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Can CBD Help You Quit Smoking?

CBD has gained a reputation for its therapeutic effects in recent years, and one new use for it researchers are looking at is whether CBD could help with smoking cessation.

Using a cannabis product to quit smoking is unorthodox, to say the least, especially considering the popularity of smoking cannabis and tobacco together.

While the evidence is far from solid, recent research has pointed towards several potential therapeutic benefits of consuming CBD that could help smokers more easily quit.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the two main active cannabinoids found in cannabis. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the other primary cannabinoid found in cannabis, CBD doesn’t induce any psychotropic effects, hence its popularity for treating medical conditions. 

The preliminary findings from one 2013 study showed a significant positive correlation between CBD treatment and tobacco cessation.

Hand holding cigarette

Researchers invited 24 participants who were regular smokers and who were also motivated to quit smoking. Participants were either given a CBD or placebo treatment via inhaler over a one week period. Participants were permitted to use the inhaler whenever they felt the urge to smoke.

The results of the study showed that after one week, the CBD-treated group experienced a 40% reduction in total cigarettes smoked, while the participants who were administered the placebo treatment didn’t smoke fewer cigarettes. Impressively, this reduction demonstrated some longevity when researchers followed up with the study participants. 

While this study did involve a small sample size, the results are promising for the possible future use of CBD as an aid for smoking cessation. Still, studies over a longer period of time and with larger sample sizes will be required to confirm the validity of these results.

CBD Reduces Cigarette Pleasantness

Another study, this one from 2018, also looked at CBD’s potential as an aid in smoking cessation and included 30 addicted cigarette smokers who weren’t actively seeking to quit. The double-blind crossover study consisted of administering either 800mg of CBD or a placebo to participants and then measured their withdrawal and craving symptoms after 12 hours of smoking abstinence. Researchers showed participants visual images of tobacco in an attempt to elicit tobacco cravings.

The results of the study showed that the CBD-administered group had decreased blood pressure. CBD was also found to reduce the level of pleasantness that participants experienced after viewing tobacco imagery. Tobacco imagery is a known trigger that initiates smoking.

While the researchers concluded that tobacco cravings were not affected by CBD, the treatment did seem to reduce the pleasantness of cigarette cues which could help cigarette smokers decrease how much they smoke.

How Does CBD Decrease Tobacco Cravings? 

One possible reason why CBD decreases the pleasantness of cigarette cues is through its actions on serotonin receptors. 

CBD has demonstrated an ability to increase levels of serotonin, a neurohormone that is closely linked to mood and reward pathways. CBD administration has been found to immediately increase levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. This increase in serotonin is thought to occur via CBD’s activation of the serotonin receptor ‘5-HT1A.’ Other research has shown that anti-depressants, which increase serotonin, are also linked to smoking cessation.

The up-regulation of AMPA GluA1 receptors in the area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens may also contribute to CBD’s tobacco cessation potential. The nucleus accumbens is linked to addictive behavior, and one theory posits that CBD might increase the activity of AMPA GluA1 receptors, which are involved in synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity is the brain’s ability to change its neural networks and how it handles stressful situations. So by increasing synaptic plasticity in an area of the brain linked to addiction, CBD could potentially improve symptoms of addictive behavior. 

Brain synapses communicating
Illustration of synaptic transmission in the human nervous system.

CBD’s potential to reduce stress and anxiety may also play a key role in reducing some of the negative psychological effects of tobacco withdrawal, including stress and anxiety.  One study found that CBD treatment resulted in antidepressant-like effects that were on par with the effects of some prescribed antidepressant medications. Other research has confirmed CBD’s effectiveness for decreasing anxiety and improving mood.

CBD and Drug Addiction 

CBD’s addiction treatment potential doesn’t just stop at tobacco. According to research, CBD consumption could even potentially help tackle heroin addiction.

A 2009 study investigated the effects of CBD on heroin consumption and drug-seeking behavior in rats. While the study didn’t find that CBD reduced heroin consumption levels, it did demonstrate that CBD was able to reduce the effect of heroin-seeking behavior when that behavior was initiated in the animals through a conditioned stimulus. CBD’s reduction on this cue-induced heroin-seeking behavior was seen at significant levels up to 2 weeks after treatment. 

While this reduction in heroin-seeking behavior did not reduce in rats currently using heroin, the behavior reduction occurred alongside neurobiological changes, including changes to the cannabinoid type-1 receptor and the AMPA GLUR1 glutamatergic receptor. These changes indicate that CBD may be able to play a role in reducing addictive behavior via its ability to alter receptors in the brain.

While the research into CBD’s effect on tobacco addiction shows potential, the research is far from being conclusive. Current studies indicate that CBD may have positive effects on some aspects of tobacco addiction, but unfortunately, the current research doesn’t support the claim that CBD ‘cures’ smoking addiction. Needless to say, smoking cessation in individuals and for society is a profoundly worthwhile goal. More research is certainly needed.

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