Does CBD Help Addiction Recovery?

Opioid addiction has become a national health crisis in America. Around 10% of people who are prescribed opioids end up becoming addicted. More than 130 people die from an opioid overdose every day.

For a number of those people, the opioids are no longer enough. Experts estimate 80% of people who abuse heroin originally got started with opioids.

Unfortunately, opioids aren’t the only drugs causing Americans to get addicted. Of the 14% of Americans who smoke, about half of them try to quit every year, but only 6% actually succeed. Around 1.5 Americans abuse cocaine, and a large majority of those are young adults below age 25.

Drug addiction is destructive to a person’s life. With serious abuse, these drugs can—and often do—lead to overdose and death. In the meantime, they’re highly correlated with chronic illness and cancer. Addiction has wide-ranging social and emotional effects, too, interfering with a person’s relationships, social life, and career.

For those looking for help overcoming their addiction, they might find it in a counterintuitive place: cannabis.

We’re not talking about marijuana, although that comes from the cannabis plant, too. Instead, a growing number of researchers are finding that CBD oil can aid addiction recovery.

What Is CBD Oil?

CBD oil is an extract from the cannabis plant. CBD oil primarily contains CBD, but it can also contain additional cannabinoids, like CBDV, CBDA, and THC. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds naturally produced by the cannabis plant. Humans produce similar compounds, too—called endocannabinoids—as part of our endocannabinoid system.

Different cannabinoids have different effects on the human body. CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anticonvulsant, and more. As a result, it’s able to provide unique therapeutic benefits for humans, such as relief for chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, and epilepsy.

CBD is non-psychoactive, so unlike THC, another cannabinoid, CBD will not get you high. While THC provides health benefits of its own, people use it alternately for recreational or medical use. Since CBD does not provide a high, people mostly use it for health reasons.

Because CBD users are not looking to get high, CBD oil manufacturers primarily extract CBD oil from hemp. Hemp is a strain of cannabis that is naturally very high in CBD, and very low in THC. The average hemp plant contains 0.3% THC or less. Due to its low THC content, industrial hemp—and any CBD oil sourced from it—is legal nationwide. It also won’t create a feeling of being “high” or “stoned” for the user. All they’ll feel is the intended therapeutic effect.

How CBD Helps With Addiction Recovery

CBD aids with addiction recovery, just as it helps a range of other health conditions, due to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system. The primary role of your endocannabinoid system is to keep your body in a state of balance. It’s made up of three main components:

  • Endocannabinoids, which mimic the structure of external cannabinoids like CBD;
  • Cannabinoid receptors, which are located throughout your central and peripheral nervous systems; and
  • Enzymes, which break down the endocannabinoids afterwards, to prevent them from overcorrecting.

When endocannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors, it creates a regulatory effect on the affected neurotransmitter. These neurotransmitters—in tandem with your endocannabinoid system—regulate various bodily functions, like your mood, appetite, sleep, motor control, and more. This binding interaction allows your endocannabinoid system to communicate with the appropriate neurotransmitters to keep your bodily functions within healthy, balanced limits.

When you consume CBD oil, you give your body a boost of extra cannabinoids, enabling the endocannabinoid system to do its job more effectively. If you’re suffering from chronic back pain, for example, massaging a CBD cream into your lower back gives local cannabinoid receptors more cannabinoids to bind to, relieving pain and reducing inflammation toward normal levels.

When someone is suffering from addiction, the reward centers in their brain have become unbalanced, in particular regards to dopamine neurotransmission. The endocannabinoid system helps rebalance this.

activation of the dopamine reward pathway by addictive drugs ike cocaine heroin and nicotine

To date, studies have found that CBD appears to have a beneficial effect for those recovering from opioid, cocaine, nicotine, and marijuana addiction. We review the research for each of these below.

CBD Oil for Opioid Addiction

Many people are initially prescribed opioids to help them manage severe pain. However, over time, the body becomes reliant on the opioids for relief, which makes it extremely difficult for these individuals to stop using them. Worse, the longer they use opioids, the higher their risk for tolerance, so they have to use higher or more frequent doses of the drug in order to feel the same effects.  

