This really gets to the heart of how CBD works in the body and what research shows around CBD and addiction which we covered here.
There are a few different questions that have to be answered first starting with:
- Is CBD addictive
- Is CBD hedonic (does it cause pleasure)
- Does CBD build tolerance?
- Does CBD cause withdrawals?
- Is CBD psychoactive
- Does CBD make other drugs more pleasurable?
- Does CBD affect addiction for other drugs?
- Does the type of CBD affect relapse (YES!)
We'll focus on research and point out other reviews on each section.
Let's get started!
If you're asking the question, you may be surprised by the answers?
Is CBD addictive in terms of relapse?
No. Research is showing that CBD is not addictive.
For addiction, you need two things:
- A substance builds tolerance which means the brain pushes back the other way over time
- A substance hits the dopamine pathways - our "reward" circuit
All addictive drugs share these two attributes.
Tolerance alone can cause withdrawals symptoms so SSRIs are given the Orwellian term of "Serotonin discontinuation Syndrome" instead of full addiction.
What about CBD on these two facets?
CBD does not build tolerance. We look at all the research and explain the process here.
We'll discuss below why this is the case.
As for dopamine, CBD actually appears to balance dopamine response via its impact on upstream serotonin function.
We can look to its effects on schizophrenia, where dopamine is too high in one area (striatum) and too low in another area (prefrontal cortex).
In studies, CBD does not cause animals to self-administer which brings up the next section.
Is CBD hedonic (does it cause pleasure) in terms of relapse and recovery
This is the aspect by which an animal will hit the lever over and over to get alcohol, opioids or cocaine...even over food and water.
The drug has literally rewired the dopamine reward system to respond to the drug over all other inputs that normally guide survival.
It's not technically "pleasure" as it's "satisfaction".
CBD is not hedonic. CBD does support anandamide, our naturally occurring endocannabinoid named after the Hindu goddess of "bliss" but it's range bound.
In fact, people who are addicted to THC do so for the pumping effect on anandamide in one direction with dopamine and tolerance to follow after more use.
See CBD versus THC. Research shows CBD counters many of the effects of THC which is why CBD is a must for anyone who uses cannabis.
Let's turn to the big one now.
Does CBD build tolerance in terms of relapse and recovery?
A quick lay of the land of how addiction works.
The big drugs all push a given pathway in one direction:
- Benzos increase GABA, our brain's "brake" pedal
- SSRIs increase serotonin, our master regulator or mood and behavior
- Opioids increase naturally occurring opioids, our pain system - both physical and psychological
- Alcohol - increase GABA and serotonin
- Stimulants - increase glutamate (gas pedal) and acetylcholine
- Nicotine - increases acetylcholine, dual roles as both focus and calm
The problem (aside from pumping dopamine) is that they push in one direction. Up!
The brain panics with this artificial boost to critical pathways and starts to push back by downregulating receptor function and even numbers.
CBD works very differently.
CBD is technically called an allosteric negative modulator for key pathways:
- GABA - and by default, glutamate - it's opposing force
- Serotonin - maybe it's biggest role - with downstream effects on dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline
- Opioid system - pain and feeling "off"
There are other smaller players (TRPV, p55, etc.) but you see the main effects here:
So...what on earth does CBD do in these critical pathways that make it so different?
Essentially, it works like a feedback mechanism.
Where the addictive drugs above all send a message spreading from neuron to neuron in the brain...up up up!
CBD sends a message the other way:
- We're running low, send moreover
- We're all set here, stop sending
This is critical since all these pathways operate in complex interactions with each other.
That's why SSRIs have such crazy side effects (see CBD versus SSRIs).
Don't get started on dopamine!
The side effect profile for even very high levels of CBD (up to 1500mg doses) is unexpectedly tame.
This wouldn't happen if CBD pushed in one direction. It couldn't happen.
Even Tylenol can blow out your liver (leading cause of liver failure in the US) with too much.
Also, check out CBD and tolerance.
Since CBD doesn't build tolerance (across all the research referenced on our site - 100's of studies), it leads to the next question.
Does CBD cause withdrawals in terms of relapse and recovery?
The process of withdrawals is two-fold in relapse.
First, dopamine has caused the brain to "learn" the particular addiction.
It feels engrained in the brain because it is!
When it's pulled away, dopamine is screaming for it.
That's the basis for relapse as we all know.
This is why it can take some time to really succeed over an addiction and cues can still trigger a response years later (like learning to ride a bike).
The separate issue is tolerance.
Take one pathway for example...benzos. Highly addictive.
The drug has been pumping up GABA, our calming "brake" pedal in the brain.
