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Turns Out That Cannabis Can Help You Finally Quit Smoking

Emily Robertson
cannabis, nicotine, CBD, cigarettes, smoking, cannabinoids, research, USA, addiction, depression, anxiety

Study shows that subjects that used the CBD inhaler cut back their smoking habit by 40% (compared to placebo inhalers). Smokers were better able to quit smoking because their anxiety was also reduced by CBD.

Cigarette addiction is a nefarious nemesis. Since the start of the 20th century, cigarettes have contributed to an estimated 480,000 deaths in America — and 6 million across the globe. Despite what some might think, the high death toll doesn’t come from an ill-informed public. Smokers usually want to quit smoking. Most of us acknowledge the dangers that cigarettes pose to our health. It’s just that quitting nicotine is extraordinarily hard — some smokers make as many 30 attempts before they snuff out the light.

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Image credit: Gorynvd

Luckily, cannabidiol (CBD) is here to help.

One of the active compounds in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) has proven benefits for smoking cessation — and may lead us toward a deeper understanding of addiction in general.

In one randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study, a team of researchers rounded up a group of smokers who wanted to kick the habit and gave them inhalers to use whenever they felt the urge to light up. Half the group received an inhaler that delivered CBD to the lungs, while the other half got a placebo inhaler that contained no active chemicals. Each participant was asked to keep a journal of the number of cigarettes they consumed during the experiment.

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Image credit: A. and I. Kruk

After one week, the group who used the placebo inhalers reported smoking the same number of cigarettes as during the previous week. The group who was given CBD inhalers, however, showed a 40 percent reduction in cigarette smoking — a trend that continued even after the inhalers were removed!

Importantly, neither group was aware of what was in their inhalers, and no one was prodded by the researchers to attempt to smoke fewer cigarettes. That means that the smokers began giving up cigarettes as a direct result of using CBD, nothing more.

cannabis, CBD, smoking, cigarettes, research, nicotine, addiction, USA, legalization, depression, rehabilitation

Image credit: Wut ti kit

The breakthrough study came from the Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit of the University College of London, which was seeking to better understand the role that the endocannabinoid system plays in nicotine addiction. The endocannabinoid system has been established as a key player in regulating dopamine, the feel-good chemical produced in the brain that may be at the root of all addictive behaviors. When an addict acts on his or her addiction, the brain is flooded with dopamine, making that experience pleasurable.

When scientists first discovered the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and dopamine, they created a drug called Rimonabant, which worked by blocking the CB1 receptor (the site where cannabis interacts with the endocannabinoid system, among other things) from functioning properly. While the drug worked, it functioned too well — blocking too much dopamine from being produced and leaving patients with depression and other psychological issues.

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Image credit: Sam Wordley

Thus, they turned to a substance that has no psychological side effects and also interacts with the endocannabinoid system: CBD. Instead of blocking dopamine in total, however, CBD operates on a different level — or at least one.

The British researchers contend that CBD works on the CB1 receptor, just like Rimonabant, but instead of blocking the receptor to the level of the banned drug, CBD merely interferes with its processing. The receptor was still free to flood the brain with dopamine, it just did so at lower levels in response to addiction behaviors.

cannabis, CBD, brain, research, nicotine, depression, USA, legalization, Canada, addiction, smoking

Of course, chemicals in the brain are only part of addiction. While no one is doubting the very real physical aspects of addiction, the compulsive behavior behind addiction is also propped up by mental cues. In other words, people continue addictive behavior out of habit — not just physical craving.

CBD may have helped the brain slacken the association between cigarettes and pleasure or what scientists call addiction stimuli. It does this by affecting the way memories are formed in the brain. When memories are destabilized by CBD, the regular daily cues that may signal to a smoker that it’s time for a cigarette — after finishing dinner, after seeing another person light up, after sex — are not felt as strongly in the brain, thus dampening the desire for more nicotine.

That could explain another key find of the London study: the smokers reported reduced cravings for cigarettes. It wasn’t that their willpower grew stronger thanks to CBD, it was that their urges to smoke faded away.

But beyond treating addiction at the base mental and physical levels, CBD is also a potent remedy to some of the side effects of withdrawal. For instance, CBD has anti-anxiety properties, which means that it could be an excellent addiction treatment because anxiety a key symptom of withdrawal from nicotine and other drugs.

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The ultimate irony of the “Just Say No” era may be that cannabis may be a gateway toward better health — and fewer harmful drugs.

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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