Can cannabis help you quit smoking? In this article, we take an in-depth look at CBD and its potential in curbing nicotine addiction and other types of addiction.
Cannabis was long treated as an addictive substance. However, that is changing. New research shows that cannabis is actually much less addictive than many other legal and illicit substances.
Now, studies show that CBD, one of the main cannabinoids in cannabis, may actually help curb addiction and addictive behaviour. Read on to learn more.
HOW DOES ADDICTION WORK?
In order to better understand how CBD can help manage addiction, it’s important to understand the science behind addiction and addictive behaviour first.
The human brain has a reward system that’s based on dopamine, a complex neurotransmitter. Dopamine is a very powerful chemical and is able to create cravings in the brain. Originally, these cravings were designed to help us survive, and would include cravings for food, sex, or social interaction.
Once we give in to these cravings, we experience sensations of pleasure. This is caused by other neurotransmitters acting in specific areas of the brain, such as the brain stem, the ventral pallidum, the nucleus accumbens, and orbitofrontal cortex. These areas are often labelled “hedonic hotspots”.
Cravings are first triggered when dopamine (formed at the top of the brainstem) begins flowing through a complex pathway that connects these various areas of the brain. From the brainstem, dopamine first travels to the dorsal striatum, where neurons in the brain identify rewarding experiences (like eating, drinking, smoking, or having sex) and begin developing habits out of them.
Dopamine also flows through the prefrontal cortex where it combines with an amino acid known as glutamate to trigger rich visualisations that further your cravings. Dopamine then travels to the amygdala, where it stimulates your brain further via learned emotional responses. This could include pleasurable memories of times you gave in to your cravings in the past.
Many things can cause addiction; sex, drugs, food, pornography, gambling, etc. Most of these substances/activities increase the flow of dopamine through the brain. As a result, they can essentially rewire this brain circuit and cause addiction in vulnerable people.
How these substances or behaviours interact with the dopamine reward system in our brain varies, however. Cocaine, for example, blocks dopamine transporters and temporarily stops the removal of excess dopamine in the brain. Nicotine, on the other hand, temporarily stimulates dopamine production, increasing feelings of pleasure after smoking.
CBD FOR ADDICTION: WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE SAY?
There’s a strong body of evidence which shows that CBD has the ability to help people curb a variety of addictions.
For example, a 2013 study published in the Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behaviour medical journal showed that CBD could help manage alcoholism.
The study evaluated the effects of transdermal CBD on a rodent model of alcoholism. More specifically, it observed how CBD affected the neurodegeneration caused by alcohol addiction. Neurodegeneration is believed to be a main factor in causing alcohol abuse disorder; by causing damage to brain cells and inhibiting the creation of new neurons, alcohol is believed to affect cognition, behaviour, and proper brain function and ultimately cause addictive behaviour.
The study found that CBD helped protect against this neurodegeneration, reducing it by up to 40% in some cases. The researchers concluded that their results suggest CBD is a feasible alternative to treating and preventing alcohol-induced neurodegeneration.
Similarly, research also suggests that CBD can help reduce tobacco addiction. In 2013, a study published on addictive behaviours showed that CBD can help diminish tobacco consumption in smokers.
The study focussed on 24 smokers looking to quit. The smokers were chosen at random to either receive a CBD inhaler or a placebo for 1 week. They were told to use the inhaler whenever they felt the urge to smoke a cigarette.
Over the treatment week, those smokers who received the placebo inhaler showed no difference in the amount of tobacco they consumed. Those who received the CBD inhaler, however, showed a great decrease in the amount of cigarettes they smoked (up to 40%).
The authors of the study suggested that, combined with other research on CBD and its anti-addiction properties, their results show that CBD is a promising treatment option for tobacco addiction.
Other studies have also looked at the effects of CBD on other kinds of addiction, including opioids, THC-rich cannabis, and amphetamines. Below are links to some of these studies:
- CBD inhibits the reward-facilitating effect of morphine
- Cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic component of cannabis, inhibits cue-induced heroin seeking and normalises discrete mesolimbic neuronal disturbances
- Dysregulation of cannabinoid CB1 receptor and associated signaling networks in brains of cocaine addicts and cocaine-treated rodents
- CBD for the treatment of cannabis withdrawal syndrome
HOW CAN CBD HELP WITH NICOTINE ADDICTION?
Our understanding of CBD, the endocannabinoid system, and how the two interact isn’t complete. Hence, it isn’t exactly clear how CBD helps to curb addiction and/or addictive behaviour.
As we mentioned earlier, some studies suggest that CBD can help protect against neurodegeneration caused by substances like alcohol. Neurodegeneration is considered a main player in causing alcohol abuse disorders.
Other studies have also shown that CBD can reduce the severity and intensity of withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of withdrawal from drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines are known to be very severe, often causing patients to relapse.
Studies have also shown that CBD can positively affect the dopamine pathways which are so strongly involved in causing addictions and habits. For a more detailed analysis of CBD and the many ways it may help curb addiction, check out this review in the journal of Substance Abuse.