By binding to 5-HT1A receptors in the brain (which are involved in serotonin production), CBD can decrease the “reward” response in the brain that occurs from opioid use. By level-setting the “reward” response, CBD may reduce the individual’s dependence on opioids for pain relief.

CBD has also been shown to reduce cue-based drug-seeking behavior among heroin addicts. In one study, CBD reduced heroin cravings by more than half. More promising, the effects appeared to grow stronger with time:

Many people are initially prescribed opioids to manage chronic pain. About a quarter of these people end up misusing them. However, CBD has also been shown to be just as effective at relieving pain, if not more so. In fact, one study calculated CBD to be 30% more effective than opioids among a population of cancer patients. For some individuals, CBD oil may be an preferable treatment to opioids from the start, allowing them to avoid the risk of addiction in the first place.

CBD Oil for Cocaine Addiction

Like opioids, cocaine is also highly addictive, and tampers with the reward center in the brain. One study observed the effects of CBD in rats with cocaine addiction. Over a period of 7 days, the rats were given a daily dose of CBD, applied transdermally.

The CBD reduced the rats’ drug-seeking behavior both during stressful situations (“Stress” in the chart below) and when presented with cues (“Context”). Cue-induced cravings occur when the individual encounters something they associate with their addiction. The CBD also lowered their anxiety and impulsivity—two behavioral symptoms of addiction withdrawal that often lead to relapse.

cbd reduces drug-seeking behavior for cocaine addicts during stressful situations and cue-induced cravings

Best of all, these effects were maintained over a period of five months, even though the rats were not given additional CBD—suggesting the long-term recovery potential of CBD.

CBD Oil for Nicotine Addiction

The field of research for CBD and nicotine addiction is particularly exciting, because the studies that have been done were conducted in humans.

In one study, a group of 24 smokers who wished to quit were given either an inhaler of CBD, or an inhaler containing a placebo. Participants were told to use the inhaler whenever they felt the urge to smoke. At the end of the week, the participants who used the CBD smoked 40% fewer cigarettes than the placebo group, which experienced no difference whatsoever in the amount of cigarettes they smoked.

Unfortunately, as opposed to the cocaine and opioid studies, the effects were not sustained once the participants stopped taking CBD:

cbd treatment reduces cigarette consumption in smokers

In another study, participants were asked to abstain from smoking the night before. The following day, they were given a dose of either 800mg oral CBD or a placebo, before being shown images of smoking and cigarettes. While the CBD had no effect on their cravings, it did reduce the pleasantness they felt when presented with cigarette cues and related stimuli—suggesting potential applications in mediating cue-induced cravings.

CBD Oil for Marijuana Addiction

Perhaps most surprising, CBD has also been shown to significantly reduce the withdrawal symptoms associated with marijuana addiction.

Even though they both come from the same plant, the unique molecular structure of CBD and THC allows them to exert different effects on the human body, and on each other. CBD has been shown to counteract the effects of THC, by lessening both the high as well as the anxiety or paranoia some experience.

effects of CBD vs THC on addiction

THC increases the sensitivity to other drugs, while CBD inhibits it, while also lowering the reward response. According to the studies above, taking CBD oil may reduce cravings among individuals in addiction recovery, thereby lowering their risk for relapse. As a result, CBD can enable individuals to be more successful at recovery.

Is CBD Addictive?

No, CBD is not addictive. One of the largest benefits CBD presents to those in addiction recovery is that it doesn’t lead to dependence or tolerance, even when taken in high doses. That means that once you find a dose that works for you, you can stick with it.

CBD is also very safe, and side effects are rare. When side effects have been reported with CBD, they tend to be among people taking other medications, as the CBD can affect how the liver metabolizes certain drugs. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as children, should also avoid taking CBD. Not enough research has been done to verify the safety of CBD among these populations.

