Vitamin D Deficiency and Opioids: An Increased Addiction?

Supplements may help combat opioid craving and addiction

Author Thomas A. Viola, RPh, CCP

A new study conducted by the experts at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) shows an association between the increased addiction to Opioids and a deficiency of Vitamin D. The study indicates a potential increased risk of addiction and dependence- yet simple solutions like affordable supplements could have a significant positive effect.

The basis for the study was initially laid by David E. Fisher, director of the Melanoma Program at Mass General Cancer Center and of MGH’s Cutaneous Biology Research Center. It was the findings of Fisher and his team in 2007 that showed how exposure to a form of ultraviolet rays (UVB) increased the production of Endorphin, a similar hormone to the ones produced by opioids. They found that these chemicals and hormones activate the same receptor in the brain. Fisher later conducted a similar study on mice, which illustrated similar behavior of mice with opioid addiction.

Endorphin induces a sense of mild euphoria and is known as the “feel-good” hormone. Some studies have suggested that individuals develop an urge to visit tanning salons and sunbathe, which emulates the behavior of those addicted to Opioids. Experts believed that individuals unknowingly crave the endorphin rush- and seek out UVB. This speculation suggested a major contradiction since excessive exposure to the sun is a principal cause of skin cancer. Fisher questioned why people would be attracted to this feeling even with the known consequences (sounds like an addiction!)

Since our bodies are unable to produce Vitamin D on their own, UVB radiation helps the body achieve the required levels (and also helps uptake calcium from the gut, which is essential for bone health).

Fisher and his colleagues concluded the goal of sun exposure is to raise the production of the hormone for survival. He also hypothesized that the deficiency of Vitamin D in the body could lead to a greater liability of the body towards effects of opioids – which may eventually lead to addictive behaviors. Moreover, it was stated by the lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at MGH, “Our goal in this study was to understand the relationship between vitamin D signaling in the body and UV-seeking and opioid-seeking behaviors.”

In one arm of the study, the normal laboratory mice were compared to another group of mice who were found to have lower levels of Vitamin D. It was stated by Kemény that: “We found that modulating vitamin D levels changes multiple addictive behaviors to both UV and opioids.” The results showed that when the mice who had lower levels of Vitamin D were given Morphine, they were more likely to continue looking for more of the drug, as compared to those who had normal levels of Vitamin D. Furthermore, these Vitamin D deficient mice were also more likely to develop withdrawal symptoms after Morphine doses were taken away from them.

The study also found that the opioid had an exaggerated response in these mice, and Morphine acted as a much more efficient pain reliever in the mice that were deficient in Vitamin D. This finding may be concerning if it is also true in humans. However, one common point of concern was how a patient who was deficient in Vitamin D would react to a morphine infusion that may be given to them after surgery. The exaggerated euphoric effects of Morphine could lead to an exponential increase in the risk of addiction in the patient.

Numerous Analyses conducted by the Human Health Records have also suggested a direct relationship between Vitamin D deficiency and addictive behaviors. One such study revealed how patients diagnosed with moderately low levels of Vitamin D were 50% more likely to start using opioids as compared to those individuals who had normal levels. Moreover, the patients who had severely low levels of Vitamin D were 90% more likely to start using opioids when compared to those with normal levels of the vitamin.

Fisher also suggested that certain other critical findings in the lab may also have serious results. “When we corrected vitamin D levels in the deficient mice, their opioid responses reversed and returned to normal,” He stated.

He also suggested that even though Vitamin D deficiency is a common occurrence amongst the populations today, it can be easily resolved with affordable interventions like dietary supplements.

Fisher suggested that treating Vitamin D deficiencies may prove to be a new solution for the rising risk of OUD.  He stated: “Our results suggest that we may have an opportunity in the public health arena to influence the opioid epidemic.”


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

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