Using CBD for Drug Addiction: What The Research Tells Us

By | Updated on January 15, 2024

Evidence Based 30

Key takeaways:

  • CBD holds significant promise in treating addiction, withdrawal, and relapse for various drugs, including nicotine, opioids, cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana. 
  • CBD’s anti-addictive actions come from its interaction with the endocannabinoid, dopamine, serotonin, opioid, and other brain systems involved in drug addiction. 
  • While CBD is generally safe with minimal side effects, it’s essential to consult a doctor before trying it, especially if you’re taking other medications.

Drug addiction affects millions of people worldwide and can be challenging to treat. That’s why many researchers are excited about the anti-addictive effects of cannabidiol (CBD), one of the main active ingredients in cannabis. 

Early research indicates that CB may help with addiction to nicotine, opioids, cocaine, psychostimulants, alcohol, and other drugs. Better yet, CBD can’t get you high and has few side effects.

Here’s what the science tells us about using CBD as an intervention for substance abuse.

What Does the Research Say?

DrugPotential CBD BenefitsStrength of Evidence*
OpioidsReduced cravings & rewarding effects, reduced withdrawal symptomsMedium
NicotineReduction in smoking & reduced withdrawal symptomsMedium
MarijuanaReduced consumption & reduced withdrawal symptomsMedium
CocaineReduced addiction and relapseLow
AlcoholReduced consumption & relapseLow
MethamphetamineReduced rewarding effectsLow

* Low: mostly animal studies or conflicting findings; Medium: some human studies

CBD holds serious promise in treating addiction, withdrawal, cravings, and relapse for various addictive drugs. Although most of the current data is limited to animal studies, there’s a growing number of successful human trials. 

CBD and Opioids

The potential of CBD to help with opioid addiction and withdrawal holds a lot of promise. 

One 2019 study of people addicted to heroin reported reduced cue-induced cravings and anxiety after taking CBD for three days, with the effect persisting for one more week (1). This study was a randomized controlled trial (RCT), which is considered the gold standard of medical research. 

In another 2023 study, CBD reduced negative feelings associated with morphine withdrawal in mice by activating serotonin 5-HT1A receptors, potentially offering a new way to prevent opiate relapse (2).

Meanwhile, a 2013 rat study found that CBD may reduce the rewarding effects of opioids like morphine, potentially helping with opioid addiction. Again, this effect was linked to the activation of serotonin 5-HT1A receptors (3).

CBD and Nicotine

CBD may also help with quitting cigarettes and nicotine as a whole. One 2013 pilot study found that smokers who used a CBD inhaler smoked 40% fewer cigarettes during treatment, with some continuing to smoke less even weeks later (4).

Another 2018 study found that a single 800 mg dose of CBD reduced the prominence and attractiveness of cigarette cues in smokers who have abstained from smoking overnight.

Cues are triggers that remind a person of using a drug. For a smoker, seeing someone else smoking, smelling cigarette smoke, or having a cup of coffee (if they usually smoke with coffee) could all be considered drug cues that might trigger a craving to smoke (5).

Meanwhile, a 2021 rat study reported that CBD reduced nicotine withdrawal symptoms like physical discomfort and increased sensitivity to pain, suggesting it could be helpful for those trying to quit nicotine (6).

CBD and Cocaine

CBD may also help with addiction to cocaine, but the evidence is mixed. 

A 2021 RCT study in people with cocaine addiction found that an 800 mg dose of CBD didn’t impact cocaine craving or relapse (7). However, animal research has shown promising results:

  • In a 2023 mouse study, CBD-rich cannabis extract, but not pure CBD, helped with smoked cocaine addiction (8).
  • In a 2022 study of mice, CBD decreased cocaine consumption during the initial stages of cocaine use. But once the mice were abstaining, CBD didn’t influence their cocaine cravings (9).
  • Another 2021 study found that CBD helped prevent the development of cocaine addiction and relapse and reduced memory problems associated with cocaine withdrawal (10)

Clearly, more studies are needed. 

CBD and Marijuana 

Marijuana is not as addictive as many other drugs but can still lead to cannabis use disorder: the inability to stop using despite social and health problems. Thankfully, recent research is providing evidence that CBD can help people manage an unhealthy marijuana habit.

One 2020 RCT study found that 400 mg and 800 mg doses of CBD were safe and more effective than a placebo in reducing cannabis use in individuals with cannabis use disorder (11). 

