Updated: Mar 12, 2021
According to a 2019 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, approximately 35 million persons globally suffer from drug use disorders that require treatment. However, only 1 in 7 people receive any medical intervention.
Treatment for drug addiction needs to reduce cravings, which will reduce the chances of relapsing. Two of the three FDA-approved treatment for opioid addiction – methadone and buprenorphine – help to curb drug cravings, but they are also opioids and can be difficult to access. A great alternative treatment for drug addiction could be something natural and non-addictive, like CBD!
CBD can counteract the mind-altering effects of THC in cannabis. Now, there is evidence to suggest that CBD can also be used as a potential treatment for alcohol and drug abuse as it has a positive effect on three phases of drug addiction: intoxication, withdrawal, and craving/relapse.
CBD regulates brain functions and behaviour responsible for drug cravings
The CB1 receptor in the endocannabinoid system regulates the body's neurophysiological functions responsible for cravings and drug-related triggers. For instance, CBD interacts with the dopaminergic system, which manages reward-motivated behaviour in the brain. CBD can counteract increased dopamine activity triggered by alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, opioids, and nicotine. By modulating drug-related anxiety and triggers, and by regulating dopamine levels, CBD can be effective in targeting relapses of drug use.
Prud’homme, Cata and Jutras-Aswad (2015) reviewed preclinical and clinical information on the use of CBD on addictive behaviour and the phases of addiction. They analysed 14 studies conducted on animals and five human studies published before 2015. The review concluded that there was sufficient evidence from previous studies to suggest that CBD can have therapeutic effects on cocaine, cannabis, opioid, and tobacco addiction.
Moreover, Hurd et al. 2019 conducted a study on the use of CBD to reduce cue-induced cravings and anxiety in abstinent heroin addicts. The study was a double-blind experiment, meaning that neither the researchers nor the participants knew who received doses of CBD or the placebo. The study was conducted in four sessions over two weeks, where 42 men and women between the ages of 21 and 65 were assigned to one of three treatment groups at random:
400 mg of CBD
800 mg of CBD
The participants were shown neutral cues such as relaxing nature videos and neutral objects. Additionally, the participants were made to observe drug cues or triggers such as intranasal and intravenous drug use and heroin equipment.
The results of the study indicated that CBD had considerably decreased craving and anxiety compared to the placebo group after the triggering drug-use videos were shown. Both the 400 mg and 800 mg CBD treatment groups experienced similar levels of reduced cravings and anxiety. Moreover, there were very mild side effects observed in the CBD treatment groups. Overall, CBD had short-term and extended effects in treating drug-related craving and anxiety.
Apart from reducing drug-related anxiety, triggers, and cravings, CBD can also lessen the pain and inflammation which typically leads to the use and abuse of opioids.
CBD can be a possible treatment to break the cycle of drug addiction. However, more clinical human trials are needed.
Dimitrova, Mihaela. 2019. “Can CBD be Used to Treat Drug Addiction?” News-Medical. 22 August. Accessed January 6, 2021. https://www.news-medical.net/health/Can-CBD-be-Used-to-Treat-Drug-Addiction.aspx#3.
Hurd, Yasmine L, Sharron Spriggs, Julia Alishayev, Gary Winkel, Kristina Gurgov, Chris Kudrich, Anna M Oprescu, and Edwin Salsitz. 2019. “Cannabidiol for the Reduction of Cue-Induced Craving and Anxiety in Drug-Abstinent Individuals With Heroin Use Disorder: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial.” The American Journal of Psychiatry 176 (11). doi:https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.18101191.
Kounang, Nadia. 2019. “Study finds CBD effective in treating heroin addiction.” CNN. 21 May. Accessed January 6, 2021. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/21/health/heroin-opioid-addiction-cbd-study/index.html.
Prud'homme, Melissa, Romulus Cata, and Didier Jutras-Aswad. 2015. “Cannabidiol as an Intervention for Addictive Behaviors: A Systematic Review of the Evidence.” Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment 9: 33-8. doi:10.4137/SART.S25081.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2019. “World Drug Report 2019.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 26 June. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2019/June/world-drug-report-2019_-35-million-people-worldwide-suffer-from-drug-use-disorders-while-only-1-in-7-people-receive-treatment.html.