So you probably noticed that lately there’s been a bit of a CBD mania and everyone’s talking about CBD for everything and there are a lot of potential uses for it. Everyone is focused on finding the best CBD oil but the question is “what’s it going to be the best for”? One thing that hasn’t been heard of about CBD though is as to how it pertains to alcohol withdrawal specifically. Before we begin, it is wise to take note that we are not doctors and this is not medical advice. If you have severe alcohol withdrawal involving symptoms such as seizures or hallucinations, don’t turn to CBD; instead, pay your doctor a visit to receive professional advice on the degree of measures that need to be taken in accordance with your situation.
Now, back to our subject. CBD can be very useful for post-acute withdrawal, which is caused by an imbalance in the body and brain that is caused by alcohol as well as by skewered neurotransmitter and hormone levels caused by prolonged drinking. CBD can help reduce anxiety, insomnia, restlessness and other such symptoms that happen to a lot of people post-quitting their former alcoholic lifestyle. What can be bad though is that these can sometimes last for months or even for years. CBD can also be useful for mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal involving the same similar symptoms of anxiety and insomnia and low-level depression. So the first question is, what is CBD?
Why CBD and Not Marijuana?
Well, CBD is short for cannabidiol and it’s a natural compound found in both industrial hemp and marijuana. I’m not recommending that you go out and get marijuana unless of course, you live in a state where it’s legal. But we’re actually going to discuss why CBD itself is probably better for alcohol withdrawal than marijuana.
Now our bodies contain endocannabinoids in numerous organs and brain regions. We actually have an endocannabinoid system that regulates things like pain and pleasure and appetite. And there’ve been studies done showing that CBD supplementation can improve numerous conditions by helping to restore balance to this endocannabinoid system.
It’s a little bit unclear as to whether we’re directly supplying cannabinoids to our system or whether we’re improving the sensitivity of our existing endocannabinoid receptors. We take note that CBD is legal in certain states and it’s not psychoactive. So when you take CBD, you don’t get high, unlike THC, which is the compound that’s found in higher percentages in marijuana and in a low level and industrial hemp.
CBD actually has anti-addictive properties, I suppose you’d call it a drug, but we wouldn’t consider it addictive interestingly, and we will explain why this is the case. CBD actually promotes recovery from addiction and has been shown to help people with compulsive behaviors to gain control by reducing inflammation in the brain. Let’s review our endocannabinoid system really quickly to further understand that.
It was mentioned that this system is involved in regulating pain and pleasure, including memory and appetite. Now, importantly, it’s also involved in regulating our immune system responses such as inflammation. That’s one way to understand why CBD can be so useful for alcohol recovery because we have this internal endocannabinoid system that we can make use of CBD right away to reduce inflammation in the body and in the brain. And as we will see, studies have shown that doing so can result in a decrease in addictive behavior as well as a decrease in symptoms such as anxiety, and just a better sense of general wellbeing.
What: Alcohol Withdrawal
Now I want to give a brief overview of alcohol withdrawal, here are some points as far as CBD is concerned and how it can help. When you go through alcohol withdrawal, what ends up happening is you have a deficiency of GABA, and that’s the brain’s primary calming neurotransmitter. GABA exists in a balance with another neurotransmitter called glutamate.
Glutamate is the primary, stimulating or excitatory neurotransmitter. It increases electrical activity in the brain, so when the alcohol wears off and you’re going through withdrawal, you have a deficiency of GABA and have too much glutamate in your brain. If you’ve ever experienced this state, it’s hard to relax and you feel like you’re hyper-vigilant. Your reflex responses go off a bit too quickly, you feel stressed out, panicked, maybe even paranoid. This is a situation that CBD can help with.
Right now, we also have to discuss aldehyde acid, the number one toxic byproduct of alcohol that has caused all of the pro-inflammatory compounds, including a compound called cytokines. And so your system is out of balance, your brain chemistry is out of balance, and your body chemistry is out of balance. There have actually been studies showing that inflammatory cytokines can actually block receptors meant for feel-good chemicals such as serotonin. It prevents your feel-good chemicals from actually plugging into the right receptors and making you feel better.
Now with post-acute withdrawal, you also have a similar situation. It’s not quite as bad as an acute withdrawal, but you end up with symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, and anhedonia, which means one cannot feel pleasure. These are symptoms of longterm imbalance that are not quite as extreme as acute withdrawal, nonetheless, they can still be pretty bad. And after one quits drinking, it would take about six months to start discovering the supplements that would really help.
Honestly, CBD didn’t exist yet years ago for people to turn to. I wish it had been. Anyway, these symptoms, the anxiety, not being able to sleep, feeling kind of bummed out, not being able to take pleasure in everyday things can all really be crippling and lead a lot of people back to drinking. The main reason why it’s so important to discuss why CBD can help with these kinds of issues.
