For individuals who are addicted to cannabis, one treatment option may be, paradoxically, to take pills that contain an extract of the drug.
The first test of the idea has found that indiviudals taking capsules of this extract, known as cannabidiol (CBD), nearly halved the amount of cannabis they smoked, according to recent research.
Cannabis is often seen as a soft drug, but according to one estimate about one in 10 people can become addicted, getting withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety when they try to stop using it.
The number of individuals seeking treatment because they can not quit smoking cannabis has been rising in the past decade, linked with use of the more potent form known as skunk.
There are two main psychoactive substances in cannabis:
- The first is CBD; and
- The second is the compound is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC is responsible for the drug’s high and, while THC tends to increase anxiety, CBD calms – it gets rid of eh toxic effects of THC.
In a recent study, Val Curran and her colleagues at the University College London, ran a trial in which participants took CBD for four weeks to alleviate withdrawal symptoms to help them quit smoking cannabis.
The trial involved 82 individuals classed as severely addicted to the drug, who were given one of three different doses of CBD in capsule form or a placebo (they all, also, had psychological support).
- The middle dose of 400 milligrams worked best – after six months, it halved the amount of cannabis each individual used compared with placebo, as shown by tests for THC in their urine.
- The 400 milligram dose also more than doubled the number of days when individuals had no THC in their urine.
- The highest dose of 800 milligrams was slightly less effective than the middle one.
- The lowest dose did not work.
A previous study has shown that individuals can also be helped to quit smoking cannabis by treatment with Sativex, a cannabis extract with both CBD and THC, deployed in a similar way to nicotine replacement therapy for tobacco users.
Academics suggest there could be advantages to using CBD alone. CBD has a variety of anti-addictive properties.
Researchers are also investigating CBD as a treatment for alcohol addiction. Two of the main features during alcohol detoxification are:
- Severe anxiety; and
- Risk of seizures.
It is believed that CBD has very strong anxiety-reducing properties, but this is still being researched.
Curran’s study also found preliminary evidence that CBD may help individuals to give up smoking tobacco.
CBD supplements are increasingly sold in pharmacies and health food shops as remedies for a range of illnesses, but at much lower doses than those used in Curran’s trial.
Many of the health claims made for them are not (currently) based on evidence. Therefore the current advice is that anyone who cannot stop smoking cannabis should seek medical assistance.
New Scientist. (2019) CBD Capsules May Treat Cannabis Addiction. New Scientist. 19 October 2019, pp.9.