Evidence based

CBD and Addiction: Current Research & Understanding

CBD oil is a promising product to treat addiction and addresses the pain and discomfort from withdrawal. We discuss how CBD oil is used to help drug users break the cycles of addiction and some of the best CBD oils on the market for achieving this.

Article By
Justin Cooke , posted 1 month ago

There’s a whole gamut of drugs with addictive potential, wreaking havoc on the body. Drugs including Xanax, morphine, heroin, and cocaine are some of the most commonly abused drugs.

Drug withdrawals following addiction are extremely uncomfortable and sometimes deadly. Any compounds that can help relieve withdrawal symptoms or speed recovery times will ultimately improve the quality of life for recovering addicts.

We’ll look at the most common causes of addiction and how CBD can help, taking a look at some of the best CBD oils for treating addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

Let’s get into it.

  • Table of Contents

What Causes Addiction?

Addiction is considered a psychological disorder involving a compulsive desire to do something that has negative impacts on the body.

Addiction is a disorder rooted in a special region in the brain called the reward center.

The reward center is responsible for habit formation and the development of instincts. It’s been useful for our survival as a species, but when it becomes dysfunctional it can cause a lot of damage.

We’ll get into this in more detail later on. 

Dysfunctional Dopamine Levels is a Key Element of Addiction

One of the key features of addiction is a depletion in dopamine levels [3].

Surges of dopamine teach the brain to seek out more of that substance. Over time, the regular spikes of dopamine cause a rebound drop in the body’s ability to produce dopamine on its own. Users become hopelessly dependant on the drug to produce enough dopamine to feel “normal”. This is especially true regarding drugs such as MDMA, cocaine, or crack that exert most of its effects through the dopamine system.

Low dopamine levels are known to cause the following symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Poor memory

Types of Addiction & the Role of CBD

In order to discuss how CBD is used for treating addiction, we need to differentiate between the different types of addiction.

Addiction relies on the reward center in the brain.

This part of the brain is responsible for controlling our desire to repeat activities. When we eat a delicious meal at a new restaurant, the reward center releases a dose of oxytocin, making us feel euphoric. Our brain records that feeling, making us likely to return to the restaurant to order the item again. This is the beginning of habit formation.

Other types of addiction will still involve this system, though indirectly.

Most addictive drugs will target a specific receptor. It may block pain or force us into a relaxed state.

Over time, these drugs cause changes to the receptor, making them less sensitive to the drug. If this continues, we eventually reach a point where we can’t activate the receptors without substance stimulation. If we don’t take it, we experience varying levels of discomfort.

Here’s how CBD can help with different types of addiction:

1. Stimulant Addiction, Dopamine, and CBD

Stimulants including cocaine and crack are widely abused substances. They work on a set of dopamine receptors.

These drugs cause a surge of dopamine release and are among the most addictive compounds because of the important role dopamine plays in the reward center of the brain.

Once the reward center is activated, it releases a surge of oxytocin from the hypothalamus making us feel momentarily euphoric.

This system is designed to make us repeat activities or patterns that benefit us.

In the case of stimulant drugs such as cocaine, this system is stimulated synthetically, causing us to repeat the process to get another hit of oxytocin.

CBD is especially good for treating dopamine-related addictions while still using drugs. This is because CBD limits the release of dopamine from the basal ganglia where it’s produced [1].

Common Addictive Stimulants Include:

  • Cocaine
  • Crack cocaine
  • Modafinil
  • Adderall
  • Vyvanse
  • Ritalin

CBD & Stimulant Addiction

The main benefit CBD has towards stimulant addiction is its effects on dopamine.

CBD is highly complex and interacts with a number of other organ systems in the body connected through the nervous system. It’s shown to mediate the inhibition of dopamine in the basal ganglia [1].

This means that CBD is involved with regulating optimal dopamine levels by blocking its release when dopamine levels are too high. Other studies observed CBD’s inhibitory effect on dopamine release in animals [2].

This is useful for addictions because it lowers the release of dopamine while under the effects of the drug.

This means that in order to get the most benefit of CBD, you need to start taking it as you wean yourself off the drugs.

The CBD will lower the surge of dopamine, making the effects of the drug less severe, helping to gradually break free from the addictive grasp of these drugs.

In order to be successful with this, it’s imperative that you go through a detox or rehabilitation program. The CBD will help curb the desire to take the drugs, but won’t be enough to fix the underlying addiction.

2. Opioid Addiction & CBD

Opioids are the most commonly abused drugs.

Opioids work by activating a receptor in the spinal cord and brain used to numb the transmission of pain. It’s easy to become addicted to opioids because they start out with good intentions — to provide pain relief.

A pain signal will travel up the nerve and reach the spinal cord. Here, the message is transferred through a special gate.

You can think as border security when crossing over into a new country.

You need to first submit your documents for security to review. If something doesn’t match up, or if there are already too many people crossing the border, you will get denied entry.

The same concept applies to the opioid receptors. They measure how much pain transmission is passing through and will cap it when it becomes too much.

Taking an opioid is like building a giant wall across the border. It stops all flow of traffic — nobody can enter or leave, preventing the transmission of pain from ever making it to the brain.

We need to have at least some traffic flowing through to function properly. Over time, the border security guards get lazy. If the wall ever fails (you miss a dose of the drug), anybody and everybody will come rushing across the border. The guards aren’t skilled enough to stop them anymore, bringing on immense pain.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms:

  • Severe, widespread pain
  • Inability to regulate temperature
  • Low energy
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Rhinitis (Runny nose)
  • Teary eyes
  • Constant yawning
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In order to reverse opioid addiction, we need to taper off the drug slowly and allow the opioid receptors to regain their normal function.

