Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a natural, non-intoxicating and non-addictive substance derived from the cannabis plant. A non-psychoactive cannabinoid, CBD holds a great deal of potential for preventing and treating addiction and substance abuse. Some recent studies have shown that CBD may help by:
- Reducing cravings for alcohol
- Helping to manage reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Addressing the symptoms or conditions that may contribute to substance abuse
- Improving overall well-being by helping people become less likely to seek out addictive substances and behavior
In 2015, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 86.4 percent of the US population above the age of 18 consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. Approximately 56 percent reported that they drank alcohol in the past month, indicating a pattern of at least somewhat regular alcohol consumption.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
However, as an intoxicating substance, alcohol is dangerous and can lead to addiction. The NSDUH found that 26.9 percent of the 18+ US population engaged in binge drinking — meaning they consumed more than four drinks within two hours — over the past month. An additional 7 percent reported that they drank heavily — considered more than two drinks per day — in the past month. These drinking behaviors indicate higher risk for Alcohol Use Disorder.
Out of the more than 16 million people in the US who have a potential Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women have a diagnosable AUD.
Alcohol addiction works by triggering the reward and pleasure mechanisms in our brains. Over a period of time, habits begin to form, creating the compulsion to seek out alcohol to recreate those reward and pleasure sensations. When someone stops consuming alcohol, the result is painful withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol-related damage can cause significant cognitive impairment for heavy drinkers.
Alcohol Addiction and CBD
In the research community, there is substantial interest in the therapeutic potential of CBD. With industrial hemp legalized in the United States as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD is widely available in the United States, and increasing numbers of consumers, medical professionals and addiction specialists are using CBD as a helpful addition to their addiction management protocols.
Only recently have scientists begun to investigate, study and understand how critical the role the endocannabinoid system plays in not only alcohol and other addictions, but mood disorders, pain management, anxiety relief and other health related issues.
Part of the dependence on alcohol is linked to the down-regulation of endocannabinoids and CB1 receptors in our brain. CB1 brain receptors are responsible for the pleasure and pain functions of the brain and other body systems, such as the gastrointestinal, urinary, reproductive tracts.
Some preclinical trials suggest that CBD may be useful in treating alcoholism, as well as reducing the withdrawal symptoms associated with hangovers and cessation programs. CBD’s neuroprotective properties may help protect the brain from alcohol-related damage in both the short and long term.
Studies on Alcohol Addiction and CBD
A 2015 study of Cannabidiol as an Intervention for Addictive Behaviors found that “CBD has several therapeutic properties on its own that could indirectly be useful in the treatment of addiction disorders, such as its protective effect on stress vulnerability and neurotoxicity.”
CBD may also assist in reducing alcohol consumption and prevent relapse in recovering alcoholics. Furthermore, studies suggest that CBD could also be beneficial when dealing with some of the underlying conditions that lead people to self-medicate before they become addicted to alcohol. As many people suffering from addiction also suffer from underlying mental health issues like depression, psychosis and anxiety disorders (PTSD, social anxiety, etc.), CBD could make people less likely to abuse alcohol in the first place.
A March 2018 study found some interesting results when testing rats with alcohol or cocaine self-administration histories (rats that are habitual users).
Here’s what they found after administering CBD to rats at 24 hour intervals over a 7 day test period:
- CBD reduced the effect of context-induced and stress-induced drug and alcohol seeking behaviors without tolerance, sedative effects, or interference with normal motivated behavior.
- Following the termination of treatment, reinstatement of addictive consumption was reduced by as much as 5 months, although plasma and brain CBD levels remained detectable only for 3 days.
- In the study, CBD also reduced experimental anxiety while also preventing the development of high impulsivity in rats with an alcohol dependence history.
The study concluded that “the results provide proof of principle supporting potential of CBD in relapse prevention along two dimensions: beneficial actions across several vulnerability states and long-lasting effects with only brief treatment.”
Other studies have found that endocannabinoids, including the number of endocannabinoid receptors in our brains, can be severely depleted and even entirely extinguished by heavy drinking.
The ability of CBD to reduce the presence of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body and brain is another possible reason that CBD may be a successful component of limiting drinking, reducing withdrawal symptoms and even quitting drinking.
Inflammation in the brain causes distortions in the chemical balance and reduces the normal production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. Heavy drinking can have a similar effect on the neurotransmitters and receptors as that of a serious brain injury.
By removing a major roadblock for the production of feel-good brain chemicals, CBD might assist in reducing cravings and managing painful withdrawal symptoms. CBD may accomplish this by repairing oxidative stress in a similar manner to the way that traditional antioxidants repair this stress.
Researchers are concluding that the reverse also seems to be true: chronic inflammation can increase the risk of alcohol addiction. As a result, CBD is being studied on the fronts of Alcohol Addiction and Alcohol Use Disorder.
CBD pain relief, anti-inflammation, and other properties will certainly be studied further as consumer demand increases after the recent legalization of industrial hemp in the United States.
As part of a successful Alcohol Use Disorder treatment plan at all phases — from prevention to intervention to withdrawal symptom reduction and relapse prevention — CBD is becoming more and more integrated as a solution by consumers, medical professionals and addiction and recovery specialists.