Last Updated on November 20, 2020
Naltrexone has been shown to be highly effective in treating alcohol cravings, as well as opioid addiction. In the last few years, as medication-assisted treatment has become more widely accepted and available, use of naltrexone has increased.
But smaller amounts of the medication, known as low-dose naltrexone (LDN), are showing promise in the treatment of other conditions. LDN is making inroads into the medical community—to the extent that some are hailing it as “the miracle drug.”
A Brief History of Low-Dose Naltrexone
According to the LDN Research Trust, in the 1980s, Dr. Ian Zagon and Dr. Patricia McLaughlin (at Penn State) began investigating LDN. Around that time a New York-based neurologist, Dr. Bernard Bihari, was using LDN to treat patients infected with HIV. Some of these patients had concurrent issues with opioids. Bihari noticed that naltrexone appeared to have positive effects on other symptoms.
In 2007, Dr. Jill Smith, now professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, was the first physician to do human clinical trials of LDN to treat Crohn’s disease. Since that time, other researchers have built on these studies, and now LDN is showing promise for many conditions outside of the addiction universe.
What Is LDN Used For?
From Crohn’s disease to multiple sclerosis, from chronic fatigue syndrome to fibromyalgia—dozens of conditions appear to be candidates for LDN treatment. This diversity, and LDN’s low cost, make it a prime candidate to be widely prescribed.
A 2014 NIH study also noted LDN’s effectiveness against chronic pain, noting its anti-inflammatory properties. These effects have been confirmed by the Kaiser Health News, an arm of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Weill Cornell Medicine in New York has also been using the medication for chronic pain relief.
Further, LDN is showing promise in treating Type 2 diabetes. A study cited in September shows that LDN may calm inflammation and aid in insulin resistance. Some researchers are also testing it for use against methamphetamine addiction.
Normal Dosage of Naltrexone vs. LDN
For most people, the Mayo Clinic notes a daily dose of 50mg naltrexone (taken orally) for use against alcohol cravings. At Ria Health, like many medical professionals, we prefer to use the least amount of medication to get the job done. With that in mind, we may start members with 25mg, and increase that amount to 50mg. (Physiology, body weight, other medications and health considerations all play a role.)
LDN, on the other hand, usually means a fraction of that amount, usually 0.5mg to 1.5mg, or as high as 4.5mg if needed. These amounts make their use potentially even safer.
Side Effects of Low-Dose Naltrexone
One of the advantages of naltrexone over other medications is that, for most people, side effects are generally mild. These effects usually disappear after the body gets used to the medication. Some common effects are nausea and chills, among others. With LDN, these effects are even more unlikely to appear in the first place.
Based in Norwich, UK, the LDN Research Trust has explored the use of the medication, primarily for immune system disorders. The Trust cites side effects that can include increased fatigue, flu-like symptoms, or insomnia. (Some of these depend not only on the amount of the medication, but the condition for which treatment is being used.)
Some potential patients may worry that LDN worsens their symptoms, i.e., “the cure is worse than the disease.” According to Dr. Julia Piper of the Trust, “the die-off effect of organisms with underlying infections can trigger a healing reaction called a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction.” This occurs when the body reacts to harmful microorganisms dying, and produces fever, chills, and in some cases, more serious symptoms. But in her experience, these incidences are relatively rare.
Other Resources on LDN
Another advocacy organization, also based in the UK, is LDN Now (LDNNow.com), which encourages wider acceptance of LDN in contemporary medicine. LDN Now is also dedicated to exploring “the myriad of uses it is believed it shows benefit for.” The organization cites studies by the Penn State team of Dr. Ian Zagon and Dr. Patricia McLaughlin, who specialize in next-generation therapies.
Located in Virginia, the Barr Center for Innovative Pain and Regenerative Therapies—founded by Dr. Lisa Barr—maintains maintains a page on LDN. The Center has also found that LDN is effective for reducing chronic pain. And again, the Center confirms the safety, effectiveness, and low cost.
And finally, www.lowdosenaltrexone.org, founded by Dr. David Gluck, is devoted to the use of LDN for all of the conditions mentioned above. In a recent editorial, Dr. Gluck suggests that LDN may also boost the immune system, to help ward off COVID-19.
What Does the Future Hold for LDN?
At Ria Health, naltrexone is an integral part of our innovative treatment plan. We use it—in normal, 50mg doses—to help make the craving for alcohol gradually fade away over time. If you think lower dosages of the medication might help you with another condition, we advise you to check with your doctor first.
Many patients are skeptical of opioids for pain relief. And recent publicity on the opioid addiction crisis only highlights the dangers of these medications. But as the institutions above have noted, LDN is inexpensive. Given its apparent effectiveness—and with such a wide array of treatment options—it is likely to increase in popularity. We share the cautious optimism of many researchers, scientists, and medical professionals.
As Dr. Bruce Vrooman, professor at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine notes, “Patients may report that this is indeed a game changer. It may truly help them with their activities, help them feel better.”