Research on CBD for THC Addiction, Tolerance, and Withdrawal

CBD for THC addiction, withdrawal, and tolerance 

We covered the differences between CBD and THC (cousins if you will) in a few other articles.

We even dove deep into the glutamate pathway which might point to why people start chronically using THC-rich cannabis to begin with (see CBD and gluatamate).

Early trauma and infection (even in utero) can ramp up glutamate, our brain's "gas" pedal and THC is a big wet blanket on that activity.

But with a cost!  It builds tolerance which means our natural anandamide (THC mimics) pathways drops with time.  We'll go through the whole process below.

Let's now turn our focus to THC addiction.

It's estimated that 9% of people who use cannabis will develop a full-on addiction to it.

There's a clear connection with the dopamine system which is key to addiction. 

Addiction is a process of learning (see CBD and addiction) so more use to cannabis and at an earlier age primes the brain for this learning process. 

We'll break it all down below based on research. 


Below, you'll also find links to our full Top 10 Tips for Tapering THC or Cannabis with lots of tools in addition to CBD.

These are the areas we'll cover: 

The difference between CBD and THC
THC's primary effect in the brain
The process of THC tolerance
Learning and THC addiction
Can CBD help with THC addiction
Can CBD help with THC withdrawals
Can CBD help with THC tolerance
CBD and teenage THC addiction
How long does it take for CBD to reverse THC long term effects
How much CBD to take for THC addiction
What's the best CBD to take for THC addiction

Lots to cover.  Let's get started.

The difference between CBD and THC 

First, an introduction is in order.

What's the relationship between CBD and THC?

They are both cannabinoids that are derived from the cannabis plant.

In fact, they are the most prominent cannabinoids in the plant!

Interestingly, they have almost opposing actions across multiple pathways.


cbd versus thc



We have to dig a little deeper since it will speak to the addiction side of THC.

We have a receptor throughout the brain and nervous system called the CB1 receptor.

It primarily responds to two naturally occurring endocannabinoids (endo meaning within) that we make in our bodies: 

  • Anandamide
  • 2-AG


Anandamide is the one we'll focus on since THC's chemical makeup is very similar.

This allows THC to open the receptor just like anandamide (with some key differences).

By the way,  research is showing that anandamide is a key player in our stress response system.

When things get too much, anandamide is created on-demand to provide support and calms the system down.

Afterall, anandamide is named after the Hindu goddess of bliss so that tells you something!

So, in essence, THC boosts CB1 activity.

CBD is a completely different animal.

It has some effect on the CB2 receptors (primarily an immune system agent) but its real gift appears to be this.

It acts as a feedback mechanism on the endocannabinoid system.


cbd and anandamide


This allows it to have different results depending on the status of the system!

Cancer is a perfect and powerful example: 

  • Healthy cell with low inflammation - no effect
  • Health cell with high inflammation - reduces inflammation
  • Cancerous or infected cell - INCREASES inflammation


Read that back over because it's key to CBD's effect on addiction.

Three different situations with three different results (even opposite).

The increase in inflammation for cancerous cells might seem strange until you realize that oxidative stress and inflammation is the way our body (immune system actually) naturally kills cancerous and faulty cells!


See CBD and oxidative stress or CBD and cancer for more on this.

Technically, CBD is called an allosteric reverse modulator.

Goodness, that's a mouthful.

Basically it means that while most substances (THC included) send a signal from point A to point B, CBD sends a feedback message back the other way along a given pathway.

  • We're fine over here...stop sending.
  • We're running low over here...send more.


When you apply this feedback mechanism to a powerful pathway such as serotonin, the results can be profound (see CBD and serotonin).

Research is pointing to how CBD has countering and protective effects against THC in the brain and body.

  • THC pushes CB1 activity
  • CBD modulates or manages this push


In fact, study after study shows that CBD will counter the various effects of THC directly such as: 

In particular, cannabidiol (CBD) was shown to prevent THC associated hippocampal volume loss in a small pilot study.

This is incredibly important as the hippocampus is a key hub for both memory and mood control.

We go into the range of effects at our Why CBD is protective of Cannabis or THC use.

Really important implications.