Now, the first is that CBD directly reduces inflammation. It reduces the pro-inflammatory compounds in the body and brain. When it does this, it removes a major roadblock to the production of feel-good chemicals. Cytokines can pass through the blood-brain barrier and can keep your feel-good chemicals from properly functioning.
CBD also repairs oxidative stress in a similar way as antioxidants. So you can think of it as kind of a super antioxidant and it’s been shown to reverse glutamate toxicity. So by glutamate toxicity, it simply means that excess glutamate causes that feeling of hypervigilance and panic that you get when you are in a state of alcohol withdrawal.
Special Studies on Alcoholism
There was a study showing that heavy drinkers have actually completely extinguished their levels of natural endocannabinoids. And because CBD also improves the body’s response to stress, a lot of people, after an article on CBD for alcohol withdrawal was released in the site, wrote: “you know, I’ve been taking CBD at night, but I noticed that I’m calmer during the day.” The cool thing about CBD is it’s not one of those things that you take just for immediate symptom relief.
CBD has a longterm rebalancing effect for your system. Last year an article about rats under the influence of alcohol was released, these rats were given CBD. The rats that were under the test were specially bred to be dependent on the equivalent of a fifth, for a human, of vodka each day. These rats were under the heavy influence and were injected with CBD for a week. 80% of the rats voluntarily chose water over alcohol for the next five months after the test, an amazing result from the experiment.
CBD, during the test, was found to have reduced the biomarkers for inflammation in the body and brain of the rats. This article can be found in the journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. A study that really kicked off the enthusiasm for using CBD for addictive disorders such as alcohol addiction and opiate addiction. Since then, thousands and thousands of people have maybe millions at this point, have used CBD with success in helping to feel better and to avoid relapse after quitting drinking and other addictive issues.
How Does CBD Reduce Alcohol Craving?
So this is kind of a recap, but as we’ve said, it reverses high glutamate levels in the brain. Glutamate being the stress chemical is the neurotransmitter that increases electrical activity in the brain. It evens out those high levels and decreases inflammation. As that rat study shows that high levels of inflammation in the body and the brain can lead to relapse because it means that your brain chemistry is not properly balanced, and CBD restores endocannabinoid and CB one functions.
That’s simply the receptor that CBD binds to and that the endocannabinoid system relies on, in order for you to make use of these cannabinoids. You need to be able to make use of your natural cannabinoids and by taking CBD, you are improving your body’s ability to make use of the endocannabinoids that you make yourself. So let’s talk about CBD versus marijuana for alcohol withdrawal. Now there is a group called marijuana maintenance that’s been around for a long time and they do promote the use of marijuana for alcohol recovery.
Even though CBD is now deemed to be the safer option, the effects of marijuana have some decent success rates too. I would actually say that the reason marijuana maintenance works are not just because you get a substitute for alcohol in the form of THC, which gets you high, but also because by consuming marijuana you’re getting CBD as well. CBD, on the other hand, is the safer route in terms of legality.
It’s not psychoactive and is more readily available, processed, and is legalized in some states, getting a wider reach to the open public in comparison to marijuana. The likeliness of CBD triggering anxiety is also little compared to that of THC, that is present in marijuana. In fact, it reduces anxiety. Sadly, a lot of people who smoke marijuana trying to relax ironically ended up just being panicked and paranoid. If that’s a common post-experience for you, CBD would probably be a better fit for you than THC and marijuana.
So what are the best ways to take CBD?
Well, there are a number of ways. There are CBD oils out there, CBD vape pens, CBD gummies, and CBD edibles. There’s no best way or time of day to take it. Personally, I tend to take one dropper before bed and I’m in my fifth year of being alcohol-free now. Taking CBD in this manner can also take effect faster and helps in a deep sleep. You’ll be able to sleep faster and much deeper than usual.
When choosing your brand of CBD, make sure that it is reputable. This is important for a couple of reasons. You want to avoid obviously low quality that would simply be ineffective if you took it. You also want to avoid brands with fillers in them. Do you want to avoid brands with contaminants? Yes. And you definitely want to avoid brands with hidden ingredients as well; by law, a CBD product has to contain less than 0.3% THC. That’s the amount that’s considered legally acceptable for industrial hemp.
Just as a comparison here, most marijuana products, whether they’re edibles or strains of marijuana, tend to contain somewhere in the 0.3 to 10% THC range; CBD products that contain less than 0.3% THC effectively contain no THC. Although if you’re in a job where employees are regularly tested, precaution over your patronized CBD brand should be taken. Most protocols regarding these tests can get very precise nowadays. If your preferred brand contains a trace of THC, talking to your manager about your treatment will be wise.
THC will not always get you high. Although there have also been cases where people taking a non-reputable brand of CBD end up having traces of THC. That is because some of these brands are failing in transparency in terms of their product’s components, especially CBD oils that are extracted from marijuana instead of from hemp. Now a quick review of some of the research that’s been done on the use of CBD for addictive disorders.
