The solution to cannabis dependency might simply be more cannabis. That’s according to a new study from researchers at University College London, which found that cannabidiol (CBD) can help people reduce their consumption of THC. Presenting the study at this year’s London’s New Scientist Live festival, lead author Val Curran called the findings “really remarkable.” Curran, a professor of psychopharmacology at University College London, and her team were the first to test the idea of using CBD extracts to treat cannabis use disorders. And indeed, the results are very promising: Curran’s study found that CBD extracts cut the amount of cannabis people smoked in half.
CBD Extracts Can Help Reduce Cannabis Dependency
Cannabis “addiction” can be difficult to define. With no strong chemical dependencies, cannabis use disorders aren’t as destructive or difficult to overcome as those involving more addictive substances, such as nicotine and alcohol. Still, rough estimates put about ten percent of cannabis users in the “addiction” camp. For these cannabis consumers, reducing intake or trying to quit can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia and agitation. Scientists believe increasingly potent THC products are increasing the number of people becoming addicted to cannabis or struggling with dependency issues.
But Curran thinks her research is pointing to an answer. And the answer, she says, is treating cannabis addiction with more cannabis. But Curran doesn’t mean more flower, edibles, concentrates or other THC-dominant products. Instead, she says therapeutic doses of another cannabis compound, cannabidiol (CBD), can help people quit or reduce cannabis use without withdrawal symptoms.
Curran’s study took 82 people living in the U.K. who were classified as “severely addicted” to cannabis. The participants were divided into three groups, and over the course of a four-week trial, each group was given either a daily 400 mg dose of CBD, 800 mg of CBD, or a placebo. All participants also had access to counselors and other psychological support to help them drop their cannabis habit.
According to the study, the 400 mg CBD group experienced the greatest reduction in cannabis use after six months. Researchers measured cannabis consumption by testing participants’ urine for THC. Not only did the 400 mg CBD group have half as much THC in their urine, they also doubled the days when their urine did not test positive for THC. The 800 mg CBD group saw some improvement, but less than the 400 mg group. The placebo group saw no reduction in cannabis consumption.
Cannabidiol (CBD) and the Fight Against Addiction
Curran’s University College London study resonates with other recent findings about the ability of cannabidiol to both counteract the negative side effects of THC and fight addiction. One recent study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that CBD prevents the brain from amplifying stressful stimuli. THC, say researchers, sparks off a chain reaction of nerve signals in the brain that can spiral into stress and anxiety. Cannabidiol counteracts the runaway-train effect, blocking the signaling pathway and preventing the unwanted mental disturbances that potent doses of THC can cause. “CBD gets rid of the toxic effects of THC,” Curran said during her “Cannabis: medicine or madness?” talk at the New Scientist Live festival.
“CBD has a variety of anti-addictive properties,” said University of Sydney professor Iain McGregor. McGregor worked on Curran’s study and is also researching the use of CBD to treat alcohol addiction. Anxiety is a major side effect of detoxifying, and McGregor says CBD is very good at reducing anxiety.
These important studies continue to highlight the wide-ranging therapeutic and health benefits of cannabidiol. But it’s important to keep in mind that most of the commercial CBD products available today, especially outside legal cannabis markets, do not have the potency of the capsules used in Curran’s study. And in most places, CBD products face little if any regulatory scrutiny.