste the best. I used to capsule em but that takes too long. Mix in water stir. Chug. Feel better! I have noticed it kills your sex drive though as a male. It also increases your tolerance to real opiods. Be careful, do research, do not over do it on the first try or you will hate it. And did I mention it legal?

    Troy/April; this herb will save your life.

  28. I meant Heather/Troy

  29. Mary Sansevere | June 19, 2021 at 2:26 pm | Reply

    I believe it may be true about addicts and vitamin D. My husband used to drive rehab patients to tanning salons n the beach all the time. He said they seemed to be addicted to the sun. Now it makes sense to me.

  30. Smart person | June 19, 2021 at 7:38 pm | Reply

    Idiots all of you.

  31. Eric Jakobsen | June 20, 2021 at 5:56 pm | Reply

    Ryan Waldren…you seem angry…very angry!!! Those addicts you seem to despise so much have a right to life just as much as you…given your attitude maybe more…who are you to say that they don’t deserve the help when and if they overdose??? Who cares that someone is narcanned 15 times…because after the 15 th time they might reach the point of realizing that life isn’t working for them and start the process of repairing the damage their substance use had caused…and perhaps they go on to become a successful contributing member of society and go on to help people who’ve also reached that point in their lives!!! I know some will never change and some do bad things and are going to live that life no matter what…but even that doesn’t mean they deserve to die or be removed from society by some means!!! They are all someone’s mother brother sister son etc…and those that are involved are entitled to have these people alive as long as possible and shouldn’t have to deal with the emotions involved if someone were to die because someone in power thought the same way as yourself

  32. Maria S Cervantes | June 22, 2021 at 6:02 pm | Reply

    I completely got off my prescribed Morphine 30mg on my own… it was destroying my body, even though I took it ONLY as prescribed. By eliminating all SUGAR from my diet, including processed foods that have sugar additives in them.
    I also got me a juicer and began juicing fresh organic Ginger (prevents inflamation).
    Also organic: Turmeric (eliminates pain)
    Garlic cleans your body of bacteria and lowers your blood pressure.
    Beets, Carrots, Celery, Kale, Parsley or Cilantro, Cucumbers and Apple.
    Tastes sweet, with a pleasant bite from the ginger.
    I find all these comments hard to read, because I am proof that elimination of sugar is key.
    Turmeri

  33. From what I’ve noticed among friends and family, quite a number of women labelled with “fibromyalgia” (a chronic pain disorder), actually wind up have vitamin D deficiency — and eventually get an osteoporosis or osteopenia diagnosis.

  34. My autistic granddaughter takes vitamins d 3000 units daily with magnesium and omega she went from being withdrawn and shy to outgoing and leadership programs. I believe vitamin d has lowered her anxiety and pain level as well as helping her feel good and happy

  35. Dr. Shawn Mulligan | June 27, 2021 at 5:49 am | Reply

    What they’re saying is long term addicts have low vitamin D and have trouble detoxing while short term addicts and casual users are not so afflicted and can detox more easily.

    Maybe if your diet is mostly vitamin H (heroin) you don’t get a lot of sunshine or proper food? Doesn’t seem like a more obvious explanation was ruled out.

  36. This “study” has a giant fatal flaw & I’m surprised none of the researchers, or peer reviewer’s noticed it.
    *****One of the MAIN SYMPTOMS of HYPOVITAMINOSIS D (that means Vitamin D Deficiency) is PAIN. Both MUSCULOSKELETAL PAIN, like muscle aches, tenderness, and joint pain, AS WELL AS, NEUROPATHIC PAIN, like pins and needles, burning, stinging & shooting pain. The pain is constant and not relieved significantly by Tylenol or NSAIDs, or comfort measures like a warm bath, it can & is disabling. The pain also greatly disturbs rest & sleep as well. These poor vitamin D deficient mice were simply IN PAIN and rightly needed/wanted PAIN RELIEF!! Interpreting their behavior as having anything to do with addiction behavior is just ridiculous, the opioids were relieving their pain!! This is the same thing they do to people with real chronic pain. They say your pain doesn’t exist (well, if they can’t see it!) so you must be addicted! It’s so easy to deny something that is invisible, but my god, is it ever cruel and unnecessary!!

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