Addictions are commonplace. In Australia and the US, millions of people will suffer from some form of substance addiction in their lifetime. The most common of these are nicotine (or cigarettes) and alcohol addiction. Around 1.1 billion people in the world smoke. Addiction costs society billions of dollars in health costs and can be debilitating to both individuals and their loved ones. Treating addiction can be hard, both for psychological and physical forms of addiction. There are many options available including Behavioral therapy, addiction fighting medicines such as benzodiazepine or clonidine as well as rehabilitation. Natural remedies can also assist in mitigating addiction. A new and promising product which is entirely plant based is CBD or cannabidiol, extracted from low THC hemp. CBD oil may be able to help those suffering from an addiction to wean themselves off their damaging behavior. Let’s look at this promising new area of research and the hope it is giving for those looking for a natural way to get support in stopping their alcohol, nicotine or other addiction.
What Causes Addiction?
Modern theories on addiction propose its primarily a psychological response to some form of pain or trauma. Addiction is often a stop gap and the mind, which seeks pleasure from dopamine to fill a void. There are both environmental and genetic factors at play for any individual and their tendency to become addicted to a behavior. Environmental factors are influences including the physical space, social, socioeconomic and cultural environment someone is raised in and inhabits. Peer pressure, instability in home or work environments, drug use by parents or peers and cultural influences can often contribute towards someone developing an addictive behavior. Abuse and mental health problems are also leading indicators of whether someone will be prone to addiction. Generally those with a stable career and life, strong support network, healthy relationships (particularly parental) and healthy community will have much lower risk of addictions.
Our genes also play a key role in addictive tendencies. It can interplay with environmental factors to result in potentially heightened risk. Addictive traits are highly heritable and tend to run in family genes. If someone in your direct family suffers from addiction or addictive tendencies, there is a fair chance you have some form of genetic exposure. This can vary in its strength and influence by individual and also by substance. Some people might find alcohol highly addictive but not cigarettes for example. Over 400 genes in the human genome are believed to have an influence on smoking and alcohol addiction. These genes may be triggered or exacerbated by environmental or personal issues like anxiety or depression
What is CBD and How Can It Help?
CBD or cannabidiol is one of many naturally occurring phytocannabinoid compounds produced by the cannabis sativa plant. These are therapeutic chemicals with an array of effects and benefits in the body, but also for the brain and mind. The body is able to absorb them through the endocannabinoid system which helps regulate sleep, immunity and homeostasis in the body. One of its key properties is its actions on the brain and mind in reducing stress and symptoms of anxiety. This is known as an anxiolytic or anti anxiety effect. Cannabinoid receptors in the brain known as the type 1 or CB1 receptors bind with cannabinoids like CBN or CBD and activate the release of endocannabinoids from the endocannabinoid system. These compounds are produced by the body naturally and are highly anti-inflammatory and calming. CBD is non toxic, non psychoactive and non addictive. It’s also completely natural, highly bioavailable (meaning easily used by the body) and has very minimal if any side effects.
The calming effect from this metabolic response is what’s thought to help those with addictions like smoking mitigate what is a key trigger for many – stress. How many times have you reached for a cigarette when work has been hard? Dopamine is the reason for this. This is the motivation and pleasure neurotransmitter. It makes you feel good when you take certain actions and rewards the action with a pleasant neurological response. This is great when our dopamine response is geared towards healthy habits like exercising or meditation. It can be hacked however. Many substances will hijack the dopamine response, providing an artificial good feeling that is often stronger than our own natural level of dopamine release. This is particularly the case with compounds like nicotine in cigarettes or opiates and opioids like oxycontin which are very addictive and will entirely hijack the brain’s dopamine.
CBD can help to calm users, lowering anxiety and giving support in avoiding problem substances. Many addicts turn to their substance to deal with stress or emotional trauma. By reducing stress, CBD oil can help to reduce or lessen the mental draw of their addiction. This is known as reducing drug cue salience, lowering the link between thoughts of an addictive drug and a user’s dopamine response.
Does CBD help with cigarette addiction?
