03 Dec Is CBD addictive?
- CBD is non-intoxicating and non-addictive, unlike THC.
- Early studies show that CBD has no abuse potential and may even help people struggling with addiction.
- The World Health Organisation has also said that CBD has a good safety profile and is well-tolerated.
- CBD can have side effects, but these are often caused by using low quality products, taking too much CBD or interactions with medication.
CBD (cannabidiol) is one of over 100 compounds known as cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. It has grown in popularity as a wellness supplement in recent years, and can now be used in a variety of forms, including CBD oils, capsules, gummies, e-liquids and balms.
Cannabis is often associated with addiction, and as a result, many people wonder if CBD itself is addictive. Some may even be deterred from buying it. But is there any evidence that CBD is addictive?
Addiction can be defined as a compulsive need to use a substance or engage in a certain behaviour, even if it causes psychological or physical harm. It is often associated with alcohol, nicotine, drugs and gambling, although it’s possible to become addicted to almost anything, even if it is not intrinsically addictive.
So is CBD addictive? No, despite being a cannabis compound, CBD itself is neither addictive nor intoxicating. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed this, saying that CBD has a good safety profile, is well-tolerated and not linked with abuse potential.
There’s also research to support this. For example, one study investigated the abuse liability of oral CBD in comparison with a placebo and smoked marijuana. 31 healthy, frequent marijuana smokers were given a dose of oral CBD alone (0, 200, 400, 800mg) and in conjunction with smoked marijuana once a week for eight weeks. The study found that the marijuana constantly produced abuse-related subjective effects, while the CBD did not show any signals of abuse liability.
While studies like these provide scientific evidence that CBD is not addictive, it’s important to note that research into CBD’s long-term effects is still in the early stages.
But if CBD itself is not addictive, then which compounds in cannabis are?
The main addictive compound in the cannabis plant is the controlled cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is primarily responsible for the intoxicating and habit-forming effects associated with smoking cannabis and marijuana.
CBN (cannabinol) is another intoxicating cannabinoid, but it is far less abundant in cannabis than THC and produces much weaker intoxicating effects.
So what is it that makes the effects of CBD and THC so different? Why is one intoxicating and addictive, while the other is not? The answer lies in how they interact with the body.
CBD vs THC: How do they work?
Like all cannabinoids, both CBD and THC influence the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a vast cell-signalling network that regulates essential processes, including pain, mood, sleep and appetite. However, each does this in different ways.
Like most cannabinoids, THC affects the ECS by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This activity is similar to that of endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoids produced by the body that relay signals within the ECS.
By binding to the receptors known as CB1 and CB2, THC can activate the brain’s reward system by stimulating neurons to release the pleasure hormone dopamine. Each “hit” of dopamine motivates the brain to repeat the rewarding action, and this can lead to addiction.
Some of the other effects of smoking marijuana, such as cognitive impairment and loss of coordination, are also caused by THC. For example, THC can disrupt the functioning of the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex, brain areas associated with memory formation and focus, as well as the cerebellum and basal ganglia, areas linked to balance, coordination, posture and reaction time.
But while THC binds directly to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, CBD is thought to behave in a different way. Unlike most cannabinoids, CBD has a weak affinity for the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and instead affects the body in a more indirect way.
For example, it is believed that CBD prevents certain enzymes from breaking down endocannabinoids. This increases endocannabinoid levels and enables them to have a greater effect on the body. In this way, CBD may support the function of the ECS and help it to keep the body in a balanced state (or homeostasis).
What are the potential effects of CBD?
We’ve looked at some of the effects of THC, but what about CBD? While research on CBD is still in the early stages, some preliminary studies suggest that this non-intoxicating cannabinoid may have a wide range of therapeutic effects.
CBD and pain
A review of research into the effects of medical cannabis on pain suggests that CBD can regulate the perception of pain by affecting a range of receptors within the body, and this could potentially reduce pain sensitivity. CBD also inhibits the uptake of anandamide, an endocannabinoid which is linked to increased pain tolerance.
CBD and inflammation
According to a review of the main biological effects of CBD, CBD has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It demonstrates its anti-inflammatory properties by acting either directly or indirectly on receptors in the body known as PPARs, which regulate homeostasis, and by increasing levels of two endocannabinoids called anandamide and 2-AG, which also act on the same receptors.
CBD and sleep
A large case study on the effects of CBD on sleep and anxiety suggests that CBD has a calming effect on the central nervous system, which could in turn aid sleep. The study focused on 72 adults suffering from anxiety or sleeping difficulties over a three month period. Sleep scores improved for two-thirds of participants after the first month of using CBD daily, but these were not consistent over the course of the study. More controlled clinical studies are needed to provide conclusive evidence.
CBD and anxiety
In a study on the effects of CBD on anxiety, 24 subjects with Generalised Social Anxiety Disorder were given either 600mg CBD or a placebo prior to a simulation public speaking test. The researchers found that subjects who received CBD experienced significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance.
Although this study used very high doses of CBD, the results provide further evidence of its potential to reduce anxiety. However, more clinical trials with larger samples and long term (chronic use) are still needed to confirm these statements.
CBD and skin
A 2020 review of research into the effects of CBD on skin suggests that some topical applications of CBD may be effective for skin disorders, such as eczema, psoriasis, pruritus, and inflammatory conditions. However, more research on topical CBD is needed to confirm this, as most studies have focused on CBD which is consumed, inhaled or injected.
Could CBD help with addiction?
Not only is CBD non-addictive, there is even evidence that it could help people to manage addiction. For example, in one double-blind randomised placebo-controlled study into the effects of CBD on drug-abstinent subjects with heroin use disorder, it was found that CBD reduced both craving and anxiety when the subjects were presented with obvious drug cues.
CBD also reduced cue-induced measures of heart rate and salivary cortisol levels, a further indication of reduced anxiety and craving, while producing no serious adverse side effects. The researchers concluded that CBD may have potential to help in the management of opioid use disorder.
Another small study focused on 31 dependent cigarette smokers. Subjects were given CBD or a placebo, and then presented with images of tobacco as cues. When subjects received the placebo, they were more likely to focus on the cigarette cues when they had abstained from smoking than when they had smoked recently. However, when they received CBD, their focus naturally shifted away from these cues, both in abstinence and satiety.
The study also found that CBD reduced the salience and pleasantness of cigarette cues, along with systolic blood pressure when subjects abstained from smoking overnight, however did not influence tobacco craving or withdrawal or any subjectively rated side effects.
Potential CBD side effects and risks
While CBD can have side effects, these are rare, mild and usually caused by low quality products or taking too much CBD. Potential side effects including drowsiness, nausea, lightheadedness and diarrhoea.
Like all supplements, CBD can interact with other drugs, and this may increase the risk of experiencing negative side effects. Therefore, it’s important to talk to your doctor before using CBD if you take prescription medication or have a pre-existing medical condition.
One study investigated the interaction of five prescription CBD and THC medications with other drugs, and found 139 medications that cannabinoids can interfere with. 57 of these could produce serious side effects.
Some drugs which CBD may interact with are:
- Blood thinners
- Heart rhythm medication
- Thyroid medication
- Seizure medications
- Sleeping pills
While people often associate cannabis with addiction, this is primarily due to the plant’s main intoxicating cannabinoid, THC. There is no evidence that CBD itself is addictive, and early research suggests that it may even help in the management of drug addiction.
CBD has a good safety profile and is generally well-tolerated, with side effects being rare and mild. You can reduce your chances of experiencing side effects by using high quality CBD products, finding your optimal dosage and speaking to your doctor before use, especially if you are taking prescription medication.
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