Similarly, a 2022 study found that vaping CBD helped people with cannabis use disorder reduce their cannabis consumption (12).

Additionally, an innovative 2010 study of 94 cannabis users found that smoking high-CBD marijuana reduced attentional bias (focusing on something while ignoring other things) towards cannabis and food, suggesting that “CBD has potential as a treatment for cannabis dependence” (13).

CBD and Alcohol

The benefits of CBD for alcohol addiction require more research, but early findings are promising. 

One 2021 study of adults who use alcohol and cannabis found that those who used cannabis strains high in CBD tended to drink less alcohol compared to those using strains high in THC or a mix of CBD and THC (14).

Meanwhile, in a 2017 mouse study, CBD reduced alcohol consumption, the desire for alcohol, and the likelihood of relapse in mice, suggesting that it may help with alcoholism (15).

CBD and Methamphetamine 

Addictive drugs typically interact with dopamine, the brain’s reward and pleasure neurotransmitter. In a 2022 study of rats, CBD reduced the rewarding dopamine-related effects of methamphetamine (16).

In a similar 2022 rat study, CBD, but not cannabidiolic acid (CBDa), reduced spontaneous movement caused by the use of methamphetamine (17). 

CBD’s Indirect Benefits

Aside from its direct anti-addictive effects, CBD can also help with stress, anxiety, chronic pain, and sleep problems: issues that are caused by and can lead to drug use. For example:

  • In a 2022 study of 2816 people (94% female) using commercially available CBD oils and capsules for four weeks, 47% of those with anxiety saw a clinically meaningful improvement, 48% with sleep disturbances, and 35% with pain (18)
  • In a 2023 RCT study of 1793 adults with sleep problems, low-dose CBD improved sleep quality as effectively as melatonin (19)
  • In a 2022 study of 14 people with moderate-to-severe anxiety, full-spectrum CBD oil significantly improved anxiety, mood, sleep, quality of life, and cognition (20)
  • In a 2019 study of 131 chronic pain patients, full-spectrum CBD softgels reduced opioid painkiller use and improved chronic pain and sleep (21)

The bottom line is that CBD has serious potential in treating substance abuse, but more research is needed. As concluded by a 2022 review of CBD’s potential for substance use disorder:

While the currently available evidence converges to suggest that CBD could effectively reduce the rewarding and reinforcing effects of addictive drugs, more preclinical and clinical studies are needed before CBD can be added to the therapeutic arsenal for treating addiction.


CBD and the Opioid Epidemic

Although CBD appears promising for treating addiction to all kinds of substances, it may be particularly helpful for tackling the opioid epidemic — the misuse and addiction to opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

This epidemic has been causing tens of thousands of deaths every year. In 2020 alone, 75% of the 91,799 drug overdose deaths in the US involved an opioid (23). 

Yasmin L. Hurd, a leading expert in addiction psychiatry and neuroscience, has called for urgent action from federal agencies to fast-track the clinical use of CBD to address the opioid crisis (24). She believes CBD has minimal misuse potential and can reduce anxiety, a key trigger for addiction relapse.

How Does CBD Help With Drug Addiction?

CBD has “anti-addictive” effects that may help with drug cravings, withdrawal, associated symptoms such as anxiety and stress, and other aspects of drug addiction. 

Researchers believe CBD works by interacting with many brain systems involved in addiction, namely the dopamine, opioid, endocannabinoid, serotonin, and glutamine systems (25). 

CBD & the Endocannabinoid System

Most of what we know about CBD comes from its interaction with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This crucial system is composed of three main parts: 

  1. Endocannabinoids: Molecules that our bodies naturally produce. They’re similar to cannabinoids found in cannabis, like CBD and THC. Think of them like little messengers that help keep our bodies in balance. 
  2. Receptors: These are like little locks on the surface of your cells. The endocannabinoids are the keys that fit these locks. When an endocannabinoid binds to a receptor, it sends a signal to the cell, telling it what to do. There are two main types of receptors in the ECS: CB1, which is mainly found in the brain, and CB2, which is more common in immune tissues.
  3. Enzymes: After the endocannabinoids have delivered their message, enzymes break them down and prevent them from over-activating the system. It’s like a cleanup crew that comes in after a big event to ensure everything is tidy and back to normal.

In simple terms, the ECS is like a big communication system in your body. It helps keep major processes in balance, including sleep, pain, brain function, appetite, and immunity. 

