Matt Weeks

MAY 21, 2020

Addiction has certain psychological and physical markers. Does CBD hit any of these? Not a single study has found CBD to be addictive. No family has been racked with guilt and shame over someone’s CBD addiction. But, there’s a deeper story here. Sugar is addictive. Millions can’t function without caffeine. Even cannabis can cause withdrawal. So, instead of “Is CBD addictive?” a better question might be “Why isn’t CBD addictive?” And does a lack of addictive mechanisms mean CBD is not as helpful as we thought? Is CBD Addictive? What Science Says Addictive is a nebulous term. It’s hard to say exactly when a substance is addictive and when it’s simply over-used or over-enjoyed. The tipping point is hard to find. Instead, it’s more helpful to think of addiction on a spectrum. A recent experiment aimed to find out whether CBD contains addictive properties, and if so, what these are. Published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence (2017), the researchers dosed volunteers with CBD, a combination of CBD and cannabis with THC, or a placebo. Those who consumed only CBD fared no differently than those who took a placebo. The study didn’t look at pure addiction, but rather “abuse liability signals.” This is the term medical scientists use to describe effects or behavior that can lead to addiction. These include things such as euphoric highs, a willingness to re-consume, and the overall effect of the substance. Products like tobacco, cocaine, alcohol, and opioids all produce abuse liability signals — but CBD does not. But What About a Mental Addiction? Even the proof that counters the question “Is CBD addictive?” isn’t enough for some people. They bring up a different kind of addiction — one that isn’t tied to changes in body chemistry. “Isn’t it mentally addicting?” they ask. Truthfully, it’s a fair question. This BBC article argues that anything can be addictive — exercise, work, video games — as long as the excessive enthusiasm and attention given to it detracts from a person’s life instead of adding to it. Given that premise, it’s hard to implicitly deny that CBD is addictive. Yes, it can alleviate stress and inflammation, help steady moods, and beat back insomnia – but can too much of that detract from life? Is a diabetic addicted to their insulin shots because they keep low blood sugar at bay? It’s also hard to think of anyone missing their child’s birthday, or an important work meeting, to stay home and consume CBD. There is no euphoria or rush behind the experience. It’s like taking Advil for a headache. The pain goes away relatively unnoticed until someone asks, “How’s that headache?” and you realize it’s gone. CBD’s anti-anxiety potential seems to function the same way. A few drops of CBD and the nerves calm down to the point that you don’t notice them anymore. Again, it’s hard to picture anyone abandoning responsibility to go pop stress-reducing gummy bears all day. Cannabis May Cause Withdrawal – Does CBD? When people wonder “Is CBD addictive?” the next thought is usually some sort of statement confirming that cannabis is addictive so its individual components must be as well. Certainly, cannabis can cause withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, short-term memory problems, and (in very extreme cases) psychosis. But scientists have only ever seen cannabis withdrawal syndrome happen in very heavy users who stop consuming cannabis suddenly and completely. This is estimated to be nine percent of the population of cannabis consumers. The overwhelming majority of cannabis consumers do not experience those symptoms. Even so, the existence of these reports implies some level of addiction for cannabis, which is where scientists seem to have settled. There is some evidence of cannabis addiction. But it’s rare — and it concerns THC, not CBD. People who stop taking CBD simply stop reaping the potential benefits of taking CBD. You can think of it like wearing shoes. If you stop wearing shoes, your feet might show more wear and tear if you went barefoot, but that doesn’t mean you were addicted to shoes. CBD May Help Patients Move Through Addiction Research shows CBD may help patients end all sorts of salacious behaviors. For example, cigarette users who took CBD smoked less over a week than those who were given a placebo. This is according to a study published in Addictive Behaviors (2013). Further, CBD calms the symptoms of cannabis withdrawal, can potentially help patients get off Oxy, and even has the potential to help prevent excessive drinking. The Truth About CBD as a Medicine The very thing that is most remarkable about CBD — that it isn’t addictive — may be the very thing that sows mistrust. Some people like to believe that everything has a cost, that any drug that helps in one area, must hurt in another. But, so far, studies on CBD haven’t unearthed any dangerous side effects or addictive potential. This is promising but, of course, not the final word. There are many years of human clinical trials to jump through to make such bold statements. References Morgan, Celia J.A. et al. (2013). Cannabidiol reduces cigarette consumption in tobacco smokers: Preliminary findings. Addictive Behaviors. 38(9) 2433-2436. Babalonis, S., Haney, M., Malcolm, R. J., Lofwall, M. R., Votaw, V. R., Sparenborg, S., & Walsh, S. L. (2017). Oral cannabidiol does not produce a signal for abuse liability in frequent marijuana smokers. Drug and alcohol dependence, 172, 9–13.

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