Is CBD Addictive?

Reading time - 8 minutes - February 23, 2023

CBD, also known as cannabidiol, has gained increasing attention over the last few years as consumers from all walks of life continue to discover its potential health and wellness benefits. But our interest in cannabis-related health started long before this new wave of wellness. In fact, we humans have been utilising the potential medicinal benefits of cannabis for thousands of years. However, an unfortunately long spell of prohibition that lasted for much of the 20th century – and persists to this day – meant that medical access to cannabis-based products has been largely restricted. Thankfully, this is now slowly beginning to subside.

Nevertheless, there remains a significant stigma around cannabis – and its derivatives – that continue to affect not only access to medical cannabis but also our perception of this plant in general. For example, it is largely accepted that cannabis can be an addictive substance – particularly when consumed regularly in high doses. However, for the most part, our understanding of what fuels the potential dependence on cannabis is often incorrect. 

The fact is, as growing evidence shows us, that only some compounds found in the cannabis plant have a potential for addiction. So, what about cannabidiol? That is, is CBD addictive?

What is CBD?

As we have touched on already, CBD is one of many compounds found in the cannabis plant. More specifically, it is one of over 100 compounds known as cannabinoids. In fact, CBD – along with THC – is one of the most common cannabinoids found in this plant species. Also, like THC – and many other cannabinoids – CBD has been found to interact with receptors in our bodies, thanks to having a similar chemical structure to substances that we produce naturally. These substances are known as endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids and the aforementioned receptors make up the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which is expressed throughout our central nervous system and our immune system.

The ECS has been found to play an important role in a number of the body’s functions and processes, including sleep, mood, and pain regulation. There is, therefore, a growing belief among the medicinal and scientific communities, as well as among consumers, that CBD may have the potential to aid a number of these processes. Slowly but surely, this assumption is beginning to receive clinical and anecdotal backing. 

There are now countless reports on the internet from consumers who insist CBD has helped them to address a number of common problems, including anxiety (check out our recent blog: ‘Understanding the Anti-Anxiety Potential of CBD’ to learn more!), sleep problems, and stress. What’s more, a body of clinical and scientific evidence is slowly emerging to support these reports. For example, a recent systematic review, published in 2015, concluded that “current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders.”

Further studies have also indicated that CBD may be beneficial for sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the management of inflammation. CBD-based medicines, such as Epidyolex, may also be considered for the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy, as well as a number of other indications via a prescription from private clinics in the UK.

How is it different to THC?

As we have already stated, CBD and THC are both cannabinoids and, as such, are able to interact with the Endocannabinoid System in our bodies. However, this should not be taken to mean that they are very similar. In fact, THC and CBD have different chemical structures which means they each interact with the body via different mechanisms. While the exact mechanisms through which these cannabinoids work are still not completely understood, we do know that these cannabinoids have very different effects on the body. The most notable difference is their capacity to cause intoxication or the “high” often associated with cannabis use.

While you may have heard it said that CBD – unlike THC – is non-psychoactive, experts are quick to discount this claim. You see, while CBD is not intoxicating like THC, it is believed to have an effect on the brain and – as “psychoactive” literally means “affecting the mind”, this term can still correctly be applied to CBD. What most people mean when they say this, though, is that it doesn’t cause the feeling of euphoria or the negative side effects that may result from THC exposure.

THC may be one of the main reasons for the immense popularity of cannabis. Its fast-acting effects can trigger feelings of intense elation and some impressive medicinal potential; however, it has also been associated with a number of not-so-fun side effects. 

Some evidence suggests that regular cannabis use may be associated with the development of psychotic symptoms. As one review found, people who used high-potency (THC) cannabis daily were associated with a five-times higher risk of developing psychosis than those who had never used cannabis. However, the causal relationship between THC and psychosis is still not completely understood. Unfortunately, THC has also been associated with several other undesirable effects, including the development of paranoia and anxiety and addiction.

The addiction to or dependence on cannabis is often referred to as cannabis use disorder (CUD). While this name may imply that it is cannabis as a whole that an individual is addicted to, this isn’t necessarily the case. Evidence suggests that around 1 in 10 cannabis users will eventually become addicted to the drug, but this reaction is largely down to the THC within the plant. As we know, THC triggers psychoactive responses, including feelings of euphoria. This feeling is down to its interaction with the part of the brain that triggers reward responses – a key mechanism in addiction.

In contrast, anecdotal and growing clinical evidence suggests that CBD lacks these unwanted side effects – and in some cases, may even help to prevent or reverse them. It is these potential benefits that have helped to bolster CBD into the popular wellness ingredient it has now become. As we briefly touched on earlier – far from potentially causing increased feelings of anxiety and paranoia, many people report that regular use of CBD products (including CBD Edibles and CBD Oils) actually helps them to manage feelings of stress and anxiety; which brings us to addiction. So, is CBD addictive?

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Is CBD Addictive?

Cannabidiol (CBD) interacts with cannabinoid receptors in our bodies to trigger a number of responses. Some evidence suggests that these responses include reductions in feelings of anxiety, improved sleep, and prevention of seizures (associated with a number of conditions, including epilepsy and tuberous sclerosis). Furthermore, while many people believe that CBD doesn’t have a direct impact on our brains, evidence shows that this is not exactly the case. Nonetheless, our understanding of CBD and how it works in our bodies is still far from complete.

However, regardless of the need for more research that will allow us to further comprehend the exact mechanisms and functions of this versatile compound, we are glad to report that CBD is considered completely safe to use in the recommended doses. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that “in its pure state, cannabidiol does not appear to have abuse potential or cause harm.” The international body also reports that CBD has around the same risk of addiction as placebo products.

So, that answers our primary question; but does CBD play any role in the process of addiction? Some researchers believe so – but not in a typical way. 

Remember how we mentioned earlier that some evidence suggests that CBD could even help to prevent or reduce the unwanted side effects of cannabis compounds (namely, THC)? You didn’t think we were going to just skim over that, did you? 

The Anti-Addiction Potential of CBD

In recent years, an ever-growing number of studies are initiated to better understand CBD’s full health and wellness potential. This includes clinical trials on CBD-based medications for the treatment of serious conditions such as epilepsy and chronic pain to surveys and questionnaires designed to understand how consumers are making use of their favourite CBD products, from CBD e-liquids to CBD topicals!

One of the most interesting findings of this recent and ongoing research is CBD’s potential ability to essentially “block” some effects of THC, including its psychoactive effects. For example, as one study concluded, CBD may block the ability of THC to overstimulate the ERK pathway in the hippocampus and thus prevent its negative side effects. This may be of particular interest among the patient population who are interested in the potential of medical cannabis but are concerned about the psychoactive effects of the drugs.

The authors of the said study claimed that these findings could “have important implications for prescribing cannabis and long-term cannabis use.” For example, for individuals more prone to cannabis-related side effects, initiating treatment with a high CBD and low THC ratio could be critical.

Furthermore, this potential to reduce the psychoactive effects of THC may also play a role in Cannabis Use Disorder. While this theory requires more high-quality study, one trial found that CBD use was more effective than placebo at reducing cannabis use in the treatment of Cannabis Use Disorder. But CBD’s proposed anti-addiction potential doesn’t end with cannabis. Growing evidence suggests that CBD use could also help to reduce cravings for other drugs.

CBD and Nicotine Addiction

A few studies have aimed to establish whether CBD may be an effective treatment option for tobacco use disorder – or addiction to smoking. While the number of smokers has dropped significantly over the last few decades as public awareness of the many harms to health becomes more developed, smoking still represents a major threat to public health. In fact, along with alcohol use, tobacco use is among the most common causes of preventable deaths, globally.

Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that CBD could help to further curb the prevalence of nicotine addiction. For example, a 2013 study found that smokers who consumed CBD reduced the number of cigarettes they smoked by around 40% during the study period.

CBD is also being explored for its potential in the treatment of alcohol use disorder. A 2019 narrative review of the existing evidence concluded that “CBD reduces the overall level of alcohol drinking in animal models of AUD by reducing ethanol intake, motivation for ethanol, relapse, anxiety, and impulsivity.” Furthermore, CBD was also found to reduce alcohol-related brain damage thanks to its antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties!

So, there you have it – everything you need to know to put your mind at rest regarding the link between CBD and addiction. While the body of clinical evidence on this subject is likely to evolve and grow in the coming years – particularly when it comes to CBD’s anti-addiction potential – you can rest easy knowing that your favourite CBD product won’t get you hooked on the green stuff. So, sit back, relax and enjoy your journey with CBD wellness, whether using a CBD tincture or vaporizing natural CBD wax with your Nectar Dry Herb Vaporizer!

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