CBD has been a go-to for many who suffer from chronic illnesses and disorders, including chronic pain, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and acne. It has also been indicated to be a safe alternative to over-the-counter medications. However, is CBD addictive? The answer may be surprising.
CBD is one of two major components that make up cannabis, a substance derived from one of three plants in the Cannabaceae family. These three flowering plants include Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and, to a lesser extent, Cannabis ruderalis. It works with the body’s own endocannabinoid system or ECS.
The ECS is responsible for regulating and maintaining homeostasis. It achieves this by producing cannabinoids, many of which are similar to THC and CBD. Although CBD lacks the psychoactive effects on the brain, it still works to influence the ECS in many ways. The ECS is ultimately responsible for such bodily systems as temperature, mood, movement, pain, and memory.
What is CBD and How Does It Work?
CBD, or cannabidiol, often goes hand-in-hand with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, another major component of cannabis. CBD, however, lacks the psychoactive effects of THC. THC is largely responsible for the feeling of being “high” that is associated with cannabis use. CBD may, in fact, modulate and balance out THC and its psychoactive properties.
CBD has been indicated in the activation of major receptors in the nervous system. These receptors work as messengers throughout the body, delivering signals for the brain to interpret and decipher. The brain relies heavily on the signals it receives to regulate important processes throughout the body. Many of these processes include movement, memory, mood, and pain.
CBD may influence these processes through several different pathways, including 5HT1A receptors. These receptors are sensitive to a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is a key influencer of mood and intensifies feelings of happiness and relaxation. CBD blocks serotonin’s reuptake through the 5HT1A receptors, allowing the level of serotonin in the brain to increase.
CBD affects the TRPV1 receptors much in the same way, by binding to sites on these receptors and blocking impulses responsible for pain perception. CBD may also impact the nuclear receptor PPAR-gamma, a receptor which controls and regulates the storage of fatty acid as well as glucose metabolism.
How Addiction Works
Addiction is a complex physiological and psychological response to external stimuli. Researchers state that addiction changes both brain function and structure. Health experts agree that most addictive processes begin with three states:
- Pleasure Triggers: When the brain is first triggered by a substance such as caffeine, nicotine, or a drug like heroin, it is bathed in neurotransmitters such as dopamine that cause a surge of pleasurable feelings and sensations. The rush of dopamine builds up in the nucleus accumbens, a region in the hypothalamus that is thought to play a large role in addiction.
Scientists who study addiction suggest that the likelihood of addiction is dependent on several factors: the speed it encourages dopamine buildup, the intensity, and the reliability of the buildup.
They insist that taking a drug through different methods – whether intravenously, through smoking, or in pill form – can influence addiction and can create a faster dopamine response.
- Learned Behaviors: According to researchers, it’s not pleasure seeking alone that contributes to addiction. Many experts believe that the picture is much more nuanced. In fact, it may be a set of learned behaviors and processes that makes users continually seek out a substance like an opioid or heroin. Dopamine may shape and reinforce not just the feelings of pleasure, but the activities that led up to its release. Dopamine is important in crafting how individuals experience life events.
Most theories regarding addiction support a reward-related learning process where dopamine works in tandem with glutamate, another major neurotransmitter. In doing so, the brain associates the activity with pleasurable sensations and feelings.
This process evolved as a way to get humans to continually pursue activities that sustained life and perpetuated the species. Dopamine works in many areas of the brain that are involved in motivation and memory. With addiction, the reward circuit of the brain not only becomes activated, but it becomes overloaded.
- Continued exposure to certain substances over time can cause nerve cells located in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex to become increasingly dependent on activation from these same substances.
The users then seek out the substance more and more, and as increased exposure leads to less impactful “highs,” users typically increase dosages to have the same effect. This is especially dangerous when individuals use drugs such as opioids and heroin as there is a high risk of overdose.
Users who try to abstain from certain substances can experience intense withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the substance, these symptoms can include sleeplessness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, tremors, depression and irritability.
CBD and Addiction
Addiction experts agree that addiction is a complex response to stimuli. Although the brain and its response to chemical stimulation plays a huge role in addiction, many experts suggest that this isn’t the whole picture. Addiction is also the correlation between activity, the substance and the sensations a user may feel. In other words, addiction can be psychological. This interplay is especially important in understanding whether or not CBD is addictive.
First, CBD lacks the psychoactive components to create a “high.” Much like a supplement, CBD works more towards a therapeutic effect, activating certain receptors in the brain and causing users to find relief from a variety of conditions such as depression, anxiety or chronic pain. In fact, initial studies indicate that CBD may actually negate addiction and aid recovery in several ways.
For example, a recent study indicates that CBD may be able to help users recovering from substance addiction to alcohol and cocaine, drugs known for their high potential of abuse. Researchers created a series of tests on animal subjects using transdermal CBD. It was found that animal subjects with a history of self-administering cocaine and alcohol no longer displayed characteristics of addiction, and even after CBD was no longer present, animal subjects did not relapse for up to five months. This suggests that CBD may be able to rewire the brain in ways that offer therapeutic and beneficial effects.
Unlike THC, most cannabinoids are non-psychoactive, and their interaction with the CB1 receptors does not alter impressions, awareness or judgment.
Final Thoughts: Is CBD Addictive?
Addiction is defined as a brain disease. It is manifested by an intense desire to use a substance despite harmful and detrimental consequences. Those with an addiction have a focus that includes an intense need to obtain the substance in spite of it causing problems with finances, family, and friends. Anecdotal reports regarding CBD have not stated that users have any such problems in their daily lives. In fact, many users report that the use of CBD has enhanced their lives in beneficial ways.
Those who have addiction problems exhibit a number of symptoms. They often have disordered cognition and body functions, along with behaviors that are disruptive to their day-to-day lives and relationships.
Substances such as heroin and opioids cause changes in the brain and induce intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Brain imaging and scans show marked changes in many areas that include judgment, decision making, and behavior and impulse control. Studies have not shown CBD to have this same effect.
Initial studies have not conclusively shown that CBD modifies or influences perception, cognition or judgment, hallmarks of substances that are often addictive. Without a sensation or a “high,” the brain may not associate the substance with an activity.
The reward centers of the brain often rely heavily on sensations and feelings created during an addictive process, and the artificial boost of dopamine is the main component. When the brain is flooded with dopamine, it can often associate the rush of this neurotransmitter with an activity and the substance used during it. This is often not the case when users are exposed to CBD.
When CBD is no longer present in the body, there have been no significant reports from users that they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Users who are recovering from using substances like methamphetamine, crack-cocaine, and other illicit substances suffer from a long list of ailments, including headaches, tremors, seizures, depression, and anxiety. Many of these symptoms can last up to 7 days or more.
Therefore, in order for CBD to be addictive, it must have many of the traits associated with the addiction process. CBD has not been indicated to have a psychoactive effect to create a “reward” that the brain may need to complete a reward-circuit. Although it is possible for there to be a psychological addiction, research has not indicated this to be clear-cut with CBD.
To the contrary, recent studies have indicated that CBD may be useful in diffusing addiction of many substances. In one study, it was found that CBD may be responsible for reversing impulsive behavior in alcohol addicted rats. Researchers are looking to create further studies that can shed more light on CBD as a useful tool against addiction.