Can You Get Addicted to CBD Oil?

Illustration of a doctor showing info about CBD being addictive or not.
Written by Livvy Ashton | Last updated: November 14, 2023

A growing number of studies support the health benefits of CBD. Researchers point to cannabidiol as the potential anti-inflammatory, neuroprotectant, antioxidant, and seizure suppressant.

People use CBD to manage their daily stresses by reducing anxiety, but reports from CBD users and preclinical studies suggest that CBD oil has remarkable medicinal potential.

As the popularity of CBD continues to grow, reaching every corner of the world, people start asking more and more questions about its properties — including possible downsides.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued an extensive report about the safety and efficacy of CBD, acknowledging its high safety profile. CBD is well-tolerated by humans, even in doses reaching 1,500 mg daily.

But can you get hooked on CBD oil despite all of the above?

Is CBD addictive?

Today, we provide a complete answer to these questions. We’ll cover the mechanisms of addiction, explain how CBD interacts with the brain, and highlight the possible benefits of CBD when it comes to easing withdrawal symptoms in those suffering from addiction.

The Mechanism of Addiction Explained

Addiction experts define it as a complex psychological and physiological response to certain stimuli. Addiction is associated with changes in brain function and structure — and scientists have outlined three parameters that can influence addictive processes.

Below we have a brief overview of each factor:

Pleasure Triggers

When the brain interacts with substances like caffeine, nicotine, or a drug like amphetamine, this interaction causes a surge of euphoric sensations. The sudden influx of dopamine causes it to gradually increase in the nucleus accumbens, a brain’s area within the hypothalamus that controls addictive behaviors.

Scientists suggest that the chances of getting addicted are dictated by several variables: the intensity, reliability, and speed of dopamine buildup. How a substance is consumed — whether intravenously, in pills, or through inhalation — can affect dopamine response.

Learned Behaviors

Psychiatrists and researchers studying addiction report that pleasure-seeking is just one of the many factors contributing to addiction. Many experts claim that the picture is much bigger, and in fact, it may result from learned behaviors that make users regularly seek out addictive substances.

Dopamine may trigger and strengthen feelings of pleasure, but the activity that led up to this surge is even more significant. The majority of theories around addiction highlight reward-related learning processes as the core driver of addiction. In this process, dopamine interacts with glutamate, another important neurotransmitter — creating associations in the brain between pleasurable feelings and activities that lead to them.

Prolonged Use of Certain Substances

If you use certain substances for long enough, this can cause dependence on the active compounds of addictive substances in your nerve cells located in the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens.

The users start seeking out the addictive substance more frequently, resulting in a less potent release of dopamine. This is how you build up a tolerance to certain substances. Drug tolerance can be very dangerous, especially for hard drugs such as opioids, which involve a high risk of lethal overdose.

Those who try to kick their habit can experience severe, sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, including tremors, pain in the bones and muscles, throbbing headache, nausea, vomiting, and depression.

How Does CBD Interact with the Body?

woman taking a CBD oil

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of the two major constituents of cannabis plants. Unlike the other cannabinoid, THC, CBD doesn’t have intoxicating properties, so it won’t get you high in a way that THC in marijuana does. As a matter of fact, CBD can mitigate the psychoactive effects of THC.

CBD engages with major receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), the major regulatory network in humans. These receptors are spread throughout the body and deliver signals for the brain to interpret. The functioning of your other systems and organs is largely dependent on endocannabinoid signaling.

This way, the ECS can effectively maintain homeostasis throughout the body — a state of chemical equilibrium.

CBD supports homeostasis through several different pathways. Scientists have identified more than 65 molecular targets of CBD, which would explain why this cannabinoid is so versatile in managing our well-being.

CBD’s interaction with the ECS can affect 5-HT1A serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a major neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation. It can also amplify feelings of happiness and relaxation. CBD is a natural inhibitor of the 5-HT1A receptors. It blocks serotonin reuptake in the brain so that the body can use it more effectively.

Similarly, CBD interacts with TRPV1 receptors by binding to their sites and blocking pain signals. CBD may also impact the nuclear receptor PPAR-gamma, which regulates the storage of fatty acids on top of glucose metabolism.