That's all well and good but why do some people use cannabis chronically and how does that lead to addiction?

THC's primary effect in the brain. 

We know that THC boosts (technically called a partial agonist) CB1 activity.

The net effect of this is that of a wet blanket on brain activity.

In fact, the newer research is really pointing to glutamate (our brain's "gas pedal") as a key player in addiction in general (across all drugs).

CB1 activity suppresses glutamate activity!

Glutamate is an interesting beast.

Guess what things can increase glutamate overall?

  • Chronic stress
  • Hyperactive immune response (say from early infection)
  • Trauma
  • Various drugs
  • Genetic differences


Recent research is really pointing to the immune system and hyperactive responses there.  We did a massive review on CBD and trauma or the Immune system and mental health


cbd and trauma


Regardless of the reason, too much glutamate can feel horrible!

It's literally toxic to neurons.

More importantly, look at just some of the effects of hyperactive glutamate activity: 


A great deal of this is managed via the immune system (hyperactive). 

A recent study showed the long term effects of psilocybin were due to immune system genese being turned on!


We can go on and on but if someone has too much glutamate, THC is probably going feel pretty good.

Even to a point of self-medicating.  Daily use.

That's where addiction comes from.

Learning and THC addiction 

With constant use (self-medicating), addiction becomes a very real possibility.

It's no different than if you shoot baskets every day, you'll probably become a pretty good shooter.

It's a form of learning in that the brain is rewiring based on repetition to reward behavior.

That's a trick of THC and other drugs in that they pump the dopamine system which is a key player in the reward circuit.

People associate pleasure with dopamine but that's not the real role of this powerful and highly integrated neurotransmitter.

"Do that's important to survival"  is more in line with the real effect.

The key brain area for this process is the nucleus accumbens: 

Our findings indicate that marijuana use is associated with decreased neural response in the NAcc during the anticipation of non-drug rewards.

To re-word that statement, THC makes other activities less rewarding!

This speaks to motivation, drive, and the ability to be productive.

The key to unwinding this established learning (cue - crave - use) is called neurogenesis.

Neurogenesis is a fancy way to say making new connections and neurons in the brain.


cbd and bdnf versus thc


You can't learn new tricks without it and not using cannabis will require new tricks to overwrite the existing pathways.

This assumes we also address the original reason we were drawn to THC, to begin with (hello, glutamate!).

Before we get into the research on CBD, let's touch on the real killer with stopping THC or cannabis (or any drug for that matter).

The process of THC tolerance 

If you're trying to stop cannabis, this may be the most important section to truly understand the process.

We've covered it quite a bit in our CBD and tolerance review (CBD does not cause tolerance by the way).

cbd and thc tolerance

As we mentioned above, THC substitutes nicely for a naturally occurring chemical called anandamide (the bliss molecule).

Nicely but not exactly!

Anandamide is a class of chemicals that is readily made on-demand in the brain and almost immediately broken down.

Countless times a minute.

It doesn't hang around.

The chemical that breaks down anandamide is called FAAH (see the woman who can't feel pain, anxiety, or depression).

There's an interesting connection with FAAH and cannabis use: 

FAAH levels were reduced by 14-20% in chronic cannabis users compared with people who did not use cannabis.

Why would this be?

It turns out that THC disrupts the whole apple cart (apple cart being our endocannabinoid system).

A study looked at why cannabis use during pregnancy can lead to host major issues: 

We demonstrate that THC (10–40 µM) impairs placental endocannabinoid system by disrupting the endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA) levels and the expression of AEA synthetic and degrading enzymes N-arachidonoyl-phosphatidylethanolamine-specific phospholipase D (NAPE-PLD) and fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), respectively.

To translate (please!!), THC caused an increase in anandamide levels (since its receptors are being taken up by THC) and a drop in FAAH (which is trying to get rid of the excess anandamide).

As they put it…

Thus, long-term local AEA levels are associated with a shift in the enzymatic profile to re-establish ECS homeostasis. 


The body is trying to push back against the effects of THC.  Why?

So...anandamide is quickly made and broken down over and over again naturally.

THC doesn't work this way!

It tends to linger for much longer and stronger than anandamide (a lifetime longer in brain time) stimulating CB1 activity along the way.

