Hemp For Addiction Therapy? How People Are Using CBD to Cope

Hemp For Addiction Therapy? How People Are Using CBD to Cope

Cannabidiol, or CBD, has received a lot of press in recent years for its reported medical benefits. As more studies show CBD’s positive effects on pain, epilepsy and other conditions, the range of possible uses for the compound continues to expand. One of these emerging uses for CBD is in addiction treatment.

With CBD shops and products becoming ubiquitous, more people are using it as an alternative to other substances. One of those people is Rebecca Wilson of Greensboro.

“I actually started smoking it because we sold the pre-rolls at the bar where I worked,” she said. “I had just quit cigarettes, and was looking for something that I could legally smoke on breaks to help calm me down and relax.”

While Wilson and others have found success using CBD, not everyone is sold on using the compound to treat addiction.

Why People Use CBD to Help Make Lifestyle Changes

Wilson, who stopped using alcohol in 2018, says that she’s used CBD in place of other substances and as a way to reduce anxiety.

“I use CBD as an alternative to marijuana and benzodiazepines,” she said. “I think it helps me manage my anxiety because it calms racing thoughts and reduces overstimulation. It also helps me not experience sensory overload when I’m in a public place that has strong smells, or is busy, noisy, bright, or crowded.”

Rebecca Wilson says she uses CBD to break a cigarette addiction.
Image courtesy of Rebecca Wilson.

Her experience lines up with peer-reviewed research into CBD. One study from 2015 concluded that “CBD has several therapeutic properties on its own that could indirectly be useful in the treatment of addiction disorders, such as its protective effect on stress vulnerability…”

Wilson says that CBD serves as a sort of “psychological replacement” for cigarettes and marijuana. This experience is also consistent with that study’s conclusions. It found “preliminary evidence of a beneficial impact of CBD on cannabis and tobacco dependence.”

The Science of CBD and Addiction

Replacement therapy and reducing stress vulnerability are critical tools in fighting addiction. However, recent studies suggest that CBD’s effect on people with addictions may be even more acute and direct.

Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine conducted a study in 2019 on the subject. In the double-blind study, scientists tested CBD against a placebo in drug-abstinent people suffering from heroin use disorder. Scientists showed subjects a set of neutral visual cues. Then, they showed drug cues, such as images of paraphernalia, to those same subjects. Throughout the experiment, they measured the subjects’ physiological responses.

Scientists are looking into how CBD can treat addiction.
Image courtesy of Girl with red hat on Unsplash.

The study found that CBD “significantly reduced both…craving and anxiety induced by drug cues compared with neutral cues in the acute term.” In the study, CBD had long-lasting effects on the subjects, lasting as many as seven days after the initial dose.

Scientists also observed that CBD affected the subjects’ physiological response to those cues. The study found that “CBD reduced the drug cue-induced physiological measures of heart rate and salivary cortisol levels.”

Mount Sainai’s study also suggests that CBD is safe to use as treatment. It found “no significant effects on cognition, and…no serious adverse events.”

Potential Problems with CBD for Addiction Treatment

However, not everyone agrees that CBD is a safe and effective treatment for people in recovery.

Attitudes towards any substance use can be a divisive topic within recovery communities. Some believe that by definition, using any substance means one is still reliant on drugs. That can extend to even prescribed drugs like anti-depressants.

But there are practical objections to the use of CBD in treating addiction as well.

The current lack of FDA regulations or guidelines on CBD means doctors are unlikely to prescribe it to patients. In addition, the laws around hemp extracts are still changing constantly. Doctors who prescribe it, especially in states where marijuana is illegal, put themselves at legal risk.

Image courtesy of Jeff W on Unsplash.

These risks also extend to CBD users. Without consistent oversight and regulations, quality control has been an issue in the CBD industry. One study found that 21% of CBD products sold on the internet contained THC.

Accidental THC exposure could trigger a relapse in some people in recovery. However, for people in the criminal justice system, there could also be legal consequences. A positive result for THC could violate the conditions of one’s parole and send them to prison.

One study found that some drug testing methods could also mistake CBD for THC. For anyone who needs to pass a drug screening, this is worrisome news.

What’s the verdict?

Much like the CBD industry itself, the science around CBD’s potential in treating addiction is evolving quickly. So are attitudes towards the plant.

“I feel like there used to be [a stigma] for sure,” said Wilson. “Now there are hemp stores all over Greensboro, and I think people are getting used to it. I’ve even heard older people talk about using tinctures to relax or giving them to their pets, so I feel like it’s becoming more common.”

Image courtesy of Jeff W on Unsplash.

Both anecdotal and scientific evidence provide hope for people looking for new answers to our growing opioid health crisis. In 2018, 1,783 people died of an opioid overdose in North Carolina. Nationwide, the number of drug overdose deaths rose by 4.6% last year.

Dr. Yasmin Hurd, Director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai and first author of the study we mentioned, highlighted the potential of the compound:

“A successful non-opioid medication would add significantly to the existing addiction medication toolbox to help reduce the growing death toll, enormous health care costs and treatment limitations imposed by stringent government regulations amid this persistent opioid epidemic.”

Regardless of where regulations and scientific studies go, addiction is ultimately an individualized issue, meaning that everyone likely has different methods that best help them recover. However, if CBD is found to be an effective treatment for addiction, it would provide a legal, inexpensive, safe, and non-intoxicating way to combat the issues which addiction causes.

On a personal level, Wilson believes CBD has a lot to offer people looking to turn in a different direction.

“I feel like there are a lot of benefits such as reducing anxiety, helping with nausea, relieving pain, replacing a habit, and curbing cravings from other chemicals,” she said. “I definitely think it can be helpful for those wanting to make lifestyle changes.”

Want to learn more about North Carolina’s CBD laws? Curious to know how CBD can potentially treat COVID-19? Stay tuned for more North Carolina CBD news and insights.