Over the years, the habit-forming properties of substances like alcohol, tobacco, and opioids have become unavoidably clear. Ironically, each of these substances has been presented as safe at one point or another in history.
Disillusioned by false assurances regarding the safety of other substances, it’s natural to be skeptical about the dependence potential of CBD. Despite extensive research, however, scientists have been forced to admit that CBD is entirely non-addictive. In fact, studies have been conducted to determine if CBD might be useful in treating dependence on other substances.
Why are certain substances addictive?
Most addictive drugs increase concentrations of dopamine in the brain. The way that dopamine functions in the nervous system is called the “reward circuit,” which reflects this neurotransmitter’s role in making you feel rewarded for performing certain actions.
When operating normally, dopamine provides a powerful incentive to perform actions that promote survival or allow you to thrive. Exercising, having sex, and performing well professionally are all examples of actions that lead to natural surges of dopamine.
While dopamine normally conditions you to perform positive, healthy actions, this neurotransmitter can also condition you to behave negatively and destructively. Even though you might know on a rational level that sitting on your couch and smoking weed or shooting up heroin all day isn’t a productive way to live your life, dopamine is a powerful persuader.
By hijacking your brain’s natural reward circuits, dopamine-stimulating drugs provide intense sensations of pleasure that condition you to maintain or, in most cases, increase your daily drug intake. Addictive substances destroy your motivation to perform tasks that are actually necessary to your survival or betterment, and they lure you into a destructive spiral that’s the psychological equivalent of a black hole.
How does CBD work in the body?
Long before CBD became popular on the internet and in retail stores, scientists already knew that this cannabinoid behaves very differently from THC. While THC may have habit-forming properties because it causes surges of dopamine in your brain, CBD stimulates increases in serotonin, not dopamine. As a result, CBD is not chemically addictive.
Let’s break down how this works:
- THC causes surges of dopamine primarily by stimulating your brain’s CB1 receptors
- CBD does not stimulate the CB1 receptors
- In fact, CBD acts as an inverse agonist at these receptors, making it harder for them to bond with THC
- Instead, CBD primarily bonds with the 5-HT1A and TRPV1 receptors
- 5-HT1A is the brain’s most abundant serotonin receptor
- Stimulating this receptor leads to increases in serotonin throughout the nervous system
Dopamine is essentially a one-trick pony. This neurotransmitter stimulates huge surges of pleasure, and that’s about it. Serotonin, on the other hand, is responsible for dozens of different functions throughout your nervous system, and it’s the primary neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of confidence and self-assurance.
No matter how good serotonin makes you feel about yourself, however, this neurotransmitter doesn’t become addictive. Rather than rewarding you for actions you’ve performed, serotonin provides you with the confidence that you can overcome any obstacle whether it’s in the real world or in your mind.
Can CBD be psychologically addictive?
Addiction specialists generally separate drug dependence into two categories: psychological and physical. Technically, it’s possible to become psychologically addicted to anything, including a placebo. Psychological dependence is simply the development of a habit that can cause significant mental turmoil if it’s disrupted.
Technically, it’s possible to become psychologically addicted to CBD. It’s also possible, however, to become psychologically addicted to water or vitamin C. There’s nothing about the chemical structure of CBD that leads to dependence, but in some cases, the beneficial effects of this cannabinoid could become so profound that CBD users start feeling like they can’t live without it.
Can CBD be physically addictive?
Physical addiction, also known as chemical addiction, occurs when your nervous system reconfigures itself to require a drug. In most cases, only substances that stimulate the dopamine reward circuit can become chemically addictive.
While psychological addiction can be overcome simply by reconfiguring your mindset, overcoming physical addiction entails rewiring your nervous system. In some cases, substances similar to addictive drugs but with reduced dependence potential can be used to treat physical addiction along with therapy and lifestyle changes.
CBD is not physically addictive. This cannabinoid does not increase levels of dopamine in your brain, and it doesn’t perform any other actions that can lead to chemical dependence.
Does CBD have any abuse potential?
Abuse potential is usually determined based on the addictiveness of a substance combined with its side effects. Opioids, alcohol, and tobacco, for instance, are considered to have high abuse potential because they’re very habit-forming and can cause physiological harm.
The abuse potential of CBD appears to be approximately zero. While you could try to abuse CBD by taking huge quantities of this substance, concentrations of CBD exceeding 1500mg per day have been demonstrated as safe in human subjects. There’s some concern that huge doses of CBD could cause liver damage, but this potential side effect has not been proven.
Research into CBD and addiction
As if it wasn’t good enough that CBD is non-addictive, there’s even reason to believe that CBD might help with addictions to other substances. In 2015, for instance, scientists performed a systematic review of the evidence supporting the use of CBD in addiction treatment, and in 2019, a new study was released detailing efforts to use CBD as a treatment for opioid addiction.
What’s more, CBD appears to change the shape of CB1 receptors to make it harder for them to bind with THC. More research needs to be done, but it’s possible that curtailed CB1 receptor activity might lower the intensity of the dopamine rush associated with THC, reducing the chemical dependence risk factor of this intoxicating cannabinoid.
That’s not all. A few studies have now been published regarding the potential usefulness of CBD in tobacco addiction. CBD isn’t addictive, and it isn’t even neutral. All of the available evidence suggests that CBD should be studied in much more detail for its potential as a drug cessation aid.
Does CBD have any side effects?
Okay, you’re convinced: CBD isn’t addictive. But there must be some drawback to using CBD, right? It would simply be too good to be true if this cannabinoid were non-addictive, were being studied for its anti-addiction benefits, and also didn’t have any major side effects.
The truth is that scientists have been unable to determine that CBD causes any significant negative effects. While this cannabinoid can make you sleepy and cause moderate gastrointestinal distress, CBD appears to be remarkably non-toxic, and it won’t make you feel intoxicated, anxious, or paranoid.
Will I develop a dependence if I use CBD?
CBD does not cause physical dependence. While it’s technically possible to become psychologically dependent on CBD, the risk of such an event occurring is about as high as the risk of becoming psychologically addicted to vitamins or minerals.
Regardless of whether you use CBD in the form of CBD oil, topical CBD, or CBD flower, this cannabinoid’s dependence potential remains remarkably low. While the unexpected abuse potential of prescription opioids and similar substances has led to significant disappointment, CBD will be more trusted and revered in five years, not less.