Cigarette addiction is primarily caused by the chemical nicotine. Problematically it can present as both a physical as well as psychological addiction, making it very hard to break. Physical addiction is caused by a chemical reliance at the cellular level on a substance. This causes withdrawal, nausea, irritability and even toxicity in some cases when abstinence occurs. Alcohol, nicotine and most opioids are physically addictive. Psychological addiction occurs due to compulsive behavior leading to substance use. It is different from physical addiction as it is reinforced by perceptions, environmental influences and neurological state. For example smoking may be heavily linked to work stress. A stressful work day can trigger the ‘need’ to smoke and compulsion psychologically to use cigarettes even if the user isn’t physically addicted. Psychological addiction means the mood, temper and focus of an individual can be prone to swings during abstinence as the mind becomes accustomed to the chemical in use. Cigarettes are particularly hard to kick as they affect both the dopamine response and cause physical addiction while also having a psychological component. Many have a strong pleasure association with the feeling of smoke and sensation it provides.
Because of this, most treatments with lozenges, patches or gums are generally low in their effectiveness. These products don’t offer the same psychological kick and pleasure associations that cigarettes offer. The dopamine response they trigger is much lower in strength and can even become a trigger to additional cigarette use. Abstaining completely can also be very challenging. Weaning off using therapy and a combination of healthy living, a strong support network and natural remedies like CBD is a great option for most.
Much of the research into CBD’s benefits for nicotine addiction centres on its ability to reduce both cravings and withdrawals. It is theorized that the ‘bliss’ feeling provided by endocannabinoids released when CBD is consumed like anandamide contribute to reducing stimulation from the dopamine triggered by the drug. This in turn lowers the thoughts and affinity driving someone to continually habitually use the substance and break the addiction. It’s been shown in clinical trials a single 800mg dose of CBD was able to lower the pleasantness and cravings for nicotine. Patients in this test were shown trigger images of people smoking, drinking and partying to attempt to stimulate smoking dopamine responses. Those dosed had a much lower response and attraction to the images, being able to remain calm and stable.
Importantly, CBD itself is not addictive and won’t cause any cravings or withdrawals itself. It has minimal side effects but these can sometimes include dry mouth and mild upset stomach. This means it can be used even at frequent high doses to accelerate its effects and benefits without high risk of side effects. Pharmaceuticals like varenicline used to treat smoking addiction often have nasty side effects. They also tend to fail in the long term. Most patients using nicotine medications, patches or treatment methods will relapse. These are designed to lower craving levels by providing some nicotine while helping the user wean off.
A separate study recently examined the effects of CBD oil consumption of overall cigarette and tobacco use. In this trial patients were instructed to use a dosage of CBD whenever they had cravings for a cigarette. Over several weeks they eventually formed habits around this behaviour and used CBD instead of cigarettes in many cases. The study showed a significant level of reduction in overall cigarette use – by up to 40% versus the control group who used no CBD. This type of clinical study indicates there may be an opportunity to substitute vaping or smoking relaxing hemp based products instead of nicotine to reduce or even eliminate addiction in some cases. Further studies and conclusions are needed to reinforce and develop the understanding of these tools.
Lowering withdrawal anxiety
Much of CBD’s benefits are derived from the endocannabinoid system or ECS. This system may play a role in how learning and motivation form in the mind. Its main function is to maintain homeostasis and reduce the stress response in the mind. It’s also been thought to help modulate the dopamine response and reward effect of many substances. CB1 receptors in the brain are responsible for this action. Through endocannabinoids they release like 2-AG they may be the pathway used by cannabinoids to reduce the pleasure and reward feeling of nicotine. A key function of the ECS is its ability to lower stress and anxiety. Many cannabinoids like CBN or CBD are anxiolytic and help lower anxiety. For those quitting smoke or other addictions, abstinence will often lead to anxiety. CBD oil can help in lowering the withdrawal anxiety that accompanies addiction, helping people quit.
Not only does CBD and other cannabinoids act on the cannabinoid receptors however in the brain and throughout the body. They’re also able to influence the modulation of neurotransmitters including dopamine, the motivation and pleasure neurotransmitter, and serotonin – responsible for many functions including memory, sleep and mood. Cannabinoids can act on both dopamine and serotonin receptors. In doing so they aid in promoting balance, calm and mood stability in the mind. Stress is also able to be lowered. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for stress in the mind. This system controls the fight or flight response but can become overactive and frazzled when too many life stressors become overwhelming. This could be from work, emotional or personal reasons, leading to high levels of cortisol, increased blood pressure and reduced ability to sleep and recover. More specifically it’s theorized that CBD has effects on the 5-1HTA receptor that influences serotonin levels. It may modulate this receptor enabling serotonin to signal more effectively and thus moderate brain learning, memory and mood. Indeed simply improving an individual’s mood can have a profound effect on their day to day mental state and thus lower the risk and pull of addictions.
