Can CBD Help Treat Alcoholism?
Alcohol use disorder (a.k.a. “alcoholism”) is one of the most common – and notorious – addictions, affecting roughly 15 million people in the U.S. every year. What’s even more alarming is that just 10% of those with alcohol use disorder obtain treatment.
There are many reasons people don’t seek help, such as economic and environmental factors that limit access. Consequently, death rates from alcohol consumption continue to mount, costing about 88,000 American lives every year.
Recent CBD research, however, has shown promising results for curbing addictive tendencies. While far from conclusive, some experts believe that CBD could help treat alcoholism.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder (AUD) refers to “…a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”
In other words, if your life revolves around consuming alcohol – regardless of how it affects you or others – there’s a good chance you have AUD and should seek help.
Health Risks of Alcohol Use Disorder
It’s no secret that alcoholism carries a wide range of risks that take their toll on your physical and mental health. Some of these consequences range from minor to potentially life-threatening.
A few dangers of alcoholism include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver damage
- Risky behavior
- Negative social and family consequences
- Job loss
These are just a few of many possible problems that may permanently harm your life and potentially drag down those around you.
If you think you have an alcohol abuse issue, it’s critical that you speak to a doctor. Meanwhile, however, let’s see what CBD can offer.
Alcohol and the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex network of receptors (CB1 and CB2) and internally-produced cannabinoids (endocannabinoids). The CB1 and CB2 varieties – located in the central and peripheral systems respectively – bind to cannabinoids, allowing our bodies to harness their benefits.
While nature developed this system for endocannabinoids, it works the same way with external ones (phytocannabinoids) like CBD and THC.
But what’s surprising is that alcohol can directly affect the ECS. Persistent, excessive drinking can throw off the delicate balance of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and compounds the ECS relies on to function properly.
One 2007 study on rodents discovered a direct link between alcohol and endocannabinoids. Specifically, researchers noticed that long and short-term alcohol use affected the levels of anandamide and 2-AG – the two main endocannabinoids – in the brains of rats.
The ECS is critical for maintaining a state of internal equilibrium called “homeostasis.” When thrown off by alcohol or any other substance, the resulting imbalance can lead to a host of mental and physical health issues.
Consequently, people may experience problems like depression and anxiety, which are contributing factors in the development of alcohol use disorder.
What Happens When You Take CBD With Alcohol?
Nothing will happen if you take CBD with alcohol. While CBD is known to reduce cannabis intoxication by blocking the reuptake of THC, the same can’t be said about CBD.
For instance, a 2015 review of existing literature in Sage Journals discovered that CBD didn’t reduce or prevent alcohol intoxication.
CBD’s reported anti-nausea effects may help prevent vomiting from excessive alcohol consumption, but this is dangerous. While unpleasant, throwing up is your body’s way of purging harmful substances. Suppressing that reaction increases the risk of alcohol poisoning.
CBD and Addiction
Over the past few years, preliminary research showed promising results for CBD as a treatment for drug addiction. The opioid epidemic is a huge concern for public health and law enforcement officials. This prompted the FDA to greenlight a human clinical trial to see whether CBD can help reduce or eliminate dependence on narcotics.
Once complete, this will be the most in-depth, conclusive study of its kind, rivaling the groundbreaking CBD epilepsy studies that gave rise to Epidiolex.
But could CBD be effective at curbing alcohol use as well?
Can CBD Reduce Alcohol Consumption?
Evidence is slim, but it still shows that CBD could help reduce the desire to use alcohol. One 2018 rat study showed that cannabidiol provided impulse control that helped curb consumption among cocaine and alcohol addicted rats. Most notably, however, was that these effects lasted up to five months after the researchers stopped CBD treatment.
A large 2019 review of existing literature covered a broad mix of human and animal research. Not only were there clues that CBD could reduce human alcohol intake, but it may also offer neuroprotective benefits to mitigate alcohol-related brain damage.
CBD and Other Treatment Methods
While some researchers look for evidence that CBD alone can help treat alcohol use disorder, some experts explored it as a tool to boost existing conventional options.
Naltrexone is an FDA-approved drug designed to help treat people with AUD. But in 2018, researchers wanted to see if CBD could help boost Nalterxone’s success rate.
The study, which was performed exclusively on mice, showed that CBD and Naltrexone were more effective together than individually at lowering alcohol use.
CBD for Harm Reduction
Unfortunately, substance abuse isn’t an easy thing to address. That’s why harm reduction should also be an important tool as patients continue their journey to recovery.
It’s common knowledge that alcohol affects your liver. While drinking in moderation makes the organ work harder, continuous and excessive alcohol use significantly increases the chances of permanent liver damage.
But a 2019 review published in Frontiers in Pharmacology noted that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties may help prevent liver inflammation. Mitigating this response can help protect the liver from long-term damage.
The Bottom Line: Can CBD Help Reduce Drinking?
Unfortunately, all the evidence we have is preliminary and mostly animal-based. While there’s plenty of hope, we don’t have nearly enough proof to conclusively say if CBD can curb drinking.
But with the FDA already (finally) looking into CBD’s role in fighting drug addiction, there’s a chance they may expand to AUD research as well.
Meanwhile, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Until experts learn more about the link between CBD and alcohol use disorder (if any), it’s best to stick with conventional methods.
If you have a drinking problem, there are plenty of resources and options out there, so speak to a doctor or mental health professional to see what’s available.
- Alcohol use disorder affects about 15 million Americans
- 88,000 people in the U.S. die every year as a direct result of alcohol consumption
- CBD may help reduce the urge to drink
- Cannabidiol’s anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties might protect the brain and liver from alcohol-related damage
- Speak to your doctor immediately if you think you have alcohol use disorder
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