Addiction is a brain disorder that can have obvious or subtle effects. But either way, they ultimately prove to have an utterly devastating effect on quality of life. Finding working treatments for addiction has been a testing challenge for experts, due to the brain’s complexity. New drugs are being explored. These include psychedelics such as psilocybin (the main ingredient in magic mushrooms), and also the totally non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD) from the hemp plant.
Research for addiction arguably hit its highest heights in the 1950s and 60s, when scientists in America and Canada were studying substances that have ultimately become banned. Cannabis is one such prohibited drug. While the ban was installed in the 1930s, the later Controlled Substances Act has made cannabinoid research more difficult ever since.
But the revival of medical cannabis has set the stage for a new scientific era. Experts are increasingly optimistic about the value of CBD and the cannabis plant for opioid addiction and more. Even better, it appears that CBD oil produces few side effects, while working to reduce cravings.
This post will concentrate on the following areas:
- How the effects of CBD may help with heroin addiction
- Which cannabis product is best for addiction
- How to get the dosage right
- Why combining CBD with a holistic approach may yield better results
- How the mild psychoactive properties of THC may combat addictive tendencies
CBD: a treatment for heroin and prescription opioid addiction?
Addictions don’t just affect physical health – they have a scarring mental effect too. Not being able to break an addictive habit can cause severe psychological torment. Many opioid users are finding themselves in this conundrum, and not all of them through their own doing. While heroin is a huge problem, prescription opioids have made drug addicts out of those who never imagined they would be. These drugs are also extraordinarily dangerous, due to the extreme overdose risk. In all, overdoses from prescription drugs have accounted for almost 200,000 American lives in the past 20 years.
In 2019, the peer-reviewed American Journal of Psychiatry featured a study on CBD’s anti-addictive effects for heroin, and therefore prescription opioids, too. The experiment involved assessing the short and long-term benefits of CBD for opiate addiction. Cravings for heroin diminished, as did anxiety about getting a fix. Furthermore, the research found no serious side effects from CBD treatment on mental health.
Yasmin Hurd, the lead researcher of the study has lots of experience in researching addiction treatments. Previous experiments on CBD’s benefits for heroin in animal models produced good results. Hence the desire for a similar study on humans. She said that the effects of CBD on “cue-induced drug craving and anxiety are particularly important.” Hurd noted how environmental cues are prone to triggering relapse and continued drug use.
The next step is for a more extensive study on CBD oil for addiction, to determine how the cannabinoid produces its effects. Neuroimaging studies should make it clearer which neuronal circuits CBD operates on to decrease anxiety and cravings. Then it will be vital to find out the “right dosing and dosing regimen.”
Other promising research
In 2015, a review found CBD beneficial for those with opioid, tobacco and cocaine addictions. Moreover, the treatment was successful without causing severe side effects or intense withdrawal symptoms. Even if psychoactive cannabis was being used to manage addiction, it is surely better for users to be on that than drugs with a high overdose risk.
Several countries are studying the medical potential of CBD and marijuana in general. Clinical trials are still fairly sparse, but surveys and small studies are starting to come thick and fast. A 2009 study in the Journal of Neuroscience found that CBD may reduce addictive tendencies by affecting pleasure-reward mechanisms in the brain. Regulating opioid receptors appeared to be essential to this response.
Which is best: CBD for addiction or cannabis?
CBD certainly has intriguing anti-addiction potential. But could a full-plant cannabis extract that features delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) be even more effective? The whole plant offers extra benefits to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), courtesy of the ‘entourage effect’, a synergistic reaction between cannabinoids. However, products with THC come with some risks due to the psychoactive properties. Really strong pot may even be addictive, hence why some tout CBD for weed addiction.
Full-spectrum CBD products are the middle ground. These are made with CBD-rich hemp, but can incorporate all of the plant’s compounds, such as other cannabinoids and therapeutic terpenes. Hemp naturally generates hardly any THC, and hemp products with less than 0.3 percent THC are federally legal. Fast-acting CBD products are perhaps best for managing addiction anxiety and cravings. Tincture oils, smoked hemp flower and vape juices deliver the effects just a few minutes after consumption.
Considering the risk of mental dependence due to THC’s psychoactive effect, anybody using cannabis for addiction must be careful. Strains with high levels of THC, which are typically taken for recreational purposes, are not likely to help. One-to-one strains where there is a roughly even balance of CBD to THC may work better.
That said, a small study did find that THC helped to wean heroin-addicted monkeys from the drug. Any treatment that could help with opiate addiction should be explored extensively given America’s current crisis. And since the risk of addiction with THC is merely mental and not physical, it would still mark progress to get a patient off opioids and onto cannabis.
