According to a 2015 report put out by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health, nicotine is often as addictive as heroin and cocaine. Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter, in the pleasure circuits of the brain. Once a person is addicted to nicotine, their brain continually craves the nicotine so more dopamine will be released and give them those intense pleasurable sensations again.
The report goes on to say that about thirty-five million people know that smoking is bad for their health and want to break their nicotine habit. However, more than eighty-five percent of those who try to stop using tobacco products end up having a relapse, often within the first week when the withdrawal symptoms are the most severe.
Can CBD help break the nicotine habit?
A small research project designed to investigate this very question strongly suggests that CBD (cannabidiol) can indeed help break a nicotine habit. This is huge news because breaking a nicotine addiction is obviously no major feat! CBD, scientifically known as cannabidiol, is the primary non-psychoactive cannibinoid found in therapeutic cannabis plants. This should not be confused with THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol) found in recreational marijuana that gets people high. CBD will not get you high at all, nor will it give you a buzz like nicotine.
The research study was led by Dr. CJ Morgan, a member of the Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit at the University College of London. It was published in 2013 in the journal, Addictive Behaviors.
Twenty-four smokers were chosen at random and split into two equal groups. All smokers were given an inhaler and also given instructions on how to use it. They were told to use the inhaler any time they felt the urge to smoke for a period of one week. Note, they were not actually told to stop smoking or to reduce their smoking habits, only to use the inhaler any time they felt the urge to smoke. This is a key point so keep it in mind.
Half of the inhalers contained CBD and the other half contained no CBD, only a placebo. None of the participants knew if their inhaler contained CBD or not. Even though this was a small study, with only twelve participants in each group, the results were very convincing.
The group that received the placebo in their inhaler showed no significant difference in how many cigarettes they smoked that week. HOWEVER, the group that received CBD in their inhaler reduced their cigarette consumption by about forty percent. This remarkable result was achieved without even telling them to stop or reduce their smoking! It’s also good to note that the effect seemed to linger past the one week experiment, indicating that the positive effect of the CBD continues even after people stop taking it, at least for a while.
This is very encouraging and backs up the anecdotal accounts of how vaping CBD and using CBD oil under the tongue, reduces the withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings when one is attempting to break the nicotine habit.
Dr. CJ Morgan believes that the amazing result they got may be due to how CBD alters the memories associated with smoking. Normally, when someone has the urge to smoke, often after seeing or smelling someone else smoking, or during a stressful moment, they have a vivid memory of how good if feels to have that dopamine induced pleasure portion of their brain stimulated. This memory is so intense that the craving for that cigarette (or cigar or e-cigarette) becomes so strong, it is near impossible to ignore or overcome.
To understand what may be going on with CBD, we need to first talk about memory consolidation. When memories are first formed, they are put into the short-term memory. Gradually, some of our short-term memories are then moved into long-term memory. When this occurs, there is a “memory trace” left behind. It is thought that CBD can make a memory trace more flexible (plastic) when a memory is recalled. This allows the user to either get rid of that memory or modify that memory. This is sometimes called reconsolidating a memory.
Amnestic drugs, i.e. drugs that cause amnesia, are sometimes prescribed for drug addicts attempting to stop taking drugs. The idea is that when they have that intense craving for the drug, and the memory trace becomes flexible again, the amnestic drug will erase the memory of how pleasurable it was to take the drug and make the next cravings less intense or completely go away. It seems that CBD somehow makes this happen in cigarette smokers.
Alternately, the CBD may just allow the user to modify the memory enough that instead of remembering just the pleasure associated with smoking, the person also remembers the negatives about smoking and the fact that it is bad for them. Thus, the next time they start to crave nicotine, the memory of smoking won’t be so positive.
While the mechanism of how exactly CBD had such a positive effect on smokers over such a time period is not yet completely understood, the results were very convincing that CBD did indeed help those twelve smokers who inhaled CBD smoke less cigarettes. They also continued to smoke less cigarettes after the one week period. One could surmise that either vaping CBD oil or taking CBD oil under the tongue for a longer period than one week could help even more in the effort to kick the nicotine habit!