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Alcohol use disorder occurs when a person isn’t able to limit or control how much they use alcohol, despite experiencing negative consequences. Overusing alcohol can result in changes to the brain, making it harder to stop the behavior.
According to the 2020 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, more than 40 million people in the United States over the age of 12 had alcohol use disorder.
However, people may have trouble seeking treatment because of the stigma associated with substance use disorder (SUD). According to the same survey, of the people who needed SUD treatment in 2020, more than 97% felt they didn’t need treatment.
You might be curious about whether cannabidiol (CBD) may be able to help curb those symptoms and repair some of the damage that alcohol can do to the body.
Read on to learn about the research on CBD for alcohol use disorder.
Cannabis contains many compounds, including some called cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD are the two most abundant cannabinoids in the cannabis plant.
But CBD doesn’t cause the same effects as THC. Taking CBD alone won’t make you feel “high.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate CBD in the same way as it does other products like prescription medications. Because of this, some companies may mislabel or falsely represent their products.
For example, some sellers incorrectly market hempseed oil as CBD oil. But hempseed oil doesn’t actually contain CBD. CBD is only found in the other parts of the hemp plant, like the stalks, leaves, and flowers. It doesn’t naturally occur in the seeds.
- Full-spectrum. This type of CBD contains all the compounds from the cannabis plant, including minimal amounts of THC (less than 0.3 percent for federally legal products).
- Broad-spectrum. CBD that’s labeled broad-spectrum contains some cannabis plant compounds, but no THC.
- Isolate. CBD isolate is pure CBD and doesn’t contain other cannabis plant compounds.
- Terpene. A terpene is an aromatic compound found in the cannabis plant. Terpenes are responsible for how cannabis smells.
- Flavonoids. These are compounds that contribute to the cannabis plant’s smell and flavor. Flavonoids may also contribute to the therapeutic effects that CBD and cannabis are known for.
- Entourage effect. The entourage effect is the idea that CBD and THC work best as a pair.
All humans have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Experts believe that the ECS works to maintain balance in the body. But they still don’t know exactly how it works or understand all of its functions.
The ECS includes endocannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. When endocannabinoids (which are naturally occurring cannabinoids in the body) bind to receptors in the body, they can produce effects like pain relief. When those endocannabinoids complete their task, enzymes break them down.
Another study from 2005 also suggests that the ECS, specifically CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, plays a role in alcohol use disorder. Study authors concluded more research into this link may help experts develop therapies for the condition.
THC and CBD also interact with the ECS. THC, for example, can bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Some experts believe that CBD interacts with the ECS by preventing the breakdown of endocannabinoids, making them more prevalent in the body. But this is still just a theory. There’s a lot we don’t know about how CBD functions within the ECS.
Researchers are currently looking into the possible therapeutic effects of CBD for people with alcohol use disorder.
However, the review noted that in a study on CBD and alcohol, taking the two together didn’t make participants feel any less intoxicated. The reviewers did not study other aspects of alcohol use disorder.
It’s important to keep in mind that much of the research on CBD for alcohol use disorder involves animals and not humans. Animal studies aren’t necessarily a good indicator of how CBD will work in humans.
Drinking too much alcohol can put intense strain on your liver. Eventually, this can lead to a condition called alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). ARLD can cause liver failure and potentially shorten your lifespan.
However, all studies included in this review were animal studies. Human studies will help researchers are needed to understand how CBD helps prevent liver damage caused by excessive drinking.
Also, a 2019 animal study found that very high doses of CBD — the equivalent of 200 milligrams per kilogram of body weight — could actually cause liver damage.
But since this study was done on mice, and you’re not likely to take that much CBD by accident anyway, these results don’t tell us much.
Again, more research is needed to say for sure how CBD affects the liver.
Taking small amounts of CBD is unlikely to cause serious side effects, which is why many people, including researchers, are eager to find out more about its potential health benefits.
In some cases, CBD can cause:
- weight changes
Even though side effects are likely to be mild, talk with your doctor before taking CBD. That’s because it can interact with some medications, like those with a grapefruit warning.
Based on current research, the
More research is needed, though, to understand the role of CBD in helping with SUDs.
It’s also important to note that THC carries the potential for dependence and addiction. According to a 2011 study, there’s around a
When shopping for CBD, it’s crucial to pick a quality product. But it can be tough to sort through all the options on the market. Here’s what to keep in mind while shopping:
Full-spectrum products may produce more noticeable effects because of the entourage effect, which says that THC and CBD work better together than they do alone.
Isolates are a good choice if you want to steer clear of THC.
Broad-spectrum CBD products don’t contain THC, but they do contain terpenes and flavonoids, so they may offer some of the benefits of the entourage effect. However, it’s important to know that while broad-spectrum CBD is marketed as THC-free, it can contain trace amounts.
Because CBD products aren’t regulated the same way as prescription drugs, it’s essential to look for CBD from companies that test their products in third-party labs.
Look for products that come with a certificate of analysis (COA).
You’ll want to check:
- whether the potency on the COA matches the product label
- for contaminant testing results, including things like mold and pesticides
- the date of the COA — it should be recent
In the past year, have you:
- Had periods where you drank longer or more than you planned?
- Wanted to stop or cut down on your drinking, but couldn’t?
- Had a strong urge or craving to drink?
- Spent a large chunk of your time drinking or being sick after drinking?
- Noticed drinking interfering with your relationships, job, or school?
- Stopped doing things you used to like doing so you could drink?
- Participated in risky behavior while or after drinking?
- Continued drinking even though it made you feel bad, physically or mentally?
- Found yourself needing to drink more to feel the same effects?
- Had withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, nausea, restlessness, or sweating?
If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to your doctor, you can also consider talking with a therapist or joining a support group, either in person or online.
Is CBD oil good for people in recovery from alcohol addiction?
Because CBD has no psychoactive effects and carries little to no risk of addiction, it may be an option for people recovering from alcohol use disorder.
Because THC comes with a risk of addiction, people recovering from alcohol use disorder may wish to avoid products that contain even small amounts of THC.
Can CBD keep you sober?
Some sober communities view CBD as an intoxicating drug to avoid. Others regard it as a helpful, alternative treatment that can help with things that may trigger or exacerbate alcohol use disorder, such as depression or chronic pain.
Does CBD curb alcohol cravings?
However, there’s limited evidence to suggest CBD alone is enough to block the urge to drink.
Alcohol use disorder is a serious condition, but treatment options are available.
Some people may find it helpful to include CBD as part of their treatment plan. However, right now, the evidence behind using CBD for alcohol use disorder is flimsy at best and primarily based on animal studies.
If you think you have this medical disorder, talk with a doctor to figure out a treatment plan. This may involve going to counseling, taking medications, or attending support groups.
Is CBD legal? The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC legal at the federal level. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them illegal at the federal level. Some states have legalized CBD, so be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.
Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.