This is not a natural effect or level so the brain responds in the opposite direction.

With prolonged use, it will reduce both the sensitivity and actual numbers of CB1 receptors.

In rodents, chronic THC exposure causes a reduction in the number and signaling efficiency of CB1 receptors

We see this with all the major addictive drugs (benzos for GABA receptors, SSRI's for serotonin receptors, stimulants for glutamate receptors, etc).

When the THC leaves the system, you're worse off than before you in the very pathway you were deficient in, to begin with (thus self-medicating or really liking cannabis).

This sets up a nasty cycle of increased use and reduced effect.

That's why long term cannabis users need more and more potent THC or quantity for the same high.

We did a whole review on CBD and dabbing addiction as a result.

Hence the pot breaks.

What's actually happening during these breaks is that the CB1/anandamide system is normalizing.

It's also a key component to stopping cannabis and how long it will take (more on that below).

It's probably our greatest hurdle.

The same normalization needs to happen for our dopamine system as well.

All of this relies on one key process...neurogenesis.

That's a great segue into our next section….the one we've been waiting for.

Can CBD help with THC addiction 

It's a bit odd to look to THC's cousin to help people deal with addiction.

There's a great deal of research on how CBD directly counteracts the effects of THC in the body.

Before diving into research on CBD and THC addiction, we're going to look at the pathways above: 

  • CBD and glutamate balancing for THC or cannabis addiction (the self-medicating cause)
  • CBD and neurogenesis for THC or cannabis addiction
  • Research on CBD for cannabis addiction


Let's get started.  The cause.  The process.  The results in research.


First, the reason some people are instantly drawn to cannabis.

Glutamate imbalance (from overactive immune responses, chronic stress, social rejection, etc).


What does CBD do with glutamate balancing?

We did a deep dive into CBD and glutamate since this now appearing on the radar of almost every mental health issue including addiction.

Here's one of our favorite studies.

Let's set the stage.

Remember that a hyperactive immune response can lead to excessive glutamate (which is a bad thing in the brain).

This can be triggered by early infection (even in the womb) or trauma which is linked to almost every mental health issue you can find.

A group of researchers exposed mice to infection prenatally and looked at the effects later in life for schizophrenia and autism pathways.

The control group had an expected increase in glutamate.

Look what happens when they treated the other group with CBD: 

CBD treatment attenuated poly I:C-induced deficits in cannabinoid CB1 receptor binding in the PFC and glutamate decarboxylase 67, the enzyme that converts glutamate to GABA, in the HPC.

Let's translate because this is too cool.

When they treated the rats with CBD, the imbalance between glutamate and GABA (our calming neurotransmitter and the target of benzos) was reduced!

Their conclusion: 

Overall, these findings show that CBD can restore cannabinoid/GABAergic signaling deficits in regions of the brain implicated in schizophrenia pathophysiology following maternal poly I:C exposure. 


GABA is the opposing force to glutamate.


cbd and gaba


Again, check out CBD and glutamate for the full story but remember...THC stimulates the system that slows down activity which speaks to glutamate imbalance!

Also, NAC (N acetylcysteine) is almost as impressive as CBD and the two together may be powerful allies in balancing glutamate function (See NAC and mental health).

That's a step towards righting the ship that made a person so drawn to THC, to begin with.

What about rewiring the addiction pathway?

CBD and neurogenesis for THC or cannabis addiction 

If learning (which addiction is) is the end result, neurogenesis is the means.

To "unlearn" addiction, we have to build new pathways...plain and simple.

Think of a river where the water (cue - crave- use) has worn a deep channel.  

Water flows to the lowest point and it keeps strengthening that channel it's carved in the earth.

Our connections in the brain are the same.  Neurons that fire together, wire together.

The more you use the pathway, the stronger it gets.  Stop using it, and with time, it withers away.

Both the learning and "forgetting" is done by neurogenesis in the brain.

In fact, some drugs can actually disarm this ability which makes them even harder to break.

Cocaine is especially powerful in that effect (stimulants in general thus nicotine is one of the hardest).

What does CBD do for neurogenesis?

