Given the damage that alcohol consumption is doing to society, isn’t it somewhat odd that it is so widely available? It is thoroughly addictive, and offers no medicinal benefits whatsoever. And yet, there is seemingly a liquor store on every corner. And once you are of legal age, you can purchase as much of it as you like.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 15.1 million adults aged 18+ have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), and tragically, 623,000 kids aged 12-17 also have an AUD. Approximately 88,000 people die from an alcohol-related cause in the United States annually, and in 2010, misuse of the substance cost the nation some $249 billion.
Meanwhile, marijuana remains a controlled substance that is federally illegal while also being against the law in 20 states. Ironically, CBD, a non-psychoactive compound of weed, could be a key player in the battle to combat alcoholism. Read on to find out how.
Alcoholism Signs & Effects
It isn’t always easy to spot someone with AUD, although it is helpful to look for the following warning signs:
- A lack of interest in activities that were once a source of pleasure.
- Constantly feeling tired, irritable or unwell.
- Telling lies about drinking; ‘hiding’ alcohol in secret places.
- Requiring more alcohol to feel the same effects as before.
- Appearing drunk far more regularly.
- Consumption of alcohol even while suffering the effects of excess drinking from the day before.
- Difficulty in ceasing the consumption of alcohol once they get started.
- Evidence of increased alcohol tolerance.
However, no two people with an AUD are the same. The American Psychiatric Association created the DSM-5 to provide a set of 11 factors which helps physicians diagnose AUD. If a person has experienced at least two of these factors and/or symptoms in the previous 12 months, they are deemed to have an AUD. 2-3 symptoms indicate a mild AUD, 4-5 is indicative of a moderate AUD while 6+ symptoms indicates a severe problem.
Once a person reaches end-stage alcoholism, it is already too late for them. They have reached a point where they can no longer stop drinking and have no aims or ambitions in life other than determining where their next drink is coming from. Chronic alcoholism also has a variety of physical effects, including:
- Anemia: Alcoholism can cause the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in your body to fall to abnormally low levels. The condition, also known as anemia, causes shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and fatigue.
- Cancer: Heavy drinking increases the risk of mouth, throat, liver, breast and esophageal cancer.
- Cardiovascular diseases: Binge drinking, in particular, increases the chances of platelets clumping together to form blood clots. This leads to an enhanced risk of stroke or heart attack.
- Cirrhosis: Alcohol is particularly toxic to liver cells. If you are a heavy drinker, you could end up with cirrhosis, a condition where the liver becomes scarred to the point where it no longer functions.
- Dementia: Alcoholism increases the rate of shrinkage in certain areas of the brain which could result in memory loss and other dementia symptoms.
How Could CBD Oil Help with Alcoholism?
The first thing to remember is that CBD is very different from THC. While the latter is psychoactive and helps you become ‘high,’ CBD does not provide you with any mind-altering effects. The fact it could have an effect, even a positive one, means it is technically also ‘psychoactive,’ but it is NOT intoxicating.
When it comes to treating alcoholism, some people have recommended choosing a CBD-laden strain rather than focusing on marijuana as a whole. If you have an AUD, it is best to steer clear of intoxicating substances lest you end up swapping one addiction for another.
The body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is potentially the most important physiologic system in the maintenance of human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body. There are receptors in the brain, immune system, organs, and connective tissues for example.
Researchers have identified the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. For a long time, it was assumed that CBD had little in the way of binding affinity for the CB1 receptor. However, it now seems that CBD at least interacts indirectly with the CB1 receptor. The interactions between cannabinoids and receptors could be the reason why marijuana, and its compounds, supposedly have healing properties.
CBD also has interactions with the CB2 receptors, which are primarily in the immune system. As a result, CBD could help with symptoms of alcoholism such as skin problems, inflammation, and chronic pain. In theory, CBD could impact receptors in the brain which would help reduce the craving for alcohol.
What Does the Science Say?
A systemic review of CBD’s effect on addictive behavior was written by Prud’homme, Cata, and Jutras-Aswad, and published in Libertas Academica in April 2015. The review focused on 14 studies, five of which involved human patients. The goal was to determine whether CBD could be used as an effective intervention for people with an addiction.
The review concluded that “CBD has several therapeutic properties on its own that could indirectly be useful in the treatment of addiction disorders.” The authors of the study went on to state that it was justifiable to perform further studies on CBD as a means of helping people with addictions.
A more recent study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in 2018, found that CBD helped rats reduce their dependence on alcohol. The study involved rats with a history of voluntary daily cocaine or alcohol self-administration who displayed addict-like behavior. Next, the team gave the rats a gel containing CBD once a day.
The researchers then put the rodents through a series of tests designed to induce stress and anxiety, well-known triggers for impulsive behavior. Overall, CBD reduced the rates of relapse while reducing anxiety and impulsive behavior. Even more remarkably, though the brains of the rats were completely cleared of CBD within three days, they still showed reduced relapse rates five months later.
Final Thoughts on CBD For Alcoholism
With tens of millions of Americans plagued by AUD and millions more consuming far more alcohol than is recommended, it is clear that our society has yet another threat to add to the growing list of health crises. Alcoholics become dependent on the substance to the point where they believe an alcoholic beverage is essential for them to function as a normal human being.
Even when someone with AUD manages to kick the habit, the withdrawal symptoms they experience will increase the risk of a relapse. Side effects include irritability, anxiety, depression, and heart palpitations. The research we outlined above suggests that CBD could help reduce an alcoholic’s dependence on the substance while reducing the risk of relapse.
One of the most important things about CBD is the fact that it is non-intoxicating. The last thing an alcoholic need is to become addicted to something else. With CBD, you could potentially reduce the horrible side effects of alcohol withdrawal as the compound interacts with the receptors in your ECS. Slowly but surely, you could break free of your addiction and live a healthier life. Research is ongoing, but the evidence so far suggests that CBD has the potential to soften withdrawal symptoms and perhaps cut the risk of relapse.
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