Xanax (benzodiazepine) addiction is a major problem worldwide. Many people are starting to turn to CBD as a means of weaning themselves off benzodiazepines.
Xanax is a brand-name anti-anxiety medication in the benzodiazepine class of drugs.
It is used to force the nervous system into a relaxed state — effectively stopping anxiety in its tracks.
The problem with benzodiazepines, in general, is that they’re highly addictive. After just a few weeks of use, people may become dependent on them. As soon as the effects wear off, the brain goes into a state of hyperactivation — resulting in severe anxiety attacks. This can lead to debilitating insomnia and emotional instability.
Because of the severe side-effects, many people are trying to get off benzodiazepines but find it difficult because of their highly addictive nature. When the drugs disappear from the system, users can be faced with disabling anxiety attacks.
People are turning to cannabidiol (CBD) as a way to alleviate withdrawal symptoms while they reduce their dose of benzodiazepines. The goal is to stop using them altogether.
In this article, we’ll discuss how people are using CBD as an intermediary to wean themselves safely off benzodiazepines such as Xanax. We’ll talk about the promising research being done in this area and what it means for people hooked on anxiety medications.
Let’s get started.
Benzodiazepines are a class of synthetic anti-anxiety medications.
This class of medications is used for treating anxiety disorders (such as social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder) and insomnia.
Some of the most popular brands include Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Lorazepam.
Xanax is by far the most common. Recent reports suggest Xanax is the third most prescribed medication in the United States and one of the top 20 prescription medications sold on the black market globally.
Unfortunately, all benzodiazepines are highly addictive — causing tolerance and dependency on the drug in as little as two weeks of regular use.
These potent pharmaceuticals work by modifying the GABA receptors in the brain to become more receptive to GABA. We use GABA to control our stress levels and brain activity. The best analogy for GABA is that it behaves like the brake pedal for the brain — slowing us down when we need to stop.
When GABA activity increases, it slows nerve transmissions in the brain — making us feel relaxed. This stops anxiety attacks in their tracks and calms us down enough to fall asleep.
Most people start taking Xanax or other benzodiazepines without expecting to become addicted. Doctors prescribe the medication in small doses for short periods to help people get through periods of severe anxiety. Benzodiazepines are also prescribed for periods of insomnia as they provide short-term relief.
The problem with this is that it only takes a few doses to cause addiction.
After just a few days, the body starts to resist the effects of the drug. It does this by changing the GABA receptors. As this change happens, users need to take higher doses of the drug to produce the same results.
At the same time, our natural GABA levels struggle as well. We can’t produce more GABA to make up for the tolerance, so, instead, we experience side-effects from the poor GABA function. The main side-effect of this is the very thing the drugs were intended to treat — anxiety.
Benzodiazepine addiction is characterized by the onset of negative side-effects as the drugs wear off. This is called withdrawal.
Withdrawal on benzodiazepines is extremely unpleasant. It includes symptoms such as:
As the side-effects of anxiety appear, it’s difficult for people to resist the medication. The drug is the only thing that will stop it. This is a nearly impossibly high obstacle to manoeuver when in the process of quitting the drug.
Therefore, most people continue taking the drug despite its negative side-effects. The anxiety is just too intense without it.
Benzodiazepines themselves don’t usually cause an overdose. However, when combined with other drugs such as opiate painkillers or alcohol, the mix can be incredibly dangerous.
Michael Jackson and rapper Lil Peep both had Xanax in their systems at the times of their deaths.
Users think they can avoid these issues by merely sticking to benzodiazepines and avoiding opiates or alcohol — but it’s not this simple.
Doctors won’t continue writing prescriptions for the drug indefinitely, and if they do, they will cap the dose. As tolerance increases, users are forced to seek out other sources of the drug to feed their addiction.
However, black market benzodiazepines aren’t always made using good manufacturing processes. A lot of them contain a mix of other drugs, such as fentanyl, to cut costs for the manufacturer. This is extremely dangerous and all too common.
All it takes is one bad pill to end up like Lil Peep — who died from taking Xanax laced with fentanyl.
If Lil Peep can’t even get clean drugs, what makes you think you can?
So, now that we have a good understanding of how benzodiazepines work and what makes them so dangerous, we can get into how people are using CBD to support their recovery.
The basic idea is that we can use CBD to wean off benzodiazepines gradually. As the dose of your benzodiazepines is lowered, you can simultaneously increase the dose of CBD to offset some of the side-effects.
Once the benzodiazepines are fully removed from the system, the focus is to stop the CBD — which is significantly easier.
This works because CBD has similar effects on the GABA receptors to benzodiazepines — only with significantly less potency and potential for addiction.
CBD also offers other benefits for people suffering benzodiazepine withdrawals:
Weaning off benzodiazepines with CBD is reasonably straightforward. You start with a low dose of CBD and your regular dose of benzodiazepines. Over time, the dose of benzodiazepines is gradually reduced, while the dose of CBD is steadily increased.
Eventually, the benzodiazepines are stopped completely. Once this stage is reached, the CBD is gradually reduced as well — which is significantly easier and much safer.
Before you stop taking your medication, tell your doctor.
You need to discuss the plan with them even if they don’t approve (many doctors appear to prefer to keep their patients on the medications to avoid withdrawals).
Ultimately, however, your health is your responsibility. If you’re persistent with your doctor, they will need to help you wean off the medication. They’ll give some advice on a plan, along with some tips for getting through the worst of it.
Most doctors will also schedule visits throughout the process to monitor how the body is responding.
