Feeling safe and confident about what you put in your body is important, so if you’re new to CBD, you’re likely to have some questions. Questions like is CBD addictive? How does it interact with my body? Maybe you see a hemp leaf on a product or packaging and you hear the distant voice of Mr. Mackey in the back of your mind saying, “Drugs are bad, mkay.” But he’s a cartoon character and maybe doesn’t know the whole story, so let’s walk through this together and get to the real truth.
Is CBD Addictive?
Let’s get this out of the way first so we can have a more productive conversation. No, CBD is not addictive. While you may have preexisting associations about the addictive properties of cannabis or THC, I assure you that CBD is quite different. In fact, even the World Health Organization says that there are no effects of CBD usage in humans that indicate any potential for abuse or dependence.
There is even some preliminary evidence that CBD can be used in treating addiction. A review of fourteen studies done in 2015 identified findings that suggest that CBD use may have therapeutic effects in treating addiction to opioids, cocaine, psychostimulants, and nicotine. A separate study done in 2019 found that CBD may reduce drug cravings, paranoia, impulsivity, and withdraw symptoms associated with crack-cocaine. It is important to note that while these studies are promising, there is still much more research necessary to understand how CBD can be used to treat addiction.
How Does CBD Affect My Body?
Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids occur naturally in a variety of plants, as well as your own body, and interact with your body through what is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a system of cannabinoids that occur naturally throughout your body and the receptors that they bind to to regulate and maintain healthy function of the body’s systems, like the brain, nervous, system, and immune system. When the ECS is out of balance, these systems do not function at their optimal level. The use of CBD can help restore this balance, allowing for a variety of therapeutic effects. Some of those effects include:
- Pain relief
- Sleep aid
- Appetite management
- Depression and Anxiety relief
- Anti-inflammatory properties
There are numerous ways that CBD can benefit you and you can read all about those many benefits here.
THC also interacts with the receptors in the ECS and its receptors in a similar, but not identical, way to how CBD does and can also have therapeutic effects in rebalancing those systems that are regulated by the ECS. However, THC is also a psychoactive compound which means that it affects the brain and central nervous system in a way that alters a person’s mental state. THC has many of the benefits of CBD, but with the added effect of the ‘high’.
Because of this psychoactive effect, the question as to whether THC is addictive is a little murkier than with CBD. Part of the reason is because of the language used when describing use disorders with chemical substances like THC is not particularly consistent. Let’s take a closer look at the terms used and what they mean so we can get a better understanding.
What is Addiction?
Not all agencies, researchers, and clinicians mean the same thing when they say the word addiction. Sometimes they mean a substance use disorder, sometimes they mean a physical dependence, and sometimes they mean a behavioral disease. Substance use disorders are the overarching category that contains both dependence and addiction. They are disorders that result in a person’s difficulty or inability to control their use of a legal or illegal substance. They can range from mild to severe, with addiction being the most severe. The terms for substance use disorders that are used most interchangeably are addiction and dependence.
Dependence vs. Addiction
Dependence is when the body needs the substance to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Because the body has acclimated to the presence of the substance in the body, when it is taken away, negative side effects occur. It may be more helpful to call this ‘physical dependence’ because it is a reference to the physical side of substance use disorder. Having a physical dependence does not guarantee that a person is addicted, but it is an indicator that they may be or are on their way to being addicted.
Addiction, however, is a dramatic change in behavior caused by biochemical changes in the brain. The continued use of the substance becomes the main priority of the addict, and they are willing to suffer through negative consequences and ignore the harm done to themselves or others to obtain and ingest more of the substance to which they are addicted. To clarify the difference between addiction and dependence, a lifelong coffee drinker who runs out of coffee and gets a terrible headache that morning is dependent on coffee. A lifelong coffee drinker who runs out of coffee and pawns their wedding ring to afford their next cup is addicted to coffee.
Is THC Addictive?
The quick answer here is yes, THC can be addictive. Under the conditions of extremely heavy use, THC can lead to substance use disorders that can include dependence. The most dramatic cases of those disorders can lead to addiction. There is not much research that exists on whether there is a difference in the addictive quality of THC from cannabis or hemp derived THC, so we’ll have to lean on what we know about THC from cannabis.
Physical dependence to THC occurs because the endocannabinoid system becomes so accustomed to large amounts of THC that the natural production and sensitivity to endocannabinoids is reduced. Because of this reduced sensitivity, users sometimes develop a strong tolerance to the effects of THC. This can result in using more and more to achieve the same effect. People who are physically dependent on THC may experience withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug, including:
- Mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decreased appetite
- Physical discomfort
These symptoms tend to peak within the first week of discontinuing use and typically abate between one and two weeks. When the behavior of a THC user becomes so markedly different that their fixation on the drug becomes harmful to themselves or others, this could be qualified as addiction. While statistically these cases are less common than with other drugs like opioids, cocaine, or alcohol, they can still occur. It is important to always approach any chemical substance responsibly.
No, CBD is not addictive. There is no evidence that suggests prolonged CBD use leads to either physical dependency or behavioral disorders associated with addiction.
Maybe. There are scientific studies and anecdotal evidence that suggest CBD may have therapeutic effects that help in relieving addiction to other substances.
It can be. Prolonged, high-volume use of THC can lead to a physical dependence that will result in negative symptoms when usage is stopped. In the most extreme cases, this can lead to behavioral disorders and addiction. It is important to use THC responsibly.
If you are worried that you might be addicted to THC or any chemical substance, there are steps you can take to help make quitting easier.
Create a Strategy
Whether it be steadily weaning yourself off the substance, or quitting cold turkey, commitment to a strategy can help you stick to your desire to quit.
Understand Your Triggers
Knowing when, where, why, and with who you want to use is a big step in quitting. By understanding your triggers, you can more easily avoid them and prepare yourself for how you will react to them if they are unavoidable.
A solid support system of friends, family, and/or professionals is a huge factor in successfully quitting.
Create a Routine
A routine of self-care, exercise, and enjoyable activities can help you from falling back into unwanted behavioral patterns. Filling your time with healthier, more desirable things to do can go a long way in helping you quit.
Seek Professional Help
If you think that your substance abuse problem may be beyond your control, professional help and services can get you back on track. Contact your physician or personal care provider, or seek out help online from resources like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, SCOTT JONES
Scott Jones is a freelance writer, author, and digital marketer from Akron, Ohio. He loves to research and write about any and all topics that fascinate him, including CBD. He could afford to watch a few fewer movies and eat a few more vegetables. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Instagram, or read other posts by Scott.