Finding the perfect dose for addiction
Getting the dosage right with both CBD and THC is tricky as the substances have biphasic properties. This means they affect the body completely differently depending on the amount. CBD, for instance, is energizing in small amounts and sedating in large doses. THC, meanwhile, alleviates anxiety in low doses, but can trigger it in higher levels.
A study published studied how low doses of CBD and THC were effective at treating rodents addicted to cocaine and amphetamines. Combining a 5mg/kg dose of CBD with a 0.5mg/kg dose of THC treated the reward patterns and learned behavior associated with addictions. The CBD continued to benefit the rats for nearly two weeks after the cessation of treatment.
Other important factors for treating addiction
Getting to the root cause for an addiction is key when helping to treat a patient. There is usually a reason why someone becomes addicted to drugs or any negative habit. Addictions offer a brief period of pleasure and escapism from traumatic events and other life stresses. Talking through these issues with a counsellor or therapist, and identifying the thought processes that lead to addiction are vital in conjunction with any medical treatment. Digging into uncomfortable thoughts can be troubling in itself, but is ultimately beneficial providing the care is good.
Interestingly, CBD combats the learned fear that can lead to addiction. This is perhaps down to CBD’s actions on the hippocampus, where short and long-term memory is regulated. An investigation studying learned fear found that patients given CBD were less scared of an electric shock than those treated with a placebo. Hippocampal neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) is one of CBD’s primary benefits. Studies have also found that CBD calms the brain, reducing anxiety by promoting balance between various neurotransmitters. An additional anti-anxiety comes from CBD being a 5-HT1A (serotonin 1A) receptor agonist.
Reducing learned fear and anxiety can be helpful when tackling addiction. It makes it slightly easier to dredge up the truth and talk honestly about bad habits. This could be useful if taking CBD for alcohol addiction, perhaps.
Managing addiction holistically
Some find that a holistic approach to addiction works best. There may be other reasons why someone has an addiction to a particular substance, and is struggling to quit. It’s harder to quit alcohol, perhaps, in societies where alcohol is very prominent socially. The triggers for relapse are going to be much harder to avoid. CBD can help, but developing strategies to avoid relapse situations is important too. For most, willpower only goes so far.
In addition, tackling an addiction indirectly could make all the difference. Someone taking opioid painkillers to manage a painful inflammatory illness should look at what’s causing the addiction. If a poor diet is to blame, then maybe eating healthier would reduce inflammation and the need to take opioids. On this post, there is also potential with CBD for food addiction, CBD for sugar addiction and CBD for comfort eating.
What’s the most effective way to beat an addiction?
Scientists specializing in addiction are best in how to treat this issue. One side favors a ‘cold turkey’ approach, where the patient immediately stops taking the drug. Others prefer ‘harm reduction’, where intake of the addictive drug or habit is gradually rolled back, either by reducing the dose or changing to a less harmful substance.
Some patients are able to successfully go ‘cold turkey’. Their willpower is able to hold off cravings and suppress anxiety. But a strong network of support is also vital for this risky strategy to work. Why risky? Should the ‘cold turkey’ approach fail, the patient not only has an addiction to manage, but it can become even harder to quit as they have already failed at least once.
Harm reduction, however, allows the patient to build on progress. Consider someone taking CBD for THC addiction: reducing the number of joints smoked over a set period enables the patient to build on their good work, and cut intake back even more the next time. This lets the addict focus on the positives, rather than the ‘cold turkey’ method which can leave patients troubled by the psychological blows of relapses.
Can psychoactive drugs help with addiction?
We have spoken a little about THC’s anti-addictive effects. Research has shown that potent psychedelics can reduce alcohol and tobacco dependence. However, studies into the likes of LSD and psilocybin have been hard to come by, never mind a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Psychedelics, of which THC is a mild one, have an effect on the central nervous system, but their impact appears much more profound than that.
Chemically and physically, these drugs help to form new brain patterns. But the psychedelic experience itself is renowned for giving the user visuals, which sometimes help them to put their life in perspective. A heroin addict, for example, may be able to perceive how their addiction is hurting those around them while undergoing a psychedelic experience. However, much of this must be viewed as speculation, since we mostly only have anecdotes to go on, as opposed to hard scientific evidence.
CBD, cannabis and several other drugs have all demonstrated anti-addictive properties. With society facing huge addiction problems, all drugs with potential must be researched thoroughly in the coming decades. CBD is perhaps more promising than others since it is non-intoxicating.