Smoking THC can feel good, real good. Its so good it can become addictive to the point where its hard to quit, even though it may have started to have some undesirable effects. You seasoned smokers may know what i’m talking about – anxiety, paranoia, and a loss of motivation for the things that we like to do, with the people we like to do them with are a few examples.
The thing with THC is, it affects an area of the brain which processes our sense of reward, which influences our sensitivity to addiction. This area of the brain is governed by your very own Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which controls the brains apparatus which processes reward.
Its through the ECS that THC triggers the firing of (dopamine) neurons that process reward in the brain (VTA (ventral tegumental area) and NAc (nucleus accumbens)). When exposed to rewarding substances like THC, the ECS drives the physical and chemical changes in the brain that eventually makes them irresistible.
Some people may be more predisposed to addictive tendencies than others, which is influenced by how their ECS is functioning. Many factors influence how someone’s ECS works, including their genetic predisposition, and what’s happened to them in their lives.
For example, some people may have been separated from their mothers, or experienced trauma as a child. Research shows that people who have experienced childhood traumas have a dysregulated ECS from an early age, which may increase their likelihood of experiencing greater reward from drugs, driving addiction (1), (2).
A common finding is that their ECS is low functioning, and experience mood disorders and addiction as a result. If they are exposed to drugs or palatable foods which activate their ECS, then this produces an intense mood lift and rush of reward not otherwise experienced in life.
Similarly, kids who experienced trauma that also had the genetic variation in the CB1 receptor (a part of the ECS) had an even more low functioning ECS. They had a greater tendency towards depression (3) and alcohol and drug dependence (4).
They also have a greater risk for cannabis dependence (5), since THC stimulates reward through CB1 (the ECS), and compensates for a low functioning ECS, they develop a dependence on the mood enhancing effects of THC that they would have otherwise experienced from a well functioning ECS.
CBD & Combating Addiction
Although there are emotional and lifestyle issues which contribute to addiction, CBD may be used as a useful adjunct to working through these issues.
Fortunately, CBD can support a badly functioning ECS in a way which is specific to each individual. Herbs that do this are known as adaptogens, and just like the name suggests, can adapt to meet an individuals needs.
CBD can both increase and decrease the activity of an individuals ECS, and does so differently depending on the areas of the brain that are imbalanced.
- CBD can increase and decrease CB1 receptors depending on what brain area is imbalanced
- CBD can block the CB1 receptor in certain brain areas
- CBD can indirectly activate the CB1 receptor (by increasing endocannabinoids) in other brain areas
If the above was complete jargon to you, basically CBD acts on the ECS in a way which reduces the brains sensitivity to excessive reward. Instead of overstimulating dopamine release in the brains reward centre, CBD plugs in to actually bring balance to dopamine levels, and reduces the overstimulation that THC produces.
CBD & Cannabis Dependence
THC and CBD have opposing “yin/yang” effects on addictive behaviours. In contrast to THC (which is rewarding and promotes drug seeking), CBD has low abuse potential and actually discourages drug seeking (6).
The image below illustrates nicely the see-saw like relationship that THC and CBD have with one another. Top tip, if you are still looking to use THC but want to minimise the side effects, then make sure your cannabis has a balanced cannabinoid profile with an equal amount of CBD. Or just use some CBD when smoking THC.
Image Source: Hurd et al., 2015
On a mechanistic level, CBD’s ability to reduce cannabis dependence has been attributed to its ability to enhance ECS function and block the CB1 receptor (7), which reduces reward, drug seeking and sensitivity to other drugs as the diagram above shows.
All this stuff about CBD combatting the effects of CBD isn’t just theoretical, there are also real world examples in studies where people have actually reduced or even completely eliminated their THC use by using CBD.
A repeated measures study in 94 regular cannabis smokers found that those using high CBD:THC cannabis had lower dependence scores compared to those using high THC:CBD cannabis (8).
A randomised controlled trial found that using CBD for 4 weeks resulted in less daily cannabis use in regular users compared to those that were given THC (9).
A 19 year old female with cannabis dependence, who also experienced withdrawal when trying to quit cannabis was given CBD. After having been given CBD for 11 days, she experienced less (cannabis) withdrawal symptoms, anxiety and depression. After 6 months, her use of cannabis had been reduced from 7 days a week to once or twice a week (10).
Bear in mind that many strains of modern cannabis are almost exclusively THC heavy, with very little to no CBD. This is one of the reasons why a lot of cannabis is more addictive than traditional strains that would typically have a more balanced cannabinoid profile, with a higher amount of CBD relative to THC.
In summary, as more people start to experience the sides of THC which outweigh the good, CBD can be used as a way to relax and unwind without compromising their mental wellbeing. CBD can also help to reduce the use of and craving for THC, whether that be for users who want to try and quit THC or just reduce their consumption.
A great place to start is to try and incorporate some CBD into your daily routine, which is easy to do with our oral drops.