All these interactions seem promising when it comes to easing withdrawal symptoms and reducing the risk of addiction. Still, there’s one more thing we’d like to cover before we move on to the benefits of CBD for addicted individuals.

Is CBD Addictive?

Since CBD doesn’t induce intoxication, it has a similar potential for abuse to placebo. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, oral doses administered to frequent marijuana users produced similar results to the placebo pill.

An earlier study from 2011 concluded that CBD has a better safety profile than THC and other cannabinoids. Researchers found that even doses as high as 1,500 mg daily didn’t cause any side effects over time. Unlike THC, CBD didn’t acutely impair psychological functions or motor skills, nor did it change the subjects’ heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure.

An interesting fact about cannabinoids is that even THC is not physically addictive. Addiction experts estimate that 91% of marijuana users never become problematic, meaning that 9% will form improper habits around the use of the plant, which may generate some form of abuse.

Since THC can be habit-forming, it’s important to know the difference between CBD oil sources.

After all, CBD can be extracted from both hemp and marijuana.

Let’s take a look at both types of CBD oil.

Hemp-derived CBD vs. Marijuana-derived CBD

Hemp and marijuana come from the same family of plants — Cannabis sativa L. — but they are different in terms of their chemical profiles and the ratios between CBD and THC.

Marijuana naturally contains significant concentrations of THC, so CBD oils extracted from marijuana strains — even the CBD-rich ones — will consider a higher amount of THC than a hemp-derived product. Hemp plants usually contain less than 0.3% of THC, containing higher levels of CBD.

Because of the negligible concentration of THC, hemp-derived CBD oils aren’t addictive. They’re also legal on a federal level; you can easily find CBD oils online and over the counter in dispensaries, vape stores, wellness centers, and major pharmacies.

Marijuana-derived CBD, on the other hand, is legal only in certain states. If your state has a medical marijuana program, you’ll need a prescription for CBD oil. But, if you’re lucky to live in a state that has legalized recreational use, you can walk into a store and buy it — as long as you’re 21 or older.

CBD Could Assist People with Addiction, Studies Say

a man taking CBD oil

According to the aforementioned report by the WHO, CBD is a safe substance with no potential for abuse.

Some studies also mention its potential as a supportive agent in overcoming the withdrawal symptoms after cessation.

A 2013 report published in Neuropsychopharmacology described the case of a 19-year-old woman who had cannabis withdrawal symptoms. After being treated with CBD for 10 days, she experienced an effective decrease in the severity of her symptoms [1].

An earlier study conducted in 2010 tested 94 cannabis users to evaluate the role of THC/CBD ratios in modulating the effects of psychoactive compounds and attentional bias to drug stimuli [2]. Those who smoked high-THC strains showed a higher attentional bias to food and drug stimuli than subjects who took high-CBD strains. The authors of the study concluded that CBD could be best used to treat marijuana dependence and other substance use disorders.

In 2013, a study published in Addictive Behaviors evaluated the effects of a CBD treatment for nicotine users over a 7-day period, concluding that it reduced the number of cigarettes smoked by 40% in addicted subjects, while the placebo group didn’t show a significant difference [3].

A 2018 preclinical animal study examining topical administration to rats addicted to alcohol and cocaine found that CBD effectively reduced drug use in the subjects. It also dampened the side effect of addiction, such as anxiety and impulsivity.

Finally, a 2019 study posted in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that CBD could help people who have cravings linked to heroin addiction [4]. The study included 42 adults who had been using heroin for an average of 13 years. Researchers tested three groups: one took 800 mg of CBD, the other one 400 mg, and the last group received a placebo.

Compared with the placebo group, subjects treated with CBD reported lower anxiety levels and cravings from heroin addiction withdrawals.

Can You Overdose on CBD?

CBD can’t lead to a fatal overdose because there are no cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem area that controls respiratory functions. This is true for all cannabinoids, including THC. Simply put, you won’t die from taking too much CBD oil.

