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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 a 2019 survey, alcohol use disorder affects more than 14 million people over the age of 12 in the United States. However, because of the stigma associated with this disease, people may have trouble seeking help. Only about 7.2 percent of people with alcohol use disorder received treatment in 2019.

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.

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 bind to receptors in the body, they produce effects like pain relief. When those endocannabinoids complete their task, enzymes break them down.

In a 2007 animal study, researchers found that both short- and long-term alcohol use affects the level of endocannabinoids in the brains of rats. The changes happened in brain regions related to emotion and other areas associated with alcohol use disorder.

Another study from 2005 also suggests that the ECS, specifically CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, plays a role in alcohol use disorder. The study authors concluded that more research into this link may help experts develop therapies for the disorder.

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. 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.

A 2015 review of human and animal studies suggests that CBD may help curb cocaine, opioid, stimulant, tobacco, and cannabis addiction.

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.

Additional research from 2018 concluded that CBD helped decrease impulsive behavior in rats with alcohol or cocaine addiction. The effects lasted up to 5 months after the last dose of CBD.

One 2019 review of human and animal studies suggests that CBD may help people with alcohol use disorder reduce their alcohol intake. The review also suggests that CBD may provide neuroprotective effects against alcohol-related brain damage.

A 2018 study in mice looked at low doses of CBD combined with naltrexone, an FDA-approved medication for treating alcohol use disorder. CBD and naltrexone combined were more effective at reducing alcohol consumption than either one alone. But clinical trials are needed to better understand the role of CBD in 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.

Clinical trials will ultimately provide researchers with a better understanding of how CBD can help with alcohol use disorder.

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.

A 2019 review suggests that in addition to reducing alcohol intake in people with alcohol use disorder, CBD may also prevent liver inflammation and damage due to excessive drinking.

However, all studies included in this review were animal studies. Human studies will help researchers 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.

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:

  • fatigue
  • weight changes
  • diarrhea

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.

If you have alcohol use disorder and are interested in trying CBD to see if it will help, know that there’s a potential for each substance to amplify the other’s effects.

Both alcohol and CBD, for example, promote relaxation. And taking both together may increase their sedative effects.

A 1979 double-blind, crossover, randomized study found that combining alcohol with CBD caused significantly lower blood alcohol levels compared to taking alcohol alone. But combining the two substances also caused significant motor impairment.

It’s important to note that while these results are interesting, the study involved a very small pool of volunteers — only six males and four females.

Other than this outdated study, there’s little research out there on what happens if you mix CBD and alcohol.

Based on current research, The World Health Organization (WHO) says that CBD doesn’t seem to have any potential for abuse or dependence.

In fact, animal studies suggest that CBD may actually help treat certain types of addiction.

More research is needed, though, to understand the role of CBD in helping with substance use disorders.

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:

CBD type

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.

Third-party testing

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

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends talking with your doctor about alcohol use disorder if you respond “yes” to at least two of the following questions.

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.

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? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and 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.