Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the main components of cannabis, is believed to modulate numerous neuronal circuits that are responsible for drug addiction and other neurological disorders. Currently, there are only a handful of human and animal studies concerning CBD for addiction, but the results are promising. For instance, a limited number of preclinical studies propose that CBD may have therapeutic properties on cocaine, opioid and psychostimulant addiction. Some preliminary data also suggest that CBD can help cure nicotine and cannabis addiction in humans. In this article, we will look briefly at the available studies concerning CBD for addiction.
What is drug addiction?
Drug addiction is a chronically relapsing condition manifested by a compulsive desire to consume drugs without control over the amount of consumption. It is an international pandemic that affects millions. In the U.S., the rate of drug addiction is prevalent and increasing, more so among non-white groups and youth.
Most people do not understand why and how someone could get hooked to drugs. Often, it is mistaken that drug addicts lack the moral principles and willpower to quit. However, addiction is a complicated mental condition that takes much more than good intentions and the power of will to get well. Drugs change how the brain works in ways that make quitting difficult, even for those who are trying hard.
What happens to the brain when an individual abuses drugs?
Most drugs interfere with a person’s ‘reward circuit’, by inducing the production of a chemical known as dopamine that causes euphoria. The reward system is responsible for motivating us to repeat the things that help us flourish or make us happy such as eating, watching a movie with loved ones, etc.
When you abuse drugs, the same system is activated, flooding the brain with dopamine and causing the reinforcement of this pleasant but unhealthy behavior. As a result, you end up taking the drugs over and over again. This is the reason why addiction is considered a relapsing disorder – because the chances of falling back into the habit are extremely high.
As an individual continues to abuse drugs, the brain adapts by reducing the level of response of the reward circuit. Consequently, this reduces the ‘high’ a person feels by taking the same amount of drugs, an effect known as drug tolerance. At this point, most people tend to increase their consumption levels to achieve the same high and hence sink deeper into addiction.
These small brain adaptations make it more and more difficult for the same person to enjoy other pleasurable activities like food, social activities or sex. Long-term drug abuse causes other permanent changes in the brain and may affect critical processes such as:
- Stress levels
- Behavioral traits
Despite being fully aware of the harmful consequences of addiction, many people still continue to abuse drugs, which is the nature of this lethal disease.
What are the treatment options for addiction?
There is no specific cure for drug addiction, but there are available treatments that can help stop the habit and discourage relapsing. That being said, getting better from drug addiction is a slow and painful process. In most cases, an addict will need a combination of counselling and medicine for the best outcomes.
Nevertheless, the available therapies are nearly not enough to handle the wide range of drug addictions out there. To this end, scientists have been looking for other novel ways to treat addiction, and CBD for addiction is proving to be a promising contender. Below is some an overview of what the available studies have to say.
The use of CBD to Treat Addiction
In the past few decades, the various cannabinoids found in cannabis such as THC and CBD have been studied widely. It has been documented in many of these studies that THC, one of the major cannabinoids, is a rewarding drug and enhances sensitivity to other drugs.
On the other hand, CBD appears to have low reinforcing properties with limited potential for abuse, not to mention the ability to impede drug-seeking behaviors. Other factors such as CBD’s anxiolytic properties and minimal side effects have also supported CBD’s feasibility as a treatment option for numerous symptoms caused by drug addiction.
Nonetheless, significant research is still required since most investigations concerning CBD for addiction to date are primarily focused on its effects on opioid drugs. As a result, CBD’s efficacy in treating different phases of the drug-abuse cycle and for various classes of addictive substances is still largely underexplored.
CBD and nicotine
Scientists have increasingly appreciated the endocannabinoid system and its role in nicotine addiction in the past few years. A recent study, for instance, conducted a pilot, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study that set out to establish the impact of CBD on smokers who wished to quit. Of the 24 subjects, 12 were given a placebo and the other 12 were given CBD for a week.
Over the treatment week, those taking the placebo showed no signs of nicotine reduction in their consumption. Comparatively, the group taking CBD were able to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked by 40%. The results also suggested that these effects linger even after the treatment is stopped. These preliminary results prove that CBD is a potential treatment for nicotine addiction that needs to be explored further.
CBD and heroin
A different study investigated the effects of cannabidiol on heroin self-administration and drug-seeking behavior using an experimental mouse model. After treating the model with 5-20mg/kg of CBD, the researchers noted that the medication did not alter in any way the intake of heroin after self-administration, drug seeking, or extinction behavior. Instead, CBD specifically reduced heroin-seeking behavior brought about by exposure to a conditioned stimulus cue. The behavioral effects went hand-in-hand with neurobiological changes in the glutamatergic and endocannabinoid systems. The findings present CBD’s unique therapeutic properties as a means for treating heroin craving and relapse.
CBD and alcohol addiction
Excessive alcohol consumption results in neuron damage as well as cognitive and behavioral impairment that are believed to contribute to the chronic and relapsing nature of alcoholism.
In rats, binge alcohol consumption results into significant neurodegeneration in the hippocampal and entorhinal cortex parts of the brain. Both cytotoxic edema and oxidative stress have been shown to be involved in this neurotoxicity. In past studies, CBD has been shown in vitro to have the ability to reduce oxidative stress and hence prevent glutamate toxicity. For this reason, a recent study evaluated CBD’s effects as a neuroprotectant in a rat binge ethanol model. After the results were out, this was the first study to demonstrate that CBD can work as an effective neuroprotectant, especially when combined with lipophilic antioxidants, in controlling alcohol-induced brain damage.
Another study was designed to advance the preclinical development of transdermal delivery of CBD for the control of alcohol-induced regeneration. After the outcome, the authors strongly recommended further exploration of CBD as a therapeutic intervention against opioid relapse. This was after they experimented with 1.0%, 2.5% and 5% CBD gels, and found that the 5.0% gel resulted in a 48.8$ reduction in neurodegeneration around the antorhinal cortex. This study bolsters the feasibility of using CBD transdermal delivery systems as a pathway for treating alcohol-induced neurodegeneration.
CBD for cannabis withdrawal
Withdrawal from cannabis, especially among heavy users, is often characterized by insomnia, anxiety, migraines, loss of appetite, restlessness, irritability among other physical and physiological signs. Cannabis withdrawal symptoms and tolerance are believed to be caused by the desensitization of CB1 receptors by THC. This case report describes the outcome of a 19 year old subject with cannabis withdrawal who treated her symptoms for 10 days using CBD. In the daily assessment of her symptoms, there was significant reduction in withdrawals, anxiety and dissociative symptoms. The case report shows that CBD can be effective to control cannabis withdrawal syndrome.
How does CBD work?
Currently, researchers do not know the exact mechanisms that CBD employs in order to provide its many therapeutic effects. Nonetheless, they have identified a functional role for the nucleus accumbens as a crucial brain region whereby CBD can produce effects similar to antipsychotic medications. CBD is able to do this by triggering molecular signaling pathways associated with the effects of classic antipsychotic medications.
For instance, a study used preclinical behavioral procedures together with molecular analyses and in vivo neuronal electrophysiology to investigate CBD’s mechanism of action. They found that CBD can diminish both behavioral and dopaminergic neuronal correlates of mesolimbic dopaminergic sensitization, through a direct interaction with mTOR/p70S6 kinase signaling within the mesolimbic pathway. The same study concluded that the dis-regulation of CB1 receptors, GRK2/3/5, and mTOR/p70S6K signaling by drugs such as cocaine may contribute to neurotoxicity in brains of addicts.
CBD is a nonpsychoactive compound that acts on several neurotransmission processes involved in addiction. Animal studies have shown promising therapeutic effects of CBD on psychostimulant and opioid addiction, while human studies present some preliminary evidence on the positive effects of CBD on tobacco and cannabis dependence. Overall, the available data is still limited and far from conclusive. We still need well-designed, randomized, controlled trials to establish whether these benefits can be used clinically in human populations. Currently, there are a number of studies going on in the U.S. concerning the effects of CBD on cannabis and opioid addiction and another study looking at CBD for cocaine addiction is being carried out in Canada. The burden of substance abuse is truly great, and the treatments available are not nearly sufficient, as we wait for more data to trickle in, we can only stay hopeful that CBD can be a part of the answer.
Below is a list of all the relevant case studies, reviews, research and anecdotal reports concerning the effects of CBD on addiction. We update the information on this page regularly, so, come back and you will be the first to know in case of any new updates or developments in this field.