CBD for Substance Abuse and Addiction

UPDATED ON MARCH 3RD, 2019

How Can CBD Help Treat Substance Abuse?

Research has shown that CBD has been beneficial in the treatment of a variety of health conditions including epileptic seizures, heart disease, and easing chronic pain. There is now research that supports the use of CBD to help with treating substance abuse and addiction.

CBD is non-addictive and non-psychoactive, which makes it a safer alternative to many medications that are prescribed to those going through rehab or addiction treatments. Currently, there is research on the use of CBD to help treat addiction to heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, tobacco, alcohol and even cannabis.

To understand how CBD can help treat substance abuse, we first need to understand what causes addiction. The American Society of Addiction Medicine explains that addiction is the inability to abstain or control cravings along with not being able to recognize any problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships and emotional responses. Addiction involves a cycle of replacing and remission which requires treatment. Without it, addiction can progressively get worse and become debilitating which can cause premature death.

Understanding Addiction

With addiction treatment, the goal is to target the cravings and relapse during the withdrawal period. When someone is experiencing drawings during withdrawal, it will feel as though their life depends on getting and using whatever substance that is causing those cravings.

These cravings are actually caused by signals in our brain to the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory. It triggers one to recall a drug-related memory which would explain why anxiety, irritability, sweating, and palpitations can also occur alongside the cravings. This is why people relapse. Any actions they take to feel justified in order to make themselves feel better. Imagine having the worst flu of your life knowing that all it would take is for you to take something to make all the suffering go away instantly. And worse, imagine knowing that all those feelings will come back unless you continue to use. This is what makes addiction so hard to overcome.

When CBD is taken by someone with a substance abuse problem, it appears to reduce the drug cravings and anxiety that the user commonly experiences. Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the part of the marijuana plant that makes a person high), CBD doesn’t increase the effect of the initial administration of the drug, meaning that it doesn’t make the effects of heroin (for example) stronger the next time the person uses it. What scientists have found is that CBD reduces cravings associated with stimuli, such as the routine of using after eating normally. One may have become used to eating and then normally would use afterward. CBD would interrupt the craving to use after eating in this case.

Neurotherapeutics published a study in 2015 which found when heroin addicts were administered a single dose of CBD over 3 consecutive days, their cravings, when exposed to opioid-related video stimuli, was significantly reduced. The participants reported that this lasted up to 7 days after treatment even. This is a remarkable finding and opens the doors to new forms of treatment to help addition patients.

Tobacco Cravings & CBD

Tobacco is one of the easiest substances to get addicted to and the hardest to quit. The University of London conducted a study with cigarette smokers and the use of CBD. The smokers were administered inhalers containing CBD. 24 participants were split up evenly where half received the CBD inhaler and the other half received a placebo. Both groups were asked to use the inhaler rather than smoke whenever the urge came about to light up a cigarette.

The group that used CBD found they smoked 40% fewer cigarettes compared to the placebo group. To compare, the placebo group reported no change in the number of cravings they had and no change in the number of cigarettes they actually smoked.  Participants that were using the CBD inhaler also reported a reduction in anxiety.

Researchers noted that CBD may also affect the memory process associated with the reward system, which is stimulated when a smoker lights up a cigarette and smokes and also when the smoker sees someone else smoke. By being able to not re-active the reward system, this makes it easier to treat addiction.

CBD Treat Cannabis Addiction

It may surprising that CBD may be used to treat cannabis addiction. Neuropsychopharmacology published a study in 2010 that found that CBD can reduce the desire to use cannabis from stimuli which have been connected to the reward system in the brain. In other words, CBD can be used to reduce cravings to use cannabis.

Cannabis users have reported withdrawal symptoms which may not be as serious as other drugs, but the craving is there. The Department of Neuroscience and Behavior conducted a study on cannabis withdrawals in heavy users. What they found was that anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, migraines, irritability, restlessness, and other physical and psychological signs were common. They found cannabis users do build up a tolerance to cannabis which is believed to result in the desensitization of CB1 receptors by THC. This means that a cannabis user ends up taking more and more cannabis to feel the desired effects over time. CBD was used to treat the withdrawal symptoms and was found to be effective.

Can CBD Repair Damage Caused By Addiction?

Addiction causes serious damage to many parts of the body. The most concerning is the damage done on the brain. Drug abuse can cause neurodegeneration, or change the way the brain functions overall.

The Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences conducted research on rodents to see if CBD had any impact on neurodegeneration and alcohol abuse. 5% CBD gel was applied directly to the rodents and the results proved a 48% reduction in neurodegeneration. This information is promising regarding the possible use of CBD to treat humans and neurodegeneration.