CBD and Recovery: How CBD Can Help Fight Addiction

The year 2020 is a year that will forever live in infamy for all of us.  The physical, fiscal, and emotional upheaval of how we lived our lives beginning in March of this year has thrown everyone for a loop and has left its mark on all of us, somehow.  Many may have been furloughed or lost their job.  Many have been forced to stay at home out of fear or out of an abundance of caution. The way this year has played out has left all of us shaking our heads and asking one question; “How do we recover from this?” 

However, there are many people who have been fortunate.  They have continued to be gainfully employed through this global pandemic and who have not been afraid, or have not had the choice, to lock down.  It is hard to argue, however, that this year hasn’t wreaked havoc on many people’s mental health.  When people become anxious or depressed, they tend to reach out to things that will fix it quickly; instant gratification.  Whether it be food, drugs, or alcohol, we have all felt what it feels like to be in a funk and turn it around with a quick fix.  But in unprecedented times like these, with no end to the risks and restrictions in sight, it can become very easy for people to spiral out of control and head down a dark path; especially for those who already have issues with mental health and substance abuse. 

How Habits Form

According to Healthline.com, a 2009 study revealed that it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.  Understanding that everybody is different and that there is an infinite amount of habits to develop, it has been over 6 months since America began feeling the effects of the pandemic; enough time to develop negative habits three times over and more time for those already struggling with bad habits to continue struggling. 

A 2012 study that was published in the British Journal of General Practice, defines habits as “actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance.” The brain connects with habits because they’re efficient; they get the job done. Unfortunately, certain habits come with negative consequences; especially those involving dangerous and habit-forming substances.  While the use of recreational drugs and alcohol seem to solve problems in the short-term, their use can lead to long-lasting damage.


According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), habits based on pleasure are the hardest to break because pleasure prompts your brain to release dopamine.  Dopamine is a chemical known as the “feel-good neurotransmitter”; the reward that strengthens the habit and creates the craving to do it again.  People with low levels of dopamine tend to be more prone to addictive behavior.  A person who seeks out pleasure from food, drugs, or alcohol needs higher levels of dopamine, which they get from these substances, hence a habit. 

CBD and its Effect on Addiction

Studies have shown that CBD, the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the Cannabis Sativa plant, have the therapeutic potential to treat addiction and aid in recovery.  Substance abuse is considered by the NIH to be a mental disorder.  For years, trials have shown that CBD can greatly reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, but more recent studies have found that CBD also has aversive (a behavior therapy used to help addicts give up an undesirable habit) and appetitive (a natural desire to satisfy bodily needs) memory processes.  This means that there is potential that CBD can assist with addiction recovery by making addicts feel like they can give up undesirable habits by causing them to associate their addiction with an unpleasant effect, but also satisfying their bodily needs in a more positive way by promoting homeostasis, even though CBD, unlike THC, lacks any rewarding sensations typically achieved by substance abuse. 

Although limited, research has been performed on the effects that CBD has on various addictive drug related memories.  Studies have been done on both animals and humans that are addicted to stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamine; opiates such as heroin and morphine; alcohol; and nicotine. 

In the study of subjects addicted to amphetamines, CBD was administered in hopes that the CBD would impair the formation of amphetamine memories, but found that the CBD failed to prevent these memories.  However, this study did not rule out the potential effects CBD could have on memories formed in connection with other substances.

Subsequent studies in animals found that acute administration of CBD has a positive effect on preventing a heroin relapse. It was found that when three consecutive daily injections of CBD were administered for a period of 14 days, CBD could have long lasting effects on the subjects and possibly prevent them relapsing into a heroin addiction.


Given the results of the heroin relapse findings in animals, the study suggest that CBD may have anti-relapse properties.  In a preliminary study of heroin addicts, participants were given 400mg or 800mg of CBD or a placebo for 3 days and researchers found that the CBD reduced heroin cravings both 24 hours later and seven days later.  The benefits of CBD may not be limited to heroin addicts as a similar effect has also been observed in tobacco smokers.

Over a period of 7 days, smokers were instructed to inhale a 400mg of CBD or placebo when they felt the urge to smoke. The CBD greatly reduced the number of cigarettes smoked, but did not continue once CBD stopped being administered. Therefore, in contrast to the heroin study, CBD did not alter cigarette cravings in the long term, only in conjunction with the administration of CBD. Consequently, it is unclear whether stopping the use of CBD has a generalized effect to cause cravings and precipitate relapse, or whether its effects are specific to certain classes of addictive substances.

Although CBD is already being widely used in addiction management protocol by substance abuse counselors, ongoing research is imperative to understanding how CBD regulates emotions and the addictive behaviors caused by them.  Studies and research are the keys that may eventually lead to CBD being used as a treatment for substance abuse disorders and addiction recovery.

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