First a study on anxiety (which is tied to reduced neurogenesis due to stress hormones and chemicals): 

These results indicate that CBD prevents the behavioral effects caused by CUS probably due to a facilitation of endocannabinoid neurotransmission and consequent CB1/CB2 receptors activation, which could recruit intracellular/synaptic proteins involved in neurogenesis and dendritic remodeling.

CUS is chronic, unpredictable stress (sounds as bad as it is). 

Let me guess...when you most feel like smoking cannabis?  

The key to CBD's effect was via "dendritic remodeling".

Dendrites are the little branches that come off neurons to form connections with other neurons.

The river!!  Actually, tributaries and streams that form the river.

The best word there is "remodeling".  That's the process of changing the course of the river from cannabis addiction (which is well worn by now).

And from anxiety to depression (two issues directly tied to long term cannabis use by the way).

First, the headline:

Cannabidiol Induces Rapid and Sustained Antidepressant-Like Effects Through Increased BDNF Signaling and Synaptogenesis in the Prefrontal Cortex.

Goodness.  We've covered BDNF in detail at CBD and BDNF since it's the brain's fertilizer.

In fact, in our review of how SSRI antidepressants actually work, BDNF was the star and its stage was the CB1 receptor.

When they chemically or genetically blocked CB1 activity, the neurogenesis and antidepressant effects went away!

The big part of that statement is "synaptogenesis in the prefrontal cortex".

People...this is making new connections in the part of the brain perhaps most susceptible to excess glutamate (behind the hippocampus).

The prefrontal cortex...the part that makes us human.  Thinking animals.  Controlling impulses.

Speaking of hippocampus and cannabis users in specific: 

Our findings suggest a restorative effect of CBD on the subicular and CA1 subfields in current cannabis users, especially those with greater lifetime exposure to cannabis

Let's get into research on CBD and cannabis addiction.

Research on CBD for cannabis addiction 

First, it's well established that the ratio of THC to CBD in various cannabis products directly affects addiction, withdrawals, and tolerance.

This can be seen in studies such as: 

When intoxicated, smokers of high CBD: THC strains showed a reduced attentional bias to drug and food stimuli compared with smokers of low CBD: THC. Those smoking higher CBD: THC strains also showed lower self-rated liking of cannabis stimuli on both test days.

This is scientific speak for the craving of cannabis.

Researchers have even imaged the brain to see the effects on the specific areas tied to the reward circuit for cannabis addiction and CBD's effect: 

Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and CBD differentially modulate prefrontal, striatal, and hippocampal function during attentional salience processing.

They had opposite effects!  Salience means...focusing on what's important.  

Speaks directly to addiction if you've ever "craved" canabis.

There are lots of smaller studies such as: 

Daily symptom assessments demonstrated the absence of significant withdrawal, anxiety, and dissociative symptoms during the treatment.

With the use of the CBD oil, the patient reported being less anxious, as well as for settling into a regular pattern of sleep. He also indicated that he had not used any marijuana since starting the CBD oil

Both are test pilot studies for CBD and cannabis use disorder (CUS).

A bigger study looked at 82 people: 

After six months it halved the number of cannabis people used compared with placebo, as shown by tests for THC in their urine.

Another study focused on substances that are a blend of THC and CBD: 

For the primary end point, the placebo group reported significantly more days using cannabis during the 12 weeks (mean [SD], 53.1 [33.0] days) than the nabiximols group (mean [SD], 35.0 [32.4] days; estimated difference, 18.6 days; 95% CI, 3.5-33.7 days; P = .02).

So...just having a 1:1 ratio (roughly) of THC to CBD would reduce the number of days cannabis was used.

Another similar study: 

Cannabis use was reduced in the nabiximols (70.5%) and placebo groups (42.6%).

A review of just adding CBD to THC: 

The researchers found that participants who had given nabiximols to started using significantly less illicit, recreational cannabis than the control group who they gave a placebo.

We can use this in our process to deal to wean off cannabis (below).

There are multiple larger-scale studies on CBD and cannabis use disorder underway and we look forward to their results.

Also, check out NAC review (glutamate balancing) and psilocybin review (neurogenesis).

Currently, CBD appears to help with the cravings and withdrawals.

Let's go there now.

