CBD and Addiction Recovery

Experts and early studies are examining the role of CBD in addiction recovery and seeing some positive things.

Increasingly, CBD is being hailed as an important tool in the treatment of addiction recovery. As a “cure-all,” cannabidiol, also known as CBD, has many supporters. Users claim it is safe with only a few side effects, such as mild, temporary low blood pressure, dry mouth, and lightheadedness. High doses of CBD are not associated with toxicity.

CBD’s supporters tout it as a safe, natural, and non-psychoactive choice and offer anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness. Among researchers, there is a rising interest in CBD as an addiction recovery treatment. However, addiction recovery specialists have urged caution. Their caution seems to be rooted in concern about the potential for the development of dependency.

What is CBD?

CBD is a natural compound found in cannabis. It’s non-psychoactive, meaning it has no intoxicating effect. CBD is extracted from hemp or marijuana. The 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act or the 2018 Farm Bill makes it legal as long as its THC content is 0.3% or less.

Marketed and used as a supplement, CBD’s fans claim it has many medical benefits, including alleviating pain, helping to reduce and control epileptic seizures, limiting anxiety and depression symptoms, reducing inflammation, relieving cancer treatment symptoms (and in some studies, minimizing tumor growth in certain kinds of cancer), and now, helping alcohol and drug addiction symptoms.

CBD is not addictive, and early research shows it regulates stress response and compulsive behaviors, which are addiction recovery symptoms. A few studies support CBD as an aid to stop smoking by decreasing cravings for nicotine.

Can CBD be used in addiction recovery?

A National Institutes of Health article, Emerging Evidence for Cannabis’ Role in Opioid Use Disorder, examines several FDA-approved opioid therapies and maintenance medications. The authors point out the limitations of traditional addiction recovery medications, as well as legal red tape and roadblocks to using opioid replacement therapies like methadone. They also point out that demand for such medicines far outstrips availability.

The article aims to review emergent evidence of cannabis’ potential for treating Opioid Use Disorder. The article highlights the information gaps in the role of cannabis in preventing opioid misuse, alleviating withdrawal symptoms, and decreasing relapse. The authors conclude that the data and relative safety of cannabis makes a case for further study.

What’s the theory behind CBD for addiction recovery?

Researchers believe CBD affects the body’s opioid receptors, which has implications for recovering opioid addicts. Researchers have only just begun to examine CBD’s effects as they relate to alcohol and drug addiction.

The endocannabinoid and opioid receptor systems interact in various ways, including receptor distribution and cross-sensitization pharmacologically. CB1 receptors and mu opioid receptors (MORs) in the brain. The extent of overlap and location colocalization underscores the interaction between the systems involved in reward and withdrawal response.

How can CBD help with addiction recovery?

When considering CBD’s behavioral and neuropharmacological and its effects on neural circuitry responsible for addiction control, researchers are studying CBD for its potential in promoting addiction recovery and relapse prevention.

The working premise underlying many studies is that CBD effectively targets anxiety and stress related to drug cues and mediating anti-depressant activity.

Using transdermal CBD in animal studies, one study looked at subjects that self-administered cocaine and alcohol, and that also showed signs such as impulsivity, anxiety, and dependency. Researchers administered CBD daily for 7 days to the study subjects.

The results indicated 7 days’ of a CBD regimen stopped the development of addictive behaviors. Further, even though the CBD cleared after 3 days of non-use, it also helped prevent relapse for up to 5 months. Other highly respected researchers have duplicated the results. Friedbert Weiss, lead researcher at Scripps Research Institute, said such studies were “proof of principle,” warranting further investigation.

The American Journal of Psychiatry recently published a study that demonstrated CBD’s role in reducing recovering addicts’ cravings for heroin. The double-blind study divided 42 people into 3 groups: one group took 400 mg of CBD, another 800 mg, and the third received a placebo. For 3 days, each group saw 2 videos daily, one depicting natural scenery and the other showed drug-related cues to trigger cravings.

Not surprisingly, participants reported increased cravings from the heroin-related videos, compared to the neutral videos. What is interesting is that the participants in the CBD groups reported fewer cravings than the placebo group. The results also showed reductions in anxiety, decreased heart rate, and reduced cortisol. Effects were noted as early as an hour after taking CBD and lasting up to a week.

CBD influences the endocannabinoid and opioid receptor systems. Cannabinoid and opioid receptors interact by stimulating affinity for CBD through neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters control mood, sleep, and behavior, to name a few of their functions. Certain types of neurotransmitters work within the brain’s reward centers to enhance drug effects, consequently increasing relapse potential. Because CBD is not addictive, it breaks the reward-relapse cycle.

Can taking CBD be a potential risk?

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation does not recommend CBD because of the wide discrepancy between labeling and content. The foundation instead promotes more traditional approaches to drug addiction. It’s worth noting that many drugs, such as methadone and buprenorphine, have issues around dependency themselves.

What to look for in your CBD

Currently, the FDA does not regulate supplements and classes it as a supplement. It’s the Wild West in terms of CBD purity. Look for:

  • CBD is made from hemp or marijuana. Hemp seed oil does not contain CBD.
  • Independent third-party lab analyses tell you the product’s purity, and how much CBD is in the bottle and per dose. If there’s no analysis, do not buy.
  • The name of the carrier oil; MCT (mid-chain triglycerides) coconut oil is standard, as are hemp seed oil (not to be confused with CBD oil), olive or sunflower oils, and grapeseed oil. Any side effects are usually related to the carrier oil, not CBD.

Addiction recovery now and in the future

Unfortunately, current medications are only temporarily effective—and they also have addictive properties. CBD’s potential for addressing addiction without incurring further addiction (like methadone) warrants further study, especially CBD’s long-term effects.

Addiction is a form of dependency, and it is not curable. However, it is possible to treat addiction; a recovering addict will always be in recovery. CBD may be one of the most promising treatments for addiction recovery. Time (and further research) will tell.

author avatar
Jack Studebaker

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