Cannabidiol (CBD) is not an intoxicating substance. Unlike its close cousin THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD does not get the user “high.” It was thought for a long time that cannabis, the plant in which CBD and THC are found in high quantities, was not addictive.
However, more recent data has shown that cannabis can be chemically and psychologically addictive, but not on the scale of, for example, tobacco. About 30% of marijuana users are thought to have some form of dependence or marijuana use disorder. Dependence makes it uncomfortable to come off of the drug and can propel continued use of what is a potentially harmful drug over the long term.
THC appears to be the addictive part of the cannabis plant. It acts on the endocannabinoid system, an evolutionarily array of neuro receptors found in most of our body tissues, from the brain to the skin. When the body is used to ingesting marijuana in excess, the body starts to assume it will receive a regular dose of cannabinoids and adjusts itself to work with the new, higher concentrations of the chemicals.
If the user stops taking marijuana, the body’s addiction to an artificially high level of cannabinoids will cause chemical imbalance. It will make the endocannabinoid system not function as well as it might when balanced with its natural endocannabinoids. This produces withdrawal symptoms, including:
Compared with withdrawal from heroin, these symptoms are extremely mild. They are severe enough, however, to keep many people from quitting.
CBD, another plentiful chemical compound in the cannabis plant, is non-addictive. It does not produce any psychoactive effects. It is rarely taken in excess or for recreational use. A large part of addiction is the production of positive feelings when a drug is taken. Even foods have similar effects. Because CBD is barely perceptible, even at high doses, and is not a recreational drug, few people would ever develop a psychological addiction to the substance.
Most people who use a pure CBD or partial spectrum oil will do so for alleviation of their medical conditions, including arthritis, acne, Parkinson’s, MS, nausea from chemotherapy, and more. The body’s endocannabinoid system is poorly understood but the role of CBD appears to be a regulatory one. It alters how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) interacts and communicates. This does not appear to produce dependency, even in relatively high doses.
The interaction of the two chemicals with the ECS is substantially different. Exactly why THC would produce addictive symptoms and CBD is due to how the two function. THC releases dopamine in the brain–just as cocaine or heroin do–which CBD does not act on the central nervous system or brain but on the peripheral nervous system and immune system. The two work on the ECS to produce the many effects of cannabis.
The main adverse effect of CBD is the “sedative” effect, it can make people feel slow and sluggish at high doses. When CBD has been studied for its safety and addictive qualities, it has been found that it has little effect on major bodily processes like body temperature, blood pressure, and pulse rate. Many addictive drugs do affect these bodily processes.
Recently, CBD has been explored for its use in treating cannabis-use disorders. As with the vast majority of research into cannabis and its constituent chemicals, the science is poor and not representative. One study involved a 27-year-old bipolar male who was addicted to cannabis. He found that adding CBD oil to his medicines helped reduce anxiety and promoted more regular sleep patterns. The subject reported that he had stopped taking marijuana entirely, and with a regular dose of 18mg of the CBD, he was able to avoid taking marijuana.
This is one person in a tiny study, these results cannot work as solid evidence alone. In order to establish whether success is common and CBD is useful as a therapy for cannabis addicts, much larger clinical studies must be performed. The current level of study is preclinical and anecdotal and cannot, therefore, be considered conclusive. The only thing that can be gained from this particular study is that it is a promising area for study.
Another small study involved a 19-year-old woman addicted to cannabis. She was administered CBD for 10 days during her withdrawal from cannabis. She found that she experienced no significant withdrawal symptoms, including an absence of anxiety and dissociative effects, which are common when withdrawing from cannabis. The anxiolytic (anxiety relieving) effects of CBD have been explored to some extent. It is thought this effect is one of the reasons that using CBD while withdrawing from cannabis is useful.
Anecdotal evidence is pointing to CBD being useful for treating cannabis addiction. Forums like Reddit have active followers discussing the use of CBD to treat heir cannabis addiction. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence is not useful for establishing the actual safety and effectiveness of a drug. All the anecdotal evidence can do is point researchers to an area that might need further study, no more.
There is a large scale CBD study being planned in the UK. It will test different doses of CBD for the treatment of marijuana addiction, which has no current pharmacological treatments available. Cannabis addiction is on the rise, representing 28% of admissions for addiction in the UK, second only to heroin. The use of CBD is therefore a hopeful prospect for developing an effective treatment option.
Now that CBD is becoming more available across the Western world, with some governments legalizing medicinal and/or recreational use of cannabis products, the availability of CBD for scientific research is increasing. Readers will likely be disappointed at the lack of proper research available, but this situation looks likely to change in the coming years. The evidence is mounting for the positive uses of cannabis products. Medical cannabis is proving promising for a wide variety of conditions, including, somewhat ironically, for being addicted to cannabis.