CBD & Nicotine Addiction: Can CBD Oil Help You Quit Smoking?

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Smoking is a global epidemic

If you had to guess what the one habit most people would like to quit was, what would you say? Given that an overwhelming 1.1 billion people smoke, it is highly likely you would say smoking cigarettes.

For a non-smoker, it is difficult to imagine why people would risk time, money, and their health on a habit that kills more than 8 million people per year. However, for smokers, the addiction to cigarettes, or more specifically, the nicotine in tobacco, is a challenge they have to face every day.

With nicotine estimated to be as addictive as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol, overcoming the desire to light up every morning is no small task. The good news is that smokers can and do quit smoking. Most of the time, they just need support while they learn to break the chain of learned memories and reinforced behaviours. That support can come in various guises—group therapy, nicotine patches, e-cigarettes, and according to preliminary studies, CBD.

How could CBD help people quit smoking?

The idea that CBD may be useful as an aid to stop smoking is a concept that first came to light after a preliminary study in 2013. Fortunately, since then, our understanding of cannabinoids, the endocannabinoid system, and CBD has grown.

Presented with a better understanding, researchers have continued their efforts to evaluate not only CBD’s effect on smoking, but its impact on addiction in general. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it makes sense to start with the results from the study published in 2013.

Conducted by University College London, researchers used a double-blind placebo-controlled methodology to assess whether CBD could be effective at treating nicotine addiction. Of the 24 smokers that took part, 12 were given a CBD inhaler, and the other half a placebo. Patients were advised that when they felt the urge to smoke, they should use the inhaler instead.

The number of times both groups smoked was then measured over a week. In the placebo group, there was no difference in how many times they felt the urge to smoke. However, in the CBD group, the number of potential cigarettes smoked dropped by 40%. The results also indicated “some maintenance of this effect at follow-up”.

While these results certainly do appear positive, it is worth considering two crucial factors. The first, that this study only took place over a week. In general, it takes up to a month for the withdrawal effects of nicotine to fade (cravings, depression, irritability, and anxiety). The sample size is also incredibly limited when you compare 24 people to 1.1 billion people smoking worldwide—the study did, however, pave the way for broader inquiry.

What do other studies suggest about CBD’s effectiveness at treating nicotine addiction?

A 2018 study, also from the University College London, took a different approach to their preliminary investigations. This time they sought to break the reinforced behaviours, or attentional bias, exhibited by cigarettes smokers. Attentional bias is when our body links actions together after experiencing a series of cues.

For example, many smokers have their first cigarette with coffee or tea in the morning. Over time, the brain learns to associate these two actions. Without realising, every time a smoker sees a cup of coffee, their brain reacts by craving cigarettes.

Patients were administered either an 800mg oral dose of CBD or a placebo before being shown pictorial tobacco cues (people smoking, ashtrays, etc.) The CBD group experienced a reduction in the “salience and pleasantness of cigarette cues”, while the placebo group remained the same. This study differed from the original because it identifies the underlying mechanism involved in CBD’s potential effectiveness. The results suggest CBD targets the neurocognitive processes (what's going on inside our brains) associated with nicotine.

CBD and addiction: is there promise?

When you consider the results of the studies above, alongside several animal studies into CBD’s effectiveness at tackling the mechanism of addiction, the results are encouraging.

Combined with the cannabinoid’s perceived anti-anxiety effects (anxiety is a prominent withdrawal symptom), CBD appears to demonstrate the hallmarks of an effective treatment for nicotine addiction. Despite the need for larger-scale studies on the matter, one thing remains certain: Smoking is a habit that isn’t going away. With the World Health Organisation claiming that “tobacco kills up to half its users”, there are 550 million deaths that could be avoided with increased research, willpower, and in the future—CBD.

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