Findings of CBD Effects on Addiction
The first is that alcohol-dependent people have a severely diminished prevalence of CB one receptors in the brain. It was found that they have fewer endocannabinoids in their body, explaining why CBD supplementation would help people who are alcohol dependent. It’s been also found that CBD reverses glutamate toxicity in the brain. This is because it binds to CB one receptors. It blocks glutamate from wreaking havoc and making you feel panicked and it reduces oxidative stress.
In a similar way as antioxidants, an analysis of studies found that CBD seems to have direct effects on addictive behaviors. It tends to reduce relapse, it tends to make people calmer and even-keeled, and directly and indirectly, it ends up having an anti-addictive property. CBD has been found to reduce cigarette consumption in tobacco smokers too. It even works against the most addictive drugs such as nicotine, and it reduces the reward facilitating effects of morphine, another highly, highly addictive drug.
CBD has also been found to actually reduce cravings for cannabis following heavy usage, which is really interesting and counterintuitive. You would think, “how could you possibly fight marijuana addiction with a marijuana compound?” Well, it turns out that CBD has a balancing relationship with THC and a lot of strains. As was mentioned before, we have a lot of new strains now where the THC levels have been artificially jacked up through selective breeding; and no adverse side effects have been reported with very high doses of CBD.
Let’s talk again about inflammation and mental health. The biggest benefit of using CBD for alcohol withdrawal and alcohol with recovery is that it reduces inflammation. So what are the links between inflammation and mental health? Anti-inflammatory drugs have been found to actually improve the symptoms of clinical depression. A study was done where they gave people who were clinically depressed anti-inflammatory drugs instead of antidepressants; something no one would go for in such a situation.
However, in this scenario, they were used just to prove the principle that there was a link between inflammation and depression. And it was found that these anti-inflammatory drugs did reduce the symptoms of depression. In a much simpler experiment, people with depression were told to eat only whole foods for three months. Improved results were achieved in comparison to clinically diagnosed patients who were only addressed with social support.
Sugar is known to have processed flour. Those are known to increase inflammation in the body, and they’re also associated with increased addictive behavior. Sugar itself is a drug. But when you’re eating whole foods, you’re generally reducing inflammation in your body compared to someone who’s eating packaged foods. Now, another study found that magnesium, which is a very inexpensive mineral, was shown to decrease inflammation in the body.
It’s actually involved in hundreds of bodily processes that it says is as effective as SSRIs in treating clinical depression. Now, we had this new area of research, emerging research called psychobiotics in which scientists had been exploring the role of the microbiome in regulating inflammation levels and supporting the production of hormones and neurotransmitters that you need to feel good. I don’t know the exact effects of CBD on the microbiome.
I think that would be a really interesting area of study. Perhaps there had been studies done on it, but I haven’t yet seen it, but I can say anecdotally that someone emailed me, they had read my article and gotten some CBD oil and they said that their anxiety went away, but not only that, they had had a sort of autoimmune issue. They’re having a lot of issues with their digestive system and these issues went away after they started taking CBD.
The main point here is that to improve your alcohol recovery, to improve how you feel and to decrease your chances of relapse, you’ll want to proactively reduce inflammation and treat with CBD. It is a great way to do it, but it should be one of a number of approaches that you have. You’ll want to use vitamins and minerals, make sure you’re getting enough good fats, omega three fatty acids, and amino acids to give your body the precursors and the coenzymes that you need to restore balance and produce all of those feel-good chemicals and hormones that you need.
Diet changes can also be very helpful as we sign that study where people who were depressed, who ate whole foods for three months started feeling better. Diet changes can absolutely help in the same exact way for the same exact reason in alcohol recovery and adequate rest and sleep. It might actually be the most important part of alcohol recovery because if you’re not sleeping, you’re not restoring your brain and you’re not restoring your body. You need to be able to repair every cell in your body after you quit drinking.
I would say that one of the best uses of CBD is to encourage restful sleep. I used to take a sleeping pill after I quit drinking and I found that CBD is so much gentle and I feel so much better. I used to feel groggy after the detox center that I went to gave me Trazodone. I just felt unrested after I woke up in the morning. It’s the total opposite of CBD. I just feel more balanced. Recovery from alcohol addiction is a holistic process and it’s not a pill for an ill type of situation.
You also want to make sure you’re surrounded by awesome people and exercise can help to rewire your brain and reduce inflammation. People who quit drinking tend to have what’s called EDS or endorphin deficiency syndrome. You can increase those levels of natural endorphins if you do all of these rewirings. You also want to make sure you’re building new neural pathways and you can do this by choosing awesome new activities to supplant the time that you used to spend drinking alcohol.
You don’t want to be sitting on your couch with a glass of water instead of a glass of wine. Alcohol recovery doesn’t work that way. You need to be doing cool new stuff. You know, figuring out what your purpose is, making use of the new energy levels that you have from reducing inflammation and making positive changes in your lifestyle.