Alcoholism affects millions of Americans, yet current treatments leave many still struggling to cope. Could CBD offer a more effective treatment for the physical and psychological effects of alcoholism and even aid in addiction recovery? A new review study digs into the research to answer this question.
The Great Potential of CBD
The fledgling cannabis industry is experiencing a period of rapid growth. As a result, regulations are in a constant state of flux. With new financial incentives possible, researchers and the pharmaceutical industry are renewing their interest in the therapeutic properties of the cannabis plant.
When it comes to cannabis, there’s no shortage of potential medicinal compounds. The plant contains over 100 different cannabinoids. However, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most prevalent and well studied.
In fact, preclinical studies are continually proving the worth of CBD as a pharmaceutical remedy. These studies show that CBD may have protective effects against inflammation, anxiety, nausea, seizures, and oxidative stress.
With such a wide range of potential benefits, researchers are eager to test the effects of CBD on a wide variety of clinical applications. This includes alcohol use disorder, commonly referred to as alcoholism, and other substance use disorders.
Alcoholism: More Common Than You Might Think
Alcoholism occurs when someone loses the ability to control their intake of alcohol. This can stem from both a physical and emotional dependency on the drug. The results are significant—fractured relationships, poor performance at work, risky or illegal behavior like drinking while driving, and severe neurological and liver damage.
Sadly, alcoholism is a very common disorder. Over 16 million Americans abuse alcohol. That’s just over 6% of all adults over the age of 18 in the United States, making alcoholism a substantial public health concern.
Government agencies in Europe and the United States have approved several pharmaceuticals for the treatment of alcoholism, including acamprosate and naltrexone. However, outcomes for many patients are not successful.
Could CBD Help People with Alcoholism?
To improve patient outcomes, researchers are on the hunt for new compounds that use novel mechanisms to treat alcohol use disorder.
CBD is a strong candidate.
Firstly, CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects could help to combat the physical damage inflicted upon the body by alcohol.
Additionally, there is strong evidence to support CBD as an effective treatment for seizures, a common side effect of severe alcohol withdrawal.
Lastly, the endocannabinoid system, the biological system which CBD acts upon, functions to affect motivation and seeking behavior. This means CBD may be able to block the desire to consume alcohol in excess.
The New Study
Researchers at McMaster University and the St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Research Hospital in Ontario, Canada wanted to further explore the potential of CBD as a treatment for alcoholism.
They searched for peer-reviewed studies that used CBD as an intervention for any aspect of alcohol-related harm. Only 12 studies met the researchers’ criteria—8 using rodent models, 3 using healthy adult volunteers, and 1 using cell culture.
Let’s take a look at the findings.
CBD Protects Against Neurodegeneration
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause neuronal inflammation and oxidative stress. This results in damage to different parts of the brain including regions involved in attention, problem-solving, information processing, learning, and memory.
Alcohol-induced brain damage is associated with a higher risk of relapse which causes further harm to the brain, resulting in a vicious feedback loop.
But results from preclinical trials using cell culture and animal models show that CBD helps protect the brain against the harmful effects of alcohol. In these studies, CBD prevented neuron damage and reduced impulsive behavior.
Unfortunately, no similar studies in humans exist. However, in one clinical study, researchers demonstrated that CBD did not have significant cognitive side effects (compared to alcohol and THC) and was well tolerated by healthy adults.
CBD and Alcohol Relapse
After undergoing detox and treatment for substance abuse, individuals with alcohol use disorder are still susceptible to relapse. Many factors can influence the likelihood of relapse, including situational cravings, stress, and anxiety. CBD has the potential to target all of these factors.
In animal models, CBD reduced alcohol-seeking behaviors, withdrawal symptoms, as well as anxiety. When relapse did occur, animals treated with CBD consumed less alcohol and showed less motivation to drink.
There are no similar studies in humans, but there are clinical studies in humans that suggest CBD has a positive impact on cannabis and tobacco dependence.
CBD Reverses Liver Damage
One of the most harmful physical side effects of alcoholism is liver damage. In fact, it’s the leading cause of liver disease around the world.
Researchers have shown that CBD can be beneficial to the liver in preclinical studies. But what about in the context of alcohol?
Again, CBD proves beneficial. In animal studies, CBD was able to reverse the harmful effects of alcohol on the liver, potentially due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities.
But unfortunately, there are no similar studies in humans.
Preclinical studies using cell culture and animal models suggest that CBD could be a highly effective treatment for alcohol use disorder. CBD protects the brain and the liver against damage from alcohol and helps reduce the likelihood and severity of relapse.
The only problem is the lack of data in humans. Future research should focus on verifying these results in clinical studies, narrowing down possible mechanisms and therapeutic effects, and determining optimal dosages.