Can Cannabinoids Help You Stop Smoking?
There have been reports that cannabinoids help curb the addictive effect of nicotine by as much as 40 percent. The role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) along with cannabinoids has already been shown as a promising treatment for addiction, as well as being able to reduce anxiety, which can be helpful during withdrawals.
Industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids are non-psychoactive and, according to a 2018 World Health Organization Report, cannabidiol (CBD), specifically, is safe and well tolerated in humans (and animals), is not associated with any adverse public health effects, does not cause physical dependence, and is not associated with abuse potential.
Recent studies suggest that CBD, one of the major cannabinoids, has the potential to curb the addictive effects of nicotine.
Before we can understand the mechanism by which CBD curbs the addictive effect of nicotine, it is imperative that we first understand what addiction is, and how someone becomes addicted.
The human brain is a component of the central nervous system. Its other component is the spinal cord. The brain alongside the spinal cord coordinates most activities of the human body. The brain has a reward system that is controlled by a neurotransmitter. This neurotransmitter is known as dopamine. Dopamine is a very potent neurotransmitter and has the potential to create cravings and desires for specific substances. Nature originally designed these cravings as a survival mechanism. They include sex for procreation, food for health and survival, and social interaction for companionship.
Once these cravings strike and we give in to them, we experience pleasurable sensations. These sensations are caused by neurotransmitters that act on different regions of the brain, such as the ventral pallidum, the brain stem, the nucleus accumbens, and the orbitofrontal cortex. Scientifically, these areas are tagged hedonic hotspots.
The flow of dopamine through the various brain regions via a specific pathway is responsible for the triggering of these cravings. The pathway through which the neurotransmitter flows is quite complex. The flow of dopamine starts from the brain stem all the way to the dorsal striatum. At the dorsal striatum, there are neurons that identify pleasurable sensations (such as sex, drinking, smoking, or eating) and then create a habit out of them.
Apart from the dorsal striatum, the dopamine also passes through the prefrontal cortex. Here, it combines with glutamate, an amino acid. This union between dopamine and glutamate creates visualizations that boost cravings. Thereafter, the dopamine flows to the amygdala where it stimulates the brain through learned emotional responses. These may include memories of pleasurable experiences you had when you yielded to your cravings.
Addiction may be caused by many factors: drugs, sex, pornography, food, and gambling, among others. These factors stimulate the flow of dopamine through the brain, thus rewiring the brain’s neuronal circuit and causing addiction in those that are vulnerable.
However, there are variations in the ways that these substances or factors interact with the dopamine reward system. Cocaine, for instance, inhibits the removal of dopamine from the brain, thus causing it to pool in the brain for a brief period of time. On the other hand, nicotine temporarily stimulates the production of dopamine. This increases the sensation of pleasure after smoking.
What Role Does CBD Play in Addiction?
There is solid evidence to show that CBD helps to curb addiction. A study conducted in 2013 and published in the Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior Medical Journal, has indicated that CBD can help in managing alcoholism. The study analyzed the effects of CBD applied transdermally on a rodent model of alcoholism. The study focused on the neurodegenerative effects caused by alcoholism. It is believed that alcoholism causes neurodegeneration by facilitating the death of brain neurons and inhibiting the creation of new ones.
It was discovered that CBD helped to protect against this neurodegeneration, drastically reducing it by more than 35 percent. It was concluded that CBD helps in the treatment and prevention of neurodegeneration induced by alcohol.
So What Role Does CBD Play in Nicotine Addiction?
To date, we do not have a complete understanding of cannabinoids, the ECS, and how they may assist in treating nicotine addiction.
As mentioned earlier, studies have shown that CBD has protective effects against neurodegeneration caused by alcohol. Neurodegeneration greatly influences alcohol abuse disorders.
Studies have also shown that CBD can minimize the intensity and severity of withdrawal symptoms. Certain addictive substances such as opioids, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines have very severe withdrawal symptoms. Patients often relapse from these symptoms. This 2019 Forbes article explores a recent study which found that CBD could reduce anxiety and cravings in patients recovering from heroin abuse.
We know that CBD has positive effects on the dopamine pathways which are strongly linked to addiction and habits. This study in the Journal of Substance Abuse gives a detailed analysis of the ways by which CBD can help to curb addiction.
In the last decade, two promising studies have been conducted on humans regarding CBD and nicotine addiction. In 2013, researchers found preliminary findings to suggest that CBD reduces cigarette consumption in tobacco smokers. Over a week-long period, 24 smokers who wished to quit, were given inhalers and told to use them whenever they felt the urge to smoke. Half of the participants had CBD inhalers, and half had placebos. The half with placebos showed no reduction in cigarette consumption. The 12 with CBD inhalers, however, showed a reduction of 40 percent—quite a significant amount!
More recently, a 2018 study found that CBD reversed attentional bias to cigarette cues. Smokers who received CBD showed no bias toward cigarette-related images compared to neutral images after abstaining for 12 hours. But those who received a placebo showed a greater bias.
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