There’s also “overwhelming evidence that the eCB [endocannabinoid] system is implicated in the pathophysiology of addiction, in particular in processes such as drug-seeking behavior, reward, withdrawal, and relapse.” As such, CBD may help with substance abuse by interacting with the ECS (26).

Finally, CBD might also help with addiction by promoting hippocampal neurogenesis — the growth of new brain cells in the adult brain (25). Research indicates that addictive drugs can negatively impact this process. 

How to Best Use CBD

The first question to answer is how you want to administer CBD. When using CBD to kick an addiction, you have three main options:

  1. Sublingual (under the tongue)
  2. Inhalation (as vapes or hemp flower)
  3. Oral (as capsules, gummies, or other edibles)

Taking CBD sublingually (as CBD oil) is the best option for most people. It’s cost-effective, has good absorption, long-lasting effects (6-8 hours), and makes it easy to change the dosage (1). 

Inhaling CBD can be a solid alternative if you prefer fast effects. Vaping or smoking CBD also makes more sense if you’re trying to quit smoking since you’ll be replacing the habit of inhaling something.

The final option is oral CBD products like capsules or gummies. Although they can also work, oral products have relatively low absorption (27). That means you’ll need to take larger doses to get the same effect, although you can greatly improve absorption by taking oral CBD alongside foods high in fat.

Another key consideration is the type of CBD you’re using: 

  1. Full-spectrum (CBD plus all the other cannabinoids, terpenes, and other hemp compounds)
  2. Broad-spectrum (same as full-spectrum but with THC removed)
  3. Isolate (pure CBD)

Most research studies look at the effects of CBD isolate. But it’s better to opt for full or at least broad-spectrum CBD products because they appear to offer greater benefits thanks to the “entourage effect” synergy (28).

cbd products tested in 2022
Different kinds of CBD products.

How Much CBD Should I Take?

There’s no set dosage of CBD for drug dependence or withdrawal. It depends on many factors, such as your gender, body weight, the severity of your symptoms, and the type of product you’re taking.

It’s best to follow the “start low and go slow” approach suggested by health experts (29). Begin with 5-10 mg or the dose recommended by your product and observe the effects over the next two hours. If you don’t notice a difference, gradually raise the dose until you feel the desired effects. 

Are There Any Side Effects?

CBD has been examined in dozens of human studies and is considered generally safe with minimal side effects. 

While these side effects are generally mild and go away on their own, it’s essential to be aware of them if you’re considering CBD. The most common side effects of CBD include: (30)

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea

CBD can also interact with other medications, so it’s crucial to talk to your healthcare provider before using it, especially if you’re currently taking prescription drugs.

The good news is that these side effects are primarily associated with large oral doses of pure CBD. Since most people use much smaller dosages and often go for full-spectrum formulas administered sublingually (as CBD oil), the likelihood and severity of symptoms are small.

The Bottom Line

The potential of CBD in treating drug addiction is an exciting frontier in medical research. While the current body of evidence is promising, it’s important to remember that much of it is still in the early stages, with many studies conducted on animals rather than humans. 

Still, the results are overwhelmingly positive and suggest that CBD could play a significant role in addressing addiction to various substances, including the four most prevalent addictions: alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and opioids. 

If you’re interested in trying CBD to help kick an addiction, I recommend opting for a high-quality, full-spectrum CBD oil and slowly increasing your dose until you start to feel the desired effects.


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  2. Souza, Adriana Jesus, Francisco S. Guimarães, and Felipe V. Gomes. “Cannabidiol attenuates the expression of conditioned place aversion induced by naloxone-precipitated morphine withdrawal through the activation of 5-HT1A receptors.” Behavioural Brain Research 450 (2023): 114504.
  3. Katsidoni, Vicky, Ilektra Anagnostou, and George Panagis. “Cannabidiol inhibits the reward‐facilitating effect of morphine: involvement of 5‐HT1A receptors in the dorsal raphe nucleus.” Addiction biology 18.2 (2013): 286-296.
  4. Morgan, Celia JA, et al. “Cannabidiol reduces cigarette consumption in tobacco smokers: preliminary findings.” Addictive behaviors 38.9 (2013): 2433-2436.
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  6. Smith, Lauren C., et al. “Cannabidiol reduces withdrawal symptoms in nicotine-dependent rats.” Psychopharmacology 238.8 (2021): 2201-2211.
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