Side Effects of Taking too Much CBD

CBD may have a few mild side effects when you go overboard. These include:

  • Dry mouth
  • A temporary drop in blood pressure
  • Appetite fluctuation
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea

We also feel obliged to cover one important issue regarding CBD — potential interactions with drugs.

CBD & Drug Interactions: Consult the Use of CBD with Your Doctor

When you ingest CBD, it interacts with a system of enzymes known as Cytochrome p450 (CYP450). These enzymes are responsible for the metabolism of drugs from pharmaceutical medications. CBD is the inhibitor of CYP45, preventing these compounds from being properly processed in the liver.

The mechanism works similarly to eating a grapefruit along with your medication — grapefruit, too, interacts with CYP450.

The CBD interaction with medicines may trigger a range of second-hand side effects that wouldn’t occur if you took CBD alone. We recommend consulting your doctor if you take any pharmaceutical medications and are afraid CBD may interfere with them.

Final Thoughts: CBD Is Not Addictive

Addiction is a complex disease. It can be psychological, physical, or involve both areas. Intense cravings for a particular substance accompany it. Addicted individuals tend to ignore potential risks associated with abusing the substance — such as its detrimental influence on the quality of life.

Those with addiction experience several symptoms, from impaired cognition to compromised body functions, along with behaviors that negatively impact their social lives and relationships.

To date, no study has found a link between CBD and cognitive alterations. Without inducing intoxication, the brain may not associate CBD with the reward system. CBD also doesn’t cause withdrawals and can’t be fatally overdosed.

Moreover, recent studies point to CBD as a potentially beneficial compound for easing addiction and alleviating alcohol withdrawals and other many substances including, nicotine, heroin, and opioids.

CBD can assist both with physiological addiction and aid people in forming the right habits around different activities and substances by reducing the response to the rewarding stimuli.

To wrap it up in a few words, it seems that CBD is a promising tool for fighting addiction — let’s hope that more studies will confirm the initial findings!

Reference links:

  1. Babalonis, S., Haney, M., Malcolm, R. J., Lofwall, M. R., Votaw, V. R., Sparenborg, S., & Walsh, S. L. (2017). Oral cannabidiol does not produce a signal for abuse liability in frequent marijuana smokers. Drug and alcohol dependence, 172, 9–13.
  2. Iffland, K., & Grotenhermen, F. (2017). An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 2(1), 139–154.
  3. Budney, A. J., Roffman, R., Stephens, R. S., & Walker, D. (2007). Marijuana dependence and its treatment. Addiction science & clinical practice, 4(1), 4–16.
  4. Shannon, S., & Opila-Lehman, J. (2015). Cannabidiol Oil for Decreasing Addictive Use of Marijuana: A Case Report. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 14(6), 31–35.
  5. Morgan, C. J., Freeman, T. P., Schafer, G. L., & Curran, H. V. (2010). Cannabidiol attenuates the appetitive effects of Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol in humans smoking their chosen cannabis. Neuropsychopharmacology: official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(9), 1879–1885.
  6. Morgan, C. J., Das, R. K., Joye, A., Curran, H. V., & Kamboj, S. K. (2013). Cannabidiol reduces cigarette consumption in tobacco smokers: preliminary findings. Addictive behaviors, 38(9), 2433–2436.
  7. Gonzalez-Cuevas, G., Martin-Fardon, R., Kerr, T. M., Stouffer, D. G., Parsons, L. H., Hammell, D. C., Banks, S. L., Stinchcomb, A. L., & Weiss, F. (2018). Unique treatment potential of cannabidiol for the prevention of relapse to drug use: preclinical proof of principle. Neuropsychopharmacology: official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 43(10), 2036–2045.
  8. Hurd YL, Spriggs S, Alishayev J, Winkel G, Gurgov K, Kudrich C, Oprescu AM, Salsitz E. Cannabidiol for the Reduction of Cue-Induced Craving and Anxiety in Drug-Abstinent Individuals With Heroin Use Disorder: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Am J Psychiatry. 2019 Nov 1;176(11):911-922. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.18101191. Epub 2019 May 21. Erratum in: Am J Psychiatry. 2020 Jul 1;177(7):641. PMID: 31109198.

Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.

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