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Is CBD Addictive? Here’s What the Science Says

Posted by Justin Adair on Sep 11, 2019 5:18:13 PM
Justin Adair


When people learn that CBD comes from cannabis, their next thought might be: Is CBD addictive? The short answer is no. Even though CBD is closely related to THC, the intoxicating compound that can make users ‘high,’ CBD itself is non-intoxicating and is non-addictive. Before digging into the reason why CBD is non-addictive, let’s first talk about CBD and where it comes from. 


What is CBD?

Cannabidiol or CBD is one of over 100 identified cannabinoids in cannabis. And within the cannabis family, there are two plants that produce the highest levels of CBD: hemp and marijuana.

Hemp’s chemical profile is known to have high concentrations of CBD and low concentrations of THC. The marijuana plant has the opposite profile, with high levels of THC and low levels of CBD. The majority of CBD oils and other CBD products you see on the market today derive from hemp. That’s because CBD from the hemp plant is federally legal. 

Hemp was removed from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. As a condition, the law states that hemp cannot contain more than 0.3% THC. The percent is low because THC is still illegal at the federal level.   


The Science behind CBD

In the 1940s, THC and CBD were discovered in the cannabis plant. Fast-forward a few decades, and cannabis has become the subject of significant scientific interest. In particular, Israeli chemist, Raphael Mechoulam, wanted to know how the plant’s chemical compounds interact with human physiology. So, he submitted a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a means of funding his research. 

Because his grant was denied, Mechoulam took another route. He asked the Israeli police to donate some confiscated cannabis for research purposes, and they willingly obliged. Mechoulam soon had five kilos of Moroccan hashish at his disposal to study. From this point on he made cannabis research his life’s work. In fact, he is known as the “father of cannabis research” because of his tireless contributions to the field of study. 

One of his most well-known discoveries were the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. Many of the CB1 receptors exist in the brain and the nervous system, and many of the CB2 receptors, live in the immune system.

In 1992, he made yet another significant discovery. Mechoulam found that the body has two naturally occurring endocannabinoids, called Anandamide and 2-AG. Collectively, these endocannabinoids, the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and the enzymes responsible for the synthesis of endocannabinoids became known as the Endocannabinoid System, or ECS for short.

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In the 20 years since the discovery of the ECS, researchers now understand its role in our overall health. They found that its primary role is to maintain homeostasis, which is how the body and mind reach an optimal balance. To achieve homeostasis the body needs other sources of endocannabinoids because the natural levels of Anandamide and 2-AG are not enough to keep the ECS in tip-top shape. 

This is where CBD comes in. CBD’s chemical properties mirror that of an endocannabinoid. So, when you supplement with CBD, you’re replenishing your body’s supply of endocannabinoids. In turn, the endocannabinoids activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body, which then nourish and support the ECS. When the ECS is well taken care of, the body can reach the desired state of homeostasis.

So, how does all this relate to the question asked earlier, about CBD as a possible addictive substance? We’ll explain that now. 



Why CBD is Not Addictive

Now that we’ve explored the science of CBD, we can better answer the question: is CBD addictive? Let’s first look at the dictionary definition of addiction.

According to Merriam-Webster, addiction is the “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.

When studying the molecular structure of CBD, nothing in its profile indicates any addictive properties. Furthermore, CBD cannot make you feel “high” the way THC does. THC is intoxicating and can produce psychoactive effects, but CBD’s effects on the body and mind are more subtle in nature. Here is the reason why. 


Endocannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, operate similar to neurotransmitters, which are the chemical messengers that communicate with the brain. 

The communication is able to take place because the body has neurotransmitter receptors, such as CB1 and CB2. Based on what science has discovered, THC has a strong binding affinity to CB1, the receptor primarily found in the brain. This is why people who smoke or consume THC experience mind-altering effects. 


On the contrary, CBD does NOT have a direct effect on either receptor. Therefore, CBD does not cause mind-altering effects.  

The Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence published a 2017 study that examined CBD’s potential as an addictive substance. The study involved 31 participants who were regular marijuana smokers. These participants received oral doses of CBD alone and then in combination with marijuana. When the researchers analyzed their data, they found that CBD did not show any signs of abuse liability, such as addiction.   

With CBD’s safety profile and lack of abuse potential, research is now exploring the possibility of using CBD to help patients combat drug addiction.   



How CBD Can Help Combat Drug Addiction

A 2010 study published in Neuropsychopharmacology examined 94 cannabis users. Scientists studied these individuals while intoxicated from marijuana and then while not intoxicated. The participants who smoked a high CBD to THC strain showed a reduced bias to drug and food stimuli compared to those who smoked a low CBD to THC strain. 

Also, those who smoked a high CBD to THC strain showed a lower explicit liking of cannabis stimuli. These findings indicate that “CBD has potential as a treatment for cannabis dependence” and may serve as a possible treatment solution to other addictive disorders. 

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Another study published in Addictive Behaviors in 2013, examined whether CBD could be an effective treatment for reducing tobacco cigarette consumption. In total, 24 tobacco smokers took part in the study. Half of the participants received an inhaler containing CBD and the other half received a placebo. When they felt an urge to smoke a cigarette, they were instructed to use their inhaler instead.

The study lasted for one week. By the end of the week, those who had the CBD inhaler reduced their cigarette consumption by 40 percent. While the placebo group experienced no difference in their tobacco cigarette usage.      



The WHO’s Report on Abuse Potential of CBD

The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) released a report last year called Cannabidiol (CBD) Critical Review Report. In this report, the findings state that CBD is not associated with abuse potential. The report also found that CBD has a good safety profile, is well tolerated in humans, and doesn't produce withdrawal effects.

Furthermore, the ECDD recommends that pure CBD preparations should not be placed under international drug control. This suggestion comes in light of their findings that CBD doesn’t have psychoactive properties and it presents no abuse potential or dependence.



Final Thoughts

When taking a new dietary or herbal supplement, it’s recommended to take note of any changes you experience. The same goes for CBD. Although we’ve discussed that CBD doesn’t possess addictive properties, it’s still good to monitor your intake and track the changes in your health.


Here are a few points to summarize the main topics covered in this article.

  • CBD or cannabidiol is a cannabinoid found in cannabis. 
  • The hemp plant has high levels of CBD and low levels of THC.
  • The “father of cannabis research,” Raphael Mechoulam, discovered the CB1 and CB2 receptors, found primarily in the brain and the immune system, respectively. He also discovered the two endocannabinoids, Anandamide and 2-AG. 
  • Phytocannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, are chemically identical to endocannabinoids. And endocannabinoids activate the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors. When these receptors get activated it improves the health of the ECS, which is responsible for maintaining homeostasis.  
  • CBD does not bind directly with CB1 and CB2 and therefore does not cause a person to feel “high.”
  • The WHO found that CBD is non-addictive, has a good safety profile and is well tolerated in humans. They also concluded that consuming CBD will not lead to withdrawal symptoms when consumption ceases. 
  • Taking CBD oil, or other CBD products could help reduce addiction to marijuana and tobacco cigarettes. 

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Topics: Medical, CBD

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