The brain has been responding by reducing GABA levels and receptors...even boosting glutamate as an offset.
When you drop the benzo, not only is dopamine throwing a fit but your natural GABA pathway is worse off than when you started!
If it was prescribed for anxiety or sleep, you were likely already impaired in that pathway and now it's significantly reduced (depending on dosage and how long you took the benzo).
Major withdrawal symptoms. Insomnia. Panic attacks. Anxiety. Even seizures since glutamate is jacked up!
This initial phase usually lasts 2-10 days but the receptors likely don't come back for 6-8 weeks based on research.
Keep in mind, your "natural" level may have been low or impaired to begin with (stress, immune response, etc.).
CBD does not cause withdrawals since it doesn't build tolerance and doesn't spike dopamine.
Let's move on to a fascinating question.
Is CBD psychoactive - does it get you high?
Technically, CBD is psychoactive because it does affect but on in the way most people think.
CBD does not get you high. Remember, it's a feedback agent to bring levels to balance.
If you're anxious, it might get you calm so that is a psychoactive effect but it won't keep pushing you calm till your passed out like benzos, alcohol, or opioids.
THC is psychoactive and CBD has been shown to offset or even block this effect.
See CBD for greening out.
Speaking of THC...
Does CBD make other drugs more pleasurable?
This is a critical piece during recovery and for relapse.
THC will actually make other drugs more pleasurable. Food included!
CBD not only doesn't do this but it reduces the "craving" of other drugs which is critical for recovery and relapse.
See CBD and craving for the research. Very fascinating.
This makes the type of CBD used very important as we'll see below.
We've talked a lot about whether CBD is a relapse and how it works but a quick note on its effects for addiction to other drugs.
Does CBD affect addiction for other drugs
In fact, across every drug class, there's interesting research on CBD's effect on addiction.
Start at our CBD and addiction master page which then points out to the research on specific drugs.
CBD appears to have the following effects:
- Rebalances or supports the critical pathways that are impacted by a drug (GABA, serotonin, etc.)
- Reduces cravings and cue-sensitive impulses
- Reduces inflammation, stress response, and immune response which drive relapse
- Supports the rewiring process for true recovery - neurogenesis
The latter may be the most important.
One study showed that stress and BDNF were the two biggest determining factors of relapse.
You may be asking…."What is BDNF?"
It's your new best friend if you're in recovery.
BDNF is the brain's fertilizer and it's key to remodeling the learned pathway of addiction.
Addiction is learned in the technical sense. Actual connections in the brain that have been strengthened by use.
To uproot that and re-learn new pathways requires a robust system and BDNF is the star player there.
To this end, also check out:
- Exercise and mindful meditation for neurogenesis
- NAC for addiction
- Magnesium for addiction
NAC and CBD may be powerful allies to prevent a relapse.
Let's talk about the type of CBD as it's important.
Does the type of CBD affect relapse (YES!)
First of all, we have certain requirements:
- Organically grown industrial hemp in the USA at an FDA registered farm
- CO2 processed
- 3rd party tested
- No THC!!!! This is a must for recovery and relapse.
- No pesticides
- No heavy metals
- No solvents
- No bacteria
- No mold
We actually test ours twice since our whole family uses it.
The THC point is critical since it hits dopamine, builds tolerance, and makes other drugs more pleasurable.
By law, CBD can have up to a certain amount of THC and you see this with full-spectrum CBD (see full-spectrum CBD versus isolate).
We focus on CBD isolate (CBD by itself) for this reason.
The research on CBD and relapse or recovery is very promising. We focus on research so we focus on isolate.
There's also a histamine (allergic response) issue.
40-60% of the population has histamine issues and all the plant material in full-spectrum CBD is the wrong direction there.
Too much histamine response is a type of stress in the brain and research is looking at this component for relapse and recovery:
Studies on both rats and mice indicate that histamine H3 receptor antagonists decrease alcohol drinking in several models, like operant alcohol administration and drinking in the dark paradigm. Alcohol-induced place preference is also affected by these drugs.
For that reason, we want really clean CBD isolate.
Then there's the question of cost.
The key there is price per mg of CBD.
We price our 6000mg bottles at 2-3 cents per mg and that's before discounts up to 30%.
Research points to 300 mg as peak neurogenesis (the BDNF key to recovery and relapse) so we have to be able to afford this.
In our addiction review, we go through dosages and time tables.
So...to answer the question, not only is CBD not a relapse but it may help with relapse to the initial drug.
Always work with a doctor or naturopath with any supplement!
The information provided here is not intended to treat an illness or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.