Which CBD oil to use for addiction?
While all CBD oils are extracted from the same plant (hemp), they aren’t all equal in quality or effectiveness. There are also a few variations to consider in the type of oil you might consider to assist with quitting cigarettes or other addictions. A few key elements to consider when purchasing are:
Source: look for whole plant and organically sourced products. These use all components of the hemp plant, providing the best blend of nutrients and phytocannabinoids to help lower anxiety and reduce cravings. Organic oils are also generally better quality and much lower risk of contamination with pesticides, herbicides or foreign chemicals.
Brand: always purchase from reliable and reputable brands in Australia. Look for reviews and third party endorsements. Lab reports of concentration and quality can also be highly useful to gauge the product. It will give you a breakdown of active ingredients and nutrient profile.
Price: don’t shop based on cost. A cheap CBD oil has much higher risk of being fake, contaminated or simply produced poorly. It will have much lower effectiveness and not help as much with addiction. Cheap products have lower concentrations of therapeutic cannabinoids like CBD and are often significantly watered down with fillers like olive oil.
Product Type: tinctures come in isolate, full and broad spectrum varieties. Each has a different cannabinoid and nutrient profile. Isolates strip out everything except for high concentrations of CBD. Broad spectrum contains CBD and other cannabinoids like CBG and CBN in varying quantities as well as phytonutrients like omegas and flavonoids. Full spectrum oils are generally the best as they contain an array of cannabinoids like CBD offering the full spectrum of hemp’s benefits. They’re also rich in terpenes, which trigger the entourage effect and encourage the uptake and benefit of other cannabinoids in the body while being antioxidative themselves. Always avoid products with THC which is psychoactive and risk prone. It can exacerbate underlying mental illness or cause psychosis. Typical CBD oil has less than 0.2% THC content which is only legally produced using approved industrial hemp.
How do I use it?
When starting out you will need to test and ensure you have no allergic reaction or physiological rejection of CBD. Start at a low dosage of several drops a day (10-15mg) and work up to a higher dose to suit your needs. Always consult with your doctor before starting the use of any new health product or dietary change. Significant results have been reported amongst users at higher dosage ranges, which the body can usually support once tolerance is built up over time. Side effects are typically very minor although CBD should never be mixed with alcohol or medications as it is processed by the liver.
Maximizing its effects in reducing the draw of addiction can be tricky. It’s a very individualized experience and everyone’s body and brain is different. Your type of addiction, its severity as well as environmental factors like the strength of your support network can also play significant roles. You’ll need to experiment for yourself and find out what works for you. Its calming, anxiety relieving effects should help however in supporting you to find the presence of mind and steady focus to rid your habit. Particularly when feeling anxious after lowering or even abstaining from cigarettes or other drugs, CBD can help support weaning off. If you have any symptoms of withdrawals or notice side effects you may need to
CBD isn’t a silver bullet for curing addiction to cigarettes or other substances. It can be powerful in reducing the dopamine response and draw of addictive behaviours though, especially when combined with therapy and a healthy social support network. If you’re interested but unsure, there’s little harm in trying it. It has minimal side effect risks and is great for many other conditions including arthritis, improving sleep and lowering inflammation in the joints and muscles. We’ve covered how CBD oil can help with addiction. This is due to its anxiolytic effects, lowering stress and associated habit triggers. It also helps to lower the pleasure feeling of the dopamine response linked to the addictive substance helping people curb their habit. Finally it aids in withdrawal anxiety when weaning off or completely removing the addictive substance. Always look for a full spectrum CBD oil that is organic, contains terpenes and comes from a trustworthy source. Seek lab reports and third party reviews to ensure you’re getting a quality product. Results will vary but a huge number of people are already seeing great improvement in their cigarette or other addiction with this supporting product.