The limited ability to study the hemp plant and its effect on the human body and brain is due in part to its long-standing prohibition. But, thankfully, this is beginning to change. Modern research has demonstrated that non-toxic and non-addictive cannabinoids found in cannabis show great promise of helping with a range of conditions, addiction being one of them.
Among several other benefits, its neuroprotective qualities could play a vital role in addiction recovery, craving management, relapse, and remission.
But, what exactly is CBD? Also known as cannabidiol, CBD is a natural compound mainly found in the hemp plant. Unlike the popularly known THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) — which is found in marijuana plants — CBD is mainly used for medicinal purposes.
Due to its lack of addictive potential, intoxicating effects, negative side effects, and its wide range of therapeutic benefits, CBD may safely address many common health issues. Certainly, the future prospects of this complex cannabinoid are exciting and likely to be responsible for the increasing consumption of hemp as an all-natural and effective medicine.
We may still be in the early stages of research, but the health benefits of CBD are slowly being uncovered. In this article, we look at the potential of hemp and CBD to address addiction and its related comorbidities.
The Nature of Addiction
Addiction is defined as a person’s inability to consistently abstain from a substance, which can affect the brain and body. For the addicted person, life itself may feel dependent on consuming whatever substance(s) that causes cravings, which seems to justify the action(s) of doing whatever it takes to feel satisfaction and relief. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and ravages the body, which can result in disabilities, substance tolerance and dependence, or even premature death. In a nutshell, drug addiction negatively affects aspects of social life, physical health, and psychosocial behaviors such as high-risk behavior.
Probably one of the most vexing aspects of addiction is relapse triggers, which can lead to substantial cravings. People who have cravings often use a substance for long periods of time and in excess.
How Can Cannabidiol Help?
Science suggests that cravings are caused by the increased transmission of glutamate and neurotransmitters found in our hippocampus. The hippocampal area of the brain is responsible for memory and learning, and plays a fundamental role in mediating these effects.
When a substance-related memory is stimulated (whether by an individual or a particular situation), it can create a higher chance of relapse. For example, a happy hour ad on a billboard or phone offering a free ice-cold pint of beer with purchase of hot wings might be all that’s needed to induce cravings and cause a relapse for an alcoholic. Over time, the over-activation of glutamate can result in long term neurodegeneration, which is associated with a progressive loss of neurons. Fewer neurons in the hippocampus puts the addicted person at a high risk of relapsing and thus, makes it even more challenging to achieve sobriety.
Fortunately, previous scientific findings on the effects of hemp-derived cannabidiol could be life-changing for anyone who has experienced or witnessed the never-ending cycle of abstinence and remission of addiction. It was observed in one preclinical trial on rodent models that cannabidiol administration not only normalized glutamate levels but also greatly decreased cue-induced substance cravings.
Even after several days, these changes were still being detected in the subjects, which may suggest that CBD could impact synaptic plasticity long-term. This essentially means that an addict’s brain may undergo a kind of rewiring that can reduce craving and relapse with CBD administration on a more long term basis. As a neuroprotectant, CBD not only proves to reduce damage to the brain and nervous system, it also encourages the growth and development of new neurons by promoting neurogenesis.
Cannabidiol Proves Effective in Alcohol and Heroin Dependence
A similar study showed that CBD could potentially help alcoholics and heroin-addicted persons. The purpose of this study was to see whether rodent models given CBD would experience a reduction in their cravings for alcohol or heroin while under stressful conditions.
To start, they were given alcohol and heroin long enough to create dependency and then were given topical CBD for a single week. Results show that rodents consumed less alcohol or cocaine after CBD treatment, even when confronted with situations that may induce relapse. The rats that had CBD applied to their skin were not only less anxious but also less impulsive in their decision making. Subjects who did not receive CBD treatment continued to consume and show impulsivity.
Researchers indicated that the benefits of CBD treatment could be seen in the rodent models for up to five months, even though the cannabinoid was broken down from their bodies after three days without a single trace left in the plasma or the brain.
The Final Verdict
Though more research is needed, so far CBD may actively minimize the cell damage that would otherwise have been caused by withdrawal. And of course, we only expect it to gain more popularity as research continues. Though hemp-derived CBD is natural, safe, and effective, it may interact with prescription drugs, so it’s important to talk with your doctor for further guidance before you begin taking CBD.