This step should be done with your doctor or another qualified practitioner. Some doctors and naturopaths specialize in weaning off drug addictions. If you can find one of these specialists, we highly recommend using their services to optimize success.
|Week||Xanax Dose (Daily)||CBD Dose (Daily)|
|Week 1||6 mg||0 mg|
|Week 2||6 mg||5 mg|
|Week 3||5 mg||15 mg|
|Week 4||5 mg||30 mg|
|Week 5||4 mg||40 mg|
|Week 6||4 mg||50 mg|
|Week 7||3 mg||55 mg|
|Week 8||3 mg||55 mg|
|Week 9||2 mg||60 mg|
|Week 10||2 mg||60 mg|
|Week 11||1 mg||60 mg|
|Week 12||0 mg||60 mg|
These dosages can vary significantly depending on your daily dose of Xanax or other benzodiazepines and how your body reacts to CBD. Some people need higher doses of CBD to be effective; others need lower doses.
The key to using CBD is to start low and build up gradually until you get the desired effects. You may need to increase the dose slightly when you lower the benzodiazepine dose.
Before you start the weaning-off process, make sure you have enough CBD to get through the first couple of weeks. We recommend opting for a high-potency product — this can always be diluted to smaller doses, but it can be hard to hit higher doses with low-potency products.
Vaping is good for spot treatment whenever withdrawal symptoms start and for eliminating the habit of popping pills whenever anxiety appears.
First and foremost, whenever stopping a medication such as a benzodiazepine, you need to seek out medical advice from a qualified doctor.
Benzodiazepine withdrawals can be dangerous — even lethal, in some cases.
Consult your doctor and return for follow-up visits every time you reduce your benzodiazepine dose so the doctor can assess your vital signs periodically as well as your overall wellbeing and emotional health.
It’s better to wean off benzodiazepines slowly over a few weeks instead of as fast as possible — this is especially true for people with a history of using benzodiazepines for more than six months.
Reducing your dose too quickly increases the chances of severe panic attacks, which can lead to a relapse. Instead, plan to wean down by roughly 25% every two weeks.
A good schedule is to lower the dose by about 1 mg every second or third week.
This gives the body enough time to readjust its dependency on the new dose. Once the body has stabilized, you can move on to the next stage and start the process again.
Even with the help of CBD, getting off benzodiazepines can be a challenge. Although CBD can significantly improve withdrawal symptoms, it won’t eliminate them.
It’s essential to persevere through periods where withdrawal symptoms can become especially challenging. Remember that the discomfort will eventually pass for good, but only if the process is seen through to the end.
There are a lot of CBD products on the market — many of which are not going to be sufficient enough for this application.
Look for a CBD product that has the following characteristics:
Using cheap, poor-quality CBD products may be ineffective — or, in some cases, make symptoms even worse. This is especially true with contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals — which can cause anxiety. This is the last thing you want when going through benzodiazepines withdrawal.
We also highly recommend opting for a full-spectrum extract. The full combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other phytochemicals in the cannabis plant is more beneficial than CBD in isolation .
Rarely do we recommend anyone starts vaping, especially if they’re not already a smoker.
However, in this case, vaping is very beneficial for changing habits of drug use.
The very action of vaping can help users change habits in their brain. Usually, when benzodiazepines users feel anxiety coming on between doses, they’ll reach for a pill. This forms habit pathways in the brain that can be hard to shake.
This habit of popping pills for anxiety can be replaced with a few hits from a vape instead.
Of course, you don’t want to have compulsive or addictive behavior with anything, including vaping — but during the process of weaning off benzodiazepines, this can be a game-changer.
Vaping also offers the benefits of being fast-acting — especially compared with things such as CBD oils or capsules that can take as long as 45 minutes to start producing their effects. Vaping only takes 5 to 15 minutes to produce the same results.
When anxiety attacks come on, they come on quickly, so relief also needs to be felt rapidly.
As with any complex medical condition, the best treatment is a multifaceted approach rather than one form of treatment. Doctors working in rehabilitation centers treating patients for addiction have a variety of techniques at their disposal. It’s the same for people working on correcting addiction at home.
Some common techniques people use to get through benzodiazepine withdrawal may include:
One of the most well-researched benefits of CBD is its anti-anxiety effects.
Interestingly, much of this benefit of CBD is through its activity on the benzodiazepine receptors themselves [2, 3].
This means two things:
A retrospective study published in 2019 analyzed a cohort of 146 medical marijuana patients who were also taking benzodiazepines at the start of the study . By the end of the two-month study, 30% of these patients were no longer taking benzodiazepines. A later follow-up at the six-month mark found that 45% of the patients that took part in the study were off benzodiazepines completely.
Benzodiazepines are posing a significant problem around the world. In the short term, these drugs are incredibly useful for eliminating severe anxiety and panic disorders. However, long-term use can result in addiction. Stopping the medication for any reason causes withdrawal symptoms, which can be excruciating.
CBD is a useful supplement for supporting the recovery process. It has similar effects on benzodiazepine medications, which help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. In addition, CBD extracts have other benefits that can be used to make the withdrawal process more comfortable — therefore, improving the chances of successful recovery.
Of course, whenever trying something like this, it’s essential to seek medical council first. Your doctor should be on board with your plan to stop the medication and will help you form a weaning-off plan — gradually decreasing the benzodiazepine doses while increasing the dose of CBD.
This study was retrospective, looking at the relationship between benzodiazepine use and cannabis use. The original study didn’t look at the effects of weaning off benzodiazepines with cannabis or CBD specifically. The results are likely to be much higher if the intent is to get off the benzodiazepines.