Alcohol has proved itself to be one of the most abused substances in the United States. More than 14 million Americans abuse alcohol, making it the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. More than 80,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths every year . Unfortunately alcoholics often find themselves lost when it comes to seeking treatment that provides lasting results. Somewhere around 80% of alcoholics will relapse within a year after initial treatment .
Alcohol withdrawal is a dangerous and painful process and is often where addicts give up on their battle with addiction. With symptoms like anxiety, irritability, sleep disruption, tremors, sweating, nausea, and hallucinations, it’s easy to see why so many alcoholics struggle with recovering from alcohol abuse.
CBD is quickly gaining popularity as a treatment for alcoholism, and rightly so. Even with the shortage of studies and research about its effectiveness as a medicinal treatment, there is already enough evidence presented that people are taking notice of its incredible ability to help with this condition. Alcoholism is a disease that is known to be extremely difficult to treat and one that can destroy lives.
CBD and Addiction
CBD is already known for its ability to help people manage their pain, inflammation, anxiety, and sleep, but it’s also being researched for its ability to target and reduce risks associated with drug relapse, drug cravings, and managing behaviors triggered by drugs .
Current research suggests that CBD may be able to assist alcoholics in reducing the amount of alcohol they consume, as well as providing protection to their liver and brain. Research is preliminary, and very little testing has been done on humans so far. CBD has been shown to reduce the stress, inflammation, and even the death of certain cells in the livers of animal models. It also helps the brain resist alcohol-related damage by protecting the brain cells in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, resulting in fewer lost cells. Research has suggested that recovering alcohol addicts may be less likely to relapse if they take CBD as part of their treatment .
How does it do this? Well, CBD is able to work by directly influencing our endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is the part of our body that is responsible for controlling our mood, behavior, sleep, and even appetite. It strives to create a perfect state of homeostasis within our bodies. If some sort of disruption is introduced in the body, the ECS will work to make sure all affected systems remain at stable and optimal levels. Obviously, this is a very important function of the human body. All the internal systems need to be in a state of equilibrium to work effectively and to keep us healthy, making the endocannabinoid system an essential aspect of human physiology.
This same system, however, also has a hand in the neurotransmitters that are responsible for dopamine and glutamine, which are responsible for addictive behavior. They intensify the “reward” center of our brains, thereby enhancing the effects of addictive substances and increasing the risk of relapse. Because CBD is able to interact with the ECS system, it can attach itself to these powerful receptors which allows it to regulate the compulsive behavior, helping addicts resist the urge to use or relapse .
How It Works
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system:
- Endocannabinoids: These are compounds that are naturally produced by the body, but are very similar to the chemical compounds in cannabis, like CBD. The two most prominent endocannabinoids in the ECS are called anandamide and 2-AG.
- Cannabinoid Receptors: These receptors are found on the surface of cells throughout the entire body. The endocannabinoids the body produces — as well as any cannabinoids ingested — will bind to these receptors. The action of binding allows them to communicate with different systems in the body, helping the ECS maintain an equilibrium in each of the specific systems. The two most important types of cannabinoid receptors are CB1 and CB2.
- Enzymes: After the endocannabinoids attach themselves to the cannabinoid receptors, allowing the ECS to achieve stabilization in the body, enzymes start working to break down the endocannabinoids in order to avoid a possible overcorrection. Each type of endocannabinoid has a specific enzyme that works at breaking it down effectively. The two enzyme types are called FAAH and MAGL and each is specific to a particular endocannabinoid.
Since the chemical compounds endocannabinoids and cannabinoids from cannabis plants are so similar, it’s possible for cannabinoids like CBD to attach themselves to the same receptors endocannabinoids do. CBD has the ability to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Once attached CBD acts as a blocker, binding to receptors and dampening the signals.
In regards to how CBD interacts with the ECS in those suffering from alcohol consumption disorders, researchers believe it has everything to do with the way it interacts with the CB2 receptors that are located throughout the body, including the brain and liver.
The Latest Review
The latest review about the effects of CBD on alcoholism was published in the Frontiers of Pharmacology journal and provides an in-depth look at CBD and alcohol use disorders (AUD). Unfortunately the original studies reviewed lacked any human clinical trials, which the reviewers stated would be extremely beneficial in order to shed more light onto what CBD can do in real life circumstances of someone suffering from alcoholism.
The review looked at 26 studies about CBD and alcohol, dating back decades. Many of the studies showed the animal test subjects reacted positively to the addition of CBD. They also noted some interesting effects of the CBD on the animals who had been given constant doses of ethanol.
Reduction in Drinking
One of the most prominent results in the review is the ability of CBD to reduce the test subject’s need to drink. In a study conducted on mice, they found that after administering CBD the mice were less likely to be motivated to push a lever that allowed them access to the liquid ethanol they had been consuming every day.
Research also suggested that CBD may help treat the very symptoms that often cause people to self-medicate with alcohol, including depression, psychosis, and anxiety. CBD consumption may help ease those conditions, preemptively stopping individuals from getting addicted to alcohol in the first place .
Protection of the Liver
CBD has already been shown to act as an effective anti-inflammatory , but further research into how those benefits work in those suffering from AUD shows that CBD is helpful in reducing alcohol-related liver inflammation. The studies demonstrated that mice given CBD were less likely to suffer damage to their livers after being given continual doses of alcohol than those who did not ingest the cannabinoid. According to the review, CBD provides therapeutic benefits by reducing the oxidative stress, reducing inflammation, and destroying certain cells that are responsible for scar tissue formation.
Protection of the Brain
The review also concluded that CBD may provide protection to certain areas of the brain that are vulnerable to alcohol-related damage. One study found that rats who had binged on alcohol lost significantly fewer brain cells in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex if they were also given CBD. This means CBD acted as a sort of neuroprotective antioxidant, also appearing to be able to restore neurological and cognitive functions of rats in acute failure.
Lessen Chance of Relapse
More studies showed that mice who were regularly dosed with CBD were less likely to relapse after they had been weaned off alcohol, with results remaining the same even when the mice were stressed.
The review concludes that basic pharmaceuticals currently used to treat those with AUD are not sufficient to work for a large population of users, and that they believe more therapeutic options should be studied. They also note that there haven’t been any other studies on other treatment options that could be used to reverse or prevent brain and liver harm in the bodies of those suffering from alcohol abuse.
The reviewers also believe after more studies are conducted, it will be discovered that CBD has more positive effects for subjects with AUD, including seizure and cardiac conditions associated with the disorder. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, please contact SAMSHA’s hotline at 1-800-662-HELP for 24/7 help. You are not alone. Find out more on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.