In recent years, scientists have been looking into the benefits of CBD hemp oil and other cannabis products for addiction and recovery. Their findings are surprising. These special chemicals called cannabinoids work in the brain but also in special receptors all over the body to relieve pain, anxiety, nausea, tremors, and even help prevent relapses. Not only does CBD relieve withdrawal symptoms of alcoholism, especially seizures, but it also can help slow down brain damage caused by alcohol abuse. CBD hemp oil could be the next frontier in alcohol addiction therapy, if only there were more research projects dedicated to hemp.
Though CBD hemp oil has many benefits for different types of drug withdrawal and recovery, new studies focusing on alcoholism are particularly interesting. First, let’s look at the damage that alcoholism can do to the body and the brain so you can understand how CBD oil helps alcoholics.
Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Like any other drug, alcohol interacts with specific receptors in the brain that usually transmit chemicals important for brain function. Alcohol molecules slot into these receptors instead of proteins like dopamine, GABA, and glutamate. Let’s look at what these chemicals do and what alcohol does to the brain instead:
- Dopamine is an important chemical that lets brain cells responsible for motor control talk to each other, and it also regulates emotions and the reward centers of the brain. Alcohol throws off dopamine levels, increