The phrase “I’m addicted to…” has become an everyday socially acceptable phrase to fess up to our perceived sins. “I’m addicted to chocolate,” “I can’t live without yoga,” “I’d kill for a sugar donut right now.” However, addiction writ large is a costly and very serious group of disorders that cost billions of dollars in lost wages, and property damage, and unfathomable emotional pain in broken spirits, destroyed relationships, and lost lives. Addiction’s devious tentacles reach into every segment of society. So asking the question, “Can I get addicted to CBD” is a very valid concern that deserves a serious answer.
Is CBD Addictive?
The medical and mental health communities rely on a monster book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to diagnose a variety of mental health issues including addiction. There are 10 classes of drugs that fall under the umbrella of substance-related and addictive disorders and, in all honesty, cannabis is included.
The cannabis sativa subspecies, hemp, and marijuana, are drastically different when it comes to their chemical make-up. The psycho-active compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) or THC for short, is extremely predominant in marijuana. THC is the component that is largely responsible for the “high,” and as we will soon uncover, the addiction of cannabis.
CBD Complicates the Addiction Question
Before you throw up your hands in despair, let’s remember that we are asking about CBD aka cannabidiol as an addictive substance. Answering the question, “Can I get addicted to CBD?” requires an understanding of the various substances within the whole. As of 2018, the cannabis species has over 421 identified compounds, 111 of which are cannabinoids. There is a small amount of research on only a handful of these cannabinoids, but THC and CBD are thankfully, two of the cannabinoids that are being thoroughly investigated. This thorough research is likely a result of their prevalence in the cannabis sativa plant, ranking one and two respectively.
Depending on the strain, marijuana can contain an excess of 24% THC. Compare that to the 0.3% THC content in full spectrum hemp-derived CBD products. Wow! That’s like comparing the caffeine jolt from an energy drink to really weak white tea (Lowest amount of caffeine in caffeinated tea)! If we’re talking pure CBD isolate, that’s like substituting Chamomile tea (0% caffeine) for the white tea.
THC is addictive. CBD is not addictive. Let’s get a little bit nerdy to better understand how this happens.
The Endocannabinoid System a Very Brief (BRIEF)
In order to understand the question of whether or not CBD is addictive, we need to first understand the basics of the mammalian endocannabinoid system.
Dr. Michael Moskowitz (2017) breaks down the endocannabinoid system into three basic components:
Naturally occurring cannabinoids aka endocannabinoids:
- Arachidonoyl ethanolamide (AEA or anandamide for short)
- 2-Arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG)
Think of these as “signaling molecules” or in the age-old tradition of the “lock and Key” model; these are the “keys.”
Receptors located throughout the brain and nervous system:
- Cannabinoid-1 (CB1) receptor (more predominant in the brain)
- Cannabinoid -2 (CB2) receptor ( more predominant in the peripheral body)
These are the “locks.”
- DAGL-α (helps make 2-AG)
- DAGL-β (helps make 2-AG)
- NAPE (helps make AEA)
- MAGL (breaks down 2-AG)
- FAAH (breaks down AEA)
Notice that the enzymes help create AND destroy the signaling molecules. In our lock and key analogy, the enzymes would be the locksmith!
According to Moskowitz, the entire endocannabinoid system is responsible for two basic, yet very complex, activities in our body.
To exert controlling influence over pleasure, energy level, and sense of well-being.
To gently lead the body back into a healthy state when faced with disease or injury.
CB1 receptors, when activated (or opened by the correct key – AEA), will provide relief from pain and anxiety, stabilize mood, create sense of well-being, and establish a sense of pleasure.
Activated CB2 receptors (opened by 2-AG) initiate a localized anti-inflammatory response. This means that the action is targeted rather than system-wide.
Why THC is Addictive
According to the DSM, addictive substances share a common theme: They are taken in excess, and they directly mess with the reward system in our brains. Scientific research overwhelmingly shows that THC (the cannabinoid responsible for the “high”) engages the brain’s reward system and enhances sensitivity to other drugs.
Okay, so back to THC and the reward system. THC is a phytocannabinoid, as opposed to an endocannabinoid. However, THC “unlocks” CB1 receptors much like the naturally occurring “key” in the human endocannabinoid system, AEA aka anandamide. This contributes to the positive reinforcement and pleasure received from using the substance. While the brain interactions of addiction are complex, it is becoming much clearer to researchers the role CB1 receptors play when it comes to addiction. In short, THC activates the reward system.
Why Isn’t CBD Addictive?
In contrast to THC, research shows that Cannabidiol (CBD) does not appear to stimulate the reward system. So right off the bat, CBD does not meet the main criteria of addictive substances. CBD’s actual mechanism of action in the brain is unclear. However, most researchers are in agreement that CBD does not activate CB1 (or CB2).
CBD works indirectly by supporting the body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoid system. CBD accomplishes this in a variety of ways including blocking the FAAH enzyme (That’s the enzyme that breaks down AEA signaling molecule) and activating 5-HTP 1A serotoninergic receptors.
In a March 2017 study, researchers explored the abuse liability of CBD and concluded that “even at very high doses, [CBD] does not produce any detectable effects in a sample of marijuana smokers and does not display signals of abuse liability.”