Using our example from before, this would be like hiring new border security guards and spending a few weeks training them how to do their job.

CBD for Opioid Addiction

CBD offers unique benefits in terms of managing the symptoms of opioid addiction because it modulates the opioid receptor function indirectly [4].

This restores optimal opioid receptor levels and helps us recover faster.

Using the same analogy from before, CBD would be like hiring a professional border-security training coach to train the new recruits in less time.

In order to get the most out of CBD for this type of addiction, it should be taken while weaning off the drugs, and afterward for several weeks while going through the effects of withdrawal.

3. Benzodiazepine Addiction & CBD

Alcohol and benzodiazepines are very different but work through the effects of the neurotransmitter, GABA.

Benzodiazepines bind to the GABA receptor, which serves to amplify the effects of GABA itself.

GABA serves as the brake pedal for the nervous system.

It slows down hyperactivity in the nervous system. When nerves become overexcited, from stress, anxiety, or drug use, the nervous system needs to pump the brakes to calm down.

This system is also required for initiating sleep.

The main uses of benzodiazepines are to reduce anxiety and induce sleep.

Like other drugs, when we take them in high amounts over long periods of time, they cause the receptors to become lazy.

Once dependence is formed, we’re unable to activate GABA without the drug and withdrawal symptoms set in.

Withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines:

  • Irritability and restlessness (Akathisia)
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Heart palpitations
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Increased urinary frequency
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Muscular spasms
  • Nightmares
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Paranoia
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Ringing in the ears (Tinnitus)
  • Visual disturbances

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can last years. To get addicts off the drug, it’s important to have effective treatment options to make withdrawal bearable for sufferers.

CBD is useful for people undergoing benzodiazepine withdrawal for several reasons.

CBD for Benzodiazepine Addiction

CBD is useful for benzodiazepine addiction by preventing the re-uptake and destruction of GABA [5].

CBD inhibits the reabsorption of GABA, allowing it to exert its benefits for a longer period of time. This is useful for combating the negative effects of benzodiazepine addiction by increasing overall GABA concentrations in the brain.

As with other types of drug addictions, it’s important to use CBD with other addiction treatments.

Mindset changes, gradual weaning off the drug, and symptomatic support for withdrawal are all necessary for increased efficacy.

CBD merely supports the process, helping us return to a normal, non-addicted state quickly.

Finding the right amount of CBD to use is going to involve some trial and error.

Depending on the severity of addiction and sensitivity of the individual, they may need a lot (45 mg) or a little (4 mg) of CBD per day.

For addictions to painkillers in combination with chronic pain, it’s likely that the higher range of the dose is needed.

Benzodiazepines will also likely need a higher dose to be effective.

For addictions to stimulants such as cocaine or MDMA, many users find doses in the 20 mg range most effective.

No matter what you’re using CBD for, the best way to start is to use a small dose (4 mg) and build up by 4 mg from there each day until you get the results you’re looking for.

A dosing schedule might look something like this:

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6
4 mg/day8 mg/day12 mg/day16 mg/day16 mg`/day16 mg/day

How Often Should I Take CBD?

Drug withdrawal can take anywhere from a week (stimulants) to a month (opiates), to a few months (opiates and benzodiazepines).

In order to get the most benefits, CBD should be taken throughout the entire process, no matter how long it takes.

Most people will start taking the CBD about a week or two before they plan on quitting and continue use throughout the entire process.

CBD is safe, and there are no studies to date suggesting that long-term use is damaging to our health.

Optimizing CBD for Addiction

The main benefit CBD has in treating addiction is its ability to help us return to balance (homeostasis).

While detoxing off drugs, or phasing out of addiction, the whole process involves returning to balance. The unfortunate part is that until this is achieved, it’s going to be very uncomfortable.

CBD will help speed the process and ease some of the pain and discomfort, but it’s going to rely on a lot of other factors including discipline and adequate nutrition and counseling.

Summing it All Up: CBD and Addiction

CBD brings our body back to optimal homeostasis by improving the nerve’s ability to communicate with each other.

When we’re addicted to drugs, we can develop dysfunctions in the reward center of the brain and in other specific receptor dysfunctions (such as GABA or opioid receptors).

CBD makes for an excellent treatment to support both the process behind addiction and helps manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Look for a full spectrum hemp extract with low THC, high CBD, and a complete phytochemical makeup for best results.


References

  1. Banerjee, S. P., Snyder, S. H., & Mechoulam, R. A. P. H. A. E. L. (1975). Cannabinoids: influence on neurotransmitter uptake in rat brain synaptosomes. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 194(1), 74-81.
  2. Banerjee, S. P., Snyder, S. H., & Mechoulam, R. A. P. H. A. E. L. (1975). Cannabinoids: influence on neurotransmitter uptake in rat brain synaptosomes. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 194(1), 74-81.
  3. Dackis, C. A., & Gold, M. S. (1985). New concepts in cocaine addiction: the dopamine depletion hypothesis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 9(3), 469-477.
  4. Kathmann, M., Flau, K., Redmer, A., Tränkle, C., & Schlicker, E. (2006). Cannabidiol is an allosteric modulator at mu-and delta-opioid receptors. Naunyn-Schmiedeberg’s archives of pharmacology, 372(5), 354-361.
  5. Banerjee, S. P., Snyder, S. H., & Mechoulam, R. A. P. H. A. E. L. (1975). Cannabinoids: influence on neurotransmitter uptake in rat brain synaptosomes. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 194(1), 74-81.

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