If you fall into any of these risk groups, speak with your doctor before starting a CBD regimen. You should also cease taking CBD and consult a doctor if you experience any of the following side effects:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Sedation
  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Changes in body weight or appetite

How to Take CBD for Addiction Recovery

If you’re interested in taking CBD for addiction recovery, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s available in a variety of different product formats, so you can find the method of ingestion that’s most suitable for you.

  • Sublingual application: CBD oil can be applied directly under the tongue using a dropper. The benefits of this method are that it allows for precise dosing, the effects are felt fairly quickly (within 20 minutes), and they can last for as long as 6 hours. Some studies have also found that the bioavailability of CBD (how much CBD ultimately gets absorbed by the bloodstream) is higher with sublingual tinctures as well.
  • Topical application: CBD oil is also available in a variety of topical products, including creams, lotions, balms, and salves. With these, the individual rubs the topical directly into the skin, where the CBD interacts with local cannabinoid receptors beneath the epidermis. While this method is soothing, it tends to be more effective for those using CBD for pain relief, since it engages local cannabinoid receptors as opposed to cannabinoid receptors in the brain where the dopamine pathway is located.
  • Inhalation: Many individuals in recovery used to smoke or inhale their drug, so switching to inhaling CBD feels natural and makes it easier to break the habit. Oral inhalation also allows the effects to be felt almost instantly, as the CBD enters the bloodstream directly. Plus, CBD vape oils come in a variety of flavors that appeal to people more than the natural earthy flavor of CBD. However, with inhalation, the CBD tends to wear off sooner, lasting only a few hours at most.
  • Oral ingestion: Oral CBD products—like CBD gummies, chocolates, and baked goods—appeal to those who want an even more flavorful version of CBD. Although, oral CBD products can be completely tasteless, too, in the case of CBD capsules, water-soluble powders, and water. The downside to oral CBD is that it has to travel through the digestive system first, so it takes longer to reach the bloodstream. Some of the CBD also gets lost through that process, so a higher dose is often needed with this method.

How Much CBD Should You Take?

One of the largest problems with CBD is the lack of official dosing guidelines. CBD is not currently regulated by the FDA, and it’s a newer therapy. As a result, the dosing advice that does exist tends to be anecdotal.

Generally, people find a dose of 1 to 6 mg of CBD for every 10 pounds of body weight to be effective. However, in the studies of CBD and addiction we reviewed above, participants took significantly higher doses of CBD, even as high as 400 to 800 mg.

Because of this, it’s best to consult a doctor before taking CBD. They can help you find an appropriate starting dose based on your body weight, the severity and history of your addiction, and any other attenuating factors, such as other medications you may be taking.

What Else You Need to Know about CBD for Addiction Recovery

Fortunately, CBD is very safe, and it’s widely available for purchase online and in many local health stores. However, as an unregulated industry, it’s up to you as a consumer to ensure that the product you’re buying is actually CBD oil. If it isn’t, it’s not going to be effective for you—and it may even be unsafe.

Follow these four tips to buy quality CBD oil you can trust:

  1. Check for third-party testing. Reputable manufacturers use third-party labs to test the safety and concentration of ingredients in their products. They should also make these safety certificates available online or upon request. Review these to confirm the concentration of CBD and other cannabinoids (especially THC) in the product.
  2. Confirm the CBD oil is sourced from hemp, not marijuana. While CBD oil is mostly sourced from hemp, it can also be sourced from marijuana. However, marijuana-sourced CBD oil is more likely to contain higher amounts of THC, which can be illegal where you live and may interfere with your recovery. Only buy products sourced from hemp. These will have higher amounts of beneficial CBD.
  3. Avoid synthetic CBD. Studies proving the benefits of CBD have been done with pure CBD. On the flip side, instances of extreme side effects have occurred with synthetic CBD. To be safe, only purchase products that contain pure CBD (this is where the third-party lab certificate comes in handy).
  4. Read the online reviews. Finally, as one last gut check, read the online reviews before purchasing any CBD oil. This is the best place to confirm that people are not experiencing side effects, and even better, that they’ve actually found the CBD oil to be effective.

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