Can CBD help with THC withdrawals 

One of the hardest parts of stopping cannabis is withdrawals.


cbd and thc withdrawal


There was an impressive look at CBD and opioid withdrawal (double-blind/placebo) which has shared characteristics and is even more severe: 

Acute CBD administration, in contrast to placebo, significantly reduced both craving and anxiety induced by the presentation of salient drug cues compared with neutral cues.

Even more fascinating was this piece: 

CBD also showed significant protracted effects on these measures 7 days after the final short-term (3-day) CBD exposure.


How can that be?  How can one course over 3 days lead to reductions for 7 days?

It's clearly not just about balancing neurotransmitters as those would snap back almost instantly.

This, folks, is neurogenesis.  Rerouting the river!

Opioid and cannabis withdrawals have many shared attributes in terms of symptoms.

This is true for all drugs actually.

Another study looked at CBD's effect alcohol and cocaine withdrawal (specifically the anxiety): 

CBD also reduced experimental anxiety and prevented the development of high impulsivity in rats with an alcohol dependence history.

So far, we only have anecdotal studies on CBD and cannabis withdrawal symptoms such as: 

Daily symptom assessments demonstrated the absence of significant withdrawal, anxiety, and dissociative symptoms during the treatment.

Don't underestimate the stress hormone pathway in this whole process: 

Dysregulation of the HPA‐axis may cause the blunted stress response to negative emotional stimuli 118 and stress‐related withdrawal symptoms such as dysphoria, anxiety, and irritability 55, 118 observed in CUD. 


We covered the withdrawal question in detail at our CBD and withdrawals here.

On our way to using CBD to wean off cannabis, we have to touch on the tolerance piece.

Can CBD help with THC tolerance 

Remember how THC will cause a reduction in CB1 receptors activity and sensitivity?

Don't take our word for it!

Biologically there is evidence that cannabis withdrawal is associated with the downregulation of brain cannabinoid-1 (CB-1) receptors as a result of chronic use.

And the net effect of this downregulation is feeling horrible when the THC wears off: 

In rodents, chronic THC exposure causes a reduction in the number and signaling efficiency of CB1 receptors (e.g. 114, 115). This down‐regulation has been related to withdrawal

The process of bringing back this natural endocannabinoid function is the key to tolerance.

This is first about blunting the effect of THC and secondly, neurogenesis.

Here's the beauty of CBD.

Technically, it's an allosteric negative modulator.

This means it doesn't directly boost or drop CB1 activity or other neurotransmitters.

It's a feedback mechanism for the endocannabinoid system as we discussed above!

There are various clues we can use to deduce this: 

  • There are no known overdoses on CBD (not one-directional).
  • CBD can have different (even opposite) effects depending on the state of the system
  • CBD can have pronounced balancing effects on key pathways directly affected by drugs (glutamate, serotonin, GABA, etc)
  • CBD is showing fascinating effects of diseases reflecting complex imbalances (for example...see CBD and schizophrenia).


Let's zero in on anandamide since it's front and center with cannabis addiction.

CBD has been shown to boost anandamide (by decreasing FAAH) but higher doses don't lead to psychosis-like effects from THC.

In fact, CBD has shown to have anti-psychotic effects (even countering those from excessive THC).  See CBD for greening out.

The first step to addressing THC tolerance is to balance the players so that the brain doesn't have to counter so hard the other way downstream (chemical and even DNA).


Finally, there's the neuro and synaptogenesis.  

Building new connections and even new receptors!

Check out CBD and neurogenesis or CBD and BDNF here for much more detail there.

Before we jump into practical questions, an important step to an age when learning is in hyperdrive across the brain.

CBD and teenage THC addiction 

It's a perfect storm.  A potentially addictive drug (for about 10% of the population) and a brain in learning overdrive (BDNF full throttle).

The teenage brain is not only much more available to the process of learning but it's literally remodeling its entire landscape.

In fact, a study just came out on teenage cannabis use that showed just a few times can change brain architecture and make the adult brain more subject to anxiety and depression.

Research on how CBD interacts along these pathways show an opposite effect: 

Interestingly, in contrast to THC, CBD appears to have more protective effects relevant to addiction, cognition, and negative affect.

Check out why CBD is a must if you use cannabis.

Better yet, why high THC comes with a price (Lawyer Up!).

Let's get real practical now.

How long does it take for CBD to reverse THC long term effects 

We can actually piece this together with research on the matter.

Regular cannabis intake is related to desensitization and downregulation of human cortical and subcortical CB1 receptors. This starts to reverse within the first 2 days of abstinence and the receptors return to normal functioning after ~4 weeks of abstinence

So, the first week is going to be the toughest period.

It takes about 4 weeks for the CB1 endocannabinoid system to right the ship.

That's the first piece that is unwinding the effects of THC on your stress response system.

The next piece is addressing why you were drawn to THC, to begin with?

Neurogenesis follows this same timeline but research is pointing to between 6 and 8 weeks at a specific dosage.

Studies show peak neurogenesis at 300mg daily.


cbd and peak neurogenesis


Based on the opioid study, a possible plan might be:

  • First 10 days: 600mg during worst of withdrawal
  • Day 11 -30: 300mg for peak neurogenesis
  • Day 30 - 60:  Adjust accordingly


Really look at erasing the effects from prior trauma/infection (even in utero) here

Remember, the goal isn't just to erase the effect of THC on our CB1 pathway but to bolster various systems that made us self-medicate with cannabis, to begin with.

In our research on benzos and GABA receptors, the epigenetic changes (turning genes on and off) took about 6 weeks to occur.  


  • Week 1 - hardest transition (see effect on dose below)
  • Week 2-4 - normalize CB1 activity
  • Week 4-8 - support CB1, stress response, and other underlying pathways via neurogenesis and immune system balancing


That's the goal!

Also, we can't speak more highly about NAC (N-acetylcysteine).  Check out the research here.

Specifically, there was a study on NAC and teenage cannabis addiction which was very impressive.

Post-hoc pair-wise comparisons (comparator: baseline visit) revealed significant decrease from baseline in days per week of use during the second (5.2 ± SE 0.33; p = 0.006), third (5.2 ± 0.39 p = 0.001), and fourth (5.3 ± 0.32; p = 0.03) week of NAC treatment.

Guess what NAC does?  It's a giant "sink" on excess glutamate!

Significant reduction in use (with no other intervention) and a drop in craving, liking, and planning of cannabis use.


NAC and CBD combined could be powerful allies in cannabis addiction.

What's the best CBD to take for THC addiction 

There are some basic requirements for any CBD you're going to put in your body: 

  • Organically grown at an FDA registered farm in the US
  • CO2 processed
  • 3rd party tested
  • No THC - obviously
  • No pesticides
  • No heavy metals
  • No solvents
  • No pesticides
  • No mold



quality cbd


These are the basic requirements and we test IndigoNaturals twice.

The next question is CBD isolate versus CBD full spectrum which everyone is pushing online.

All the research (dozens of NIH studies) across our site are based on CBD isolate.

Until we see research, full-spectrum is just marketing.


full spectrum versus cbd isolate and thc


On top of that, it can have THC and some of the other cannabinoids have very different effects.

We want clean CBD isolate to mirror what the research is showing.

Furthermore, many people (40-60%) have allergy or histamine issues 

All the plant material in full-spectrum is likely to send immune response the wrong way and that's the last thing we want during withdrawal.  

We see it all the time (check reviews) where a person has bad side effects from full spectrum which go away with CBD isolate.

Finally, cost. 300mg daily, that can get expensive.

For that reason, we price our 6000mg bottle (essentially 20 doses of 300 mg) at the lowest price we can find especially with our rolling discount codes.

Check out the CBD price comparison to understand this better.

The reason is simple…

We found CBD due to significant suffering at the hands of brutal perimenopause.

The doctors immediately slapped me on benzos (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, in different orders) and Lexapro (SSRI) which almost killed me.

Weaning off of those was the hardest thing I've ever done.


Here's are Top 10 TIps for Tapering THC or Cannabis:

top 10 tips for tapering thc

We've been there.  We made it.  So can you.

Related Research:

CBD and the pathways of addiction

CBD and GABA, our key "brake" pedal

Is glutamate why people use cannabis


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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.

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