What Are the Behavioral Addictive Symptoms and Does CBD Use Manifest Them
Examining behavioral symptoms is another way to assess whether or not you can get addicted to CBD. The DSM-5 sorts behavioral symptoms of Substance Use disorders aka addiction, into four broad categories:
- Impaired control
- Social impairment
- Risky use
- Pharmalogical criteria, i.e. tolerance and withdrawal
Does CBD Cause Impaired Control?
The symptom cluster of impaired control is mostly about control over how much of the substance is used. Positive addictive symptom indicators include:
- Using more of the substance than you wanted to over time
- Wanting to quit or cut back but can’t seem to make that happen despite repeated tries
- Spending lots of time obtaining, using, or recovering from substance use
- Too much of if not all daily activity revolves around the substance
- Having an intense desire or urge for the substance, especially when cued by the environment where previously used.
In a September 2018 preclinical study researchers found that transdermal CBD had strong potential to prevent relapse in alcohol and cocaine-addicted mice.
Relapse risk is associated with cravings, susceptibility to stress, high anxiety, and difficulty with impulse control – that sounds like a pretty normal day in the human world!
The rats were cut off from their self-administered drug supply and dosed with transdermal CBD once per day for seven days. During the drug-free period, they were able to withstand the experimenter’s stress tests without experiencing tolerance (to the CBD), experiencing sedation, or exhibiting interference with their normal behavior.
The protective anti-relapse effects lasted for approximately 5 months, even though the levels of CBD in the rat’s brains and bloodstream was zilch after three days.
Does CBD Cause Social Impairment?
The addiction symptom cluster of social impairment refers to problems with social obligations and social difficulties. According to the DSM-5, Positive addictive symptom indicators include:
- Failure to fulfill major role obligations (think work, school, home)
- Continued use of substance despite social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened by the effects of the substance
- Important life activities are forgone because of substance use
- Individual may withdraw from usual activities in order to continue using substance
Let’s go back to the same rat study. Those poor rats! The tell tail – we couldn’t resist making this joke – finding by the researchers here is that the rats receiving the transdermal CBD showed no “interference with normal behavior.” They participated in their normal rat obligations, they interacted with their rat friends and family, kept searching for cheese, and took care of their important rat activities – what activities are important to rats? I do not have an answer for that because I am in the business of CBD. Monitoring rat shenanigans seems pretty fun too though.
Conclusion: The rats didn’t relapse when exposed to stressors, and the CBD intervention was really short.
CBD and Addictive Risky Use Behavior
The risky use symptom cluster is just what it sounds like, using a substance under conditions or in situations where it may be harmful. It also includes continuing to use a substance despite knowing that its use contributed to or caused problems.
Undoubtedly, we have all seen or heard of other’s escapades when under the influence of a substance. Sometimes these are situationally bound events, like saying something you wouldn’t normally say after having a few drinks or acting totally uninhibited on the dance floor and regretting it in the morning. Because CBD in non-intoxicating, it does not lower inhibitions and therefore does not affect physical, emotional, or social well being. CBD is actually reported to help maintain attention and does not impair our thinking abilities.
CBD and Addictive Symptoms of Withdrawal and Tolerance
Our bodies naturally become acclimated to internal and external conditions. Imagine going into a dark movie theater. At first, it’s so dark you can’t see where you’re going, but after just a few seconds, maybe longer if you’re my age, your eyes adjust, and you can begin to make out shapes. You move forward and as you enter a row of seats and begin to see the people in the theater. This gradual acclamation to the dark is called “habituation.” We habituate to all kinds of different conditions.
In terms of addiction, this idea of habituation is called tolerance. Our body gets “used to” a certain level of substance, and it no longer has the “same bang for the buck” that it once had. For example, with alcohol, one might find themselves needing to consume more to get the same “buzz.” With marijuana, a user might need to increase frequency or potency to achieve the same “high.”
How To Counterbalance Tolerance
We can also reach a point with CBD where our body is not responding the same and people may find themselves creeping up the amount they are taking. We can develop a tolerance for CBD. Because of the biphasic nature of CBD, that is, as dosages increase, the effects do not necessarily increase as well. In fact, the biphasic nature is such that higher doses may actually produce the opposite effect. For example, if a low or moderate dose promotes alertness, a higher dose may cause you to be inattentive or sleepy.
To combat tolerance, take a break from CBD. Cannabinoids are stored in our body fat. During a CBD break, your body will turn to the storehouse of CBD and use that until the source is depleted. By that time, your body will have reset its tolerance level back down and reset the endocannabinoid system. Another means of combating tolerance is to simply lower your dose and slowly build it back up.
CBD is Not Addictive: Is It Right for Me?
If you think that hemp derived CBD oil could help increase your physical and mental wellbeing, head over to our virtual store and take a look at our high-quality, artisanal CBD products.
One of our goals at More Than Hemp is to make it possible to buy hemp derived CBD oil – and other CBD products easily and with confidence. We strive to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision and start your journey towards mental balance and physical relief.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. CBD products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information presented on this website is not advice and is not a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional. Information provided does not constitute a professional relationship with Dr. Leigh Randa, PhD. Always consult with your doctor before combining CBD with your current treatments or medications. CBD should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment.