Some research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may have value for people addicted to nicotine and hoping to break free. There is some irony here, however. One of the common arguments for the continued prohibition of most marijuana use in much of the world is the contention that marijuana, and by implication its chemical constituents, are “gateway” drugs that introduce users to a broader range of addictions.
While true to some extent, this fact is a social construct, one which legalization itself can help address. But the irony is, chemically speaking, cannabis and cannabinoids may be gateway-to-liberation drugs, a means of releasing people from the threats posed by more dangerous substances.
In 2008 L.L. Merritt and others, writing in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, drew some of the underlying neurological connections. The authors had experimented on lab mice, and they found that “… the endogenous cannabinoid system modulates the addictive properties of nicotine.”
The Neurological Receptors
Mammalian brains and nervous systems all include this endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS), that is, a group of receptors that are the mediators between the active molecules in cannabis and their psychological consequences. The ECS is involved in a lot of physiological processes, including mood and appetite, and the rewarding effects of nicotine. Given Merritt’s work, it became reasonable to hypothesize that the demand for a cigarette, mediated by this system, is sated by the CBD, and that this generalization may hold for mammals generally, including the bipedal sort.
But presumption is not proof, and scientists pressed forward. A paper published in Addictive Behaviors in 2013 looked at 24 young adults (ages 18 to 35). Each was a cigarette smoker when the program began, and each received an inhaler for a week, with instructions to use it when they felt the urge to smoke.
Twelve of the participants were using an inhaler with a placebo. The other 12 were receiving a dose of CBD with each use.
Over the course of the week, the recipients of the placebo didn’t reduce the numbers of cigarettes smoked at all. The recipients of the CBD smoked 40 percent fewer cigarettes during this week than they would have otherwise.
The scientists behind the study, led by Professor Celia J. Morgan of the University of Exeter, concluded that CBD was a “potential treatment for nicotine addiction [that] … warrants further exploration.”
Reason for Concern
Unfortunately, there is some reason to be concerned that users of both substances may end up addicted to them both, and that the addictions can feed off one another. An article in the journal Drug & Alcohol Dependence crunches the numbers concerning trends in marijuana and tobacco use in states that have legalized the former. It finds that liberalized marijuana policy “could inadvertently affect cigarette and marijuana co-use and pose challenges to tobacco cessation.”
But the evidence for this view arises from a specific social fact: cannabis is often smoked, and sellers in the black market, in which cigarettes have long been marketed, often mix tobacco in with the marijuana. Even in legalized areas, lighting up a cigarette (with either or both substances in it) involves a good deal more biochemical activity than would be necessary to test the therapeutic point. The Morgan study, as noted above, involved inhalers.
Evidence continues to come in. In November 2015, another journal in the field, Addiction, published a discussion supporting the Morgan study. Data will surely continue to mount as evidence becomes easier to collect.
If you’d like to learn more about CBD and how it can help with this subject and many others, just checkout the article we posted about CBD here.