Smoking is a global epidemic
If you had to guess what habit most people want to quit, what would you say? Given that the overwhelming number of smokers amounts to 1.1 billion people, it is very likely that you say smoking cigarettes.
For a non-smoker, it’s hard to imagine why people spend time, money and health on a habit that kills more than 8 million people a year. However, for smokers, addiction to cigarettes, or more specifically, to the nicotine in tobacco, is a challenge they must deal with every day.
Nicotine is considered as addictive as heroin, cocaine and alcohol, so overcoming the urge to light up a cigarette each morning is no easy task. The good thing is that smokers can and do quit. Most of the time, they just need support as they learn to break the chain of learned memories and acquired behaviors. That support can come in a variety of forms: group therapy, nicotine patches, e-cigarettes, and, according to preliminary studies, CBD.
How could CBD help people to quit smoking?
The idea that CBD could be a useful smoking cessation aid is a concept that came to light after a preliminary study in 2013. Fortunately, since then, our knowledge about cannabinoids, the endocannabinoid system, and CBD has grown. .
With more knowledge, researchers continue to invest their efforts in evaluating not only the effect of CBD on smoking, but also its impact on addiction in general. Before going too far, it is convenient that we start with the results of the study published in 2013.
Researchers at University College London used the double-blind, placebo-controlled method to test whether CBD could be effective in treating nicotine addiction. Of the 24 smokers who participated, 12 received a CBD inhaler and the other half a placebo. Patients were told to use the inhaler when they felt the urge to smoke.
During one week, the number of times both groups smoked was measured. In the placebo group, there was no difference in how many times they felt the urge to smoke. However, in the CBD group, the number of potential cigarettes smoked was reduced by 40%. The results also indicated “some maintenance of this effect at follow-up”.
Although these results seem clearly positive, it is worth considering two crucial factors. First, that this study only took place for one week. In general, the withdrawal effects of nicotine take up to a month to wear off (cravings, depression, irritability, and anxiety). The sample size is also incredibly limited when comparing 24 people out of 1.1 billion people who smoke worldwide; however, the study paved the way for more extensive research.
What do other studies suggest about the effectiveness of CBD in treating nicotine addiction?
A 2018 study, also from University College London, took a different approach to its preliminary investigations. This time they tried to break the acquired behaviors, or attentional bias, displayed by cigarette smokers. Attentional bias is when our body links actions after experiencing a series of cues.
For example, many smokers have their first cigarette with coffee or tea in the morning. Over time, the brain learns to associate these two actions. Without realizing it, every time a smoker sees a cup of coffee, his brain reacts with a desire for cigarettes.
Patients were given either an 800mg oral dose of CBD or a placebo before being shown graphic tobacco cues (people smoking, ashtrays, etc.). The CBD group experienced a reduction in the “relevance and likability of the cigarette cues”, while the placebo group remained the same. This study is different from the original because it identifies the underlying mechanism involved in the potential effectiveness of CBD. The results suggest that CBD targets neurocognitive processes (what happens inside our brains) associated with nicotine.
CBD and addiction: is there hope?
When you consider the results of the above studies, along with several animal studies on the effectiveness of CBD in addressing the mechanism of addiction, the results are encouraging.
Combined with the perceived anti-anxiety effects of the cannabinoid (anxiety is a key withdrawal symptom), it appears that CBD demonstrates the hallmarks of an effective treatment for nicotine addiction. Despite the need for larger-scale studies on the subject, one thing is certain: smoking is a habit that won’t go away. The World Health Organization states that “tobacco kills half of its users”, so there are 550 million deaths that could be prevented with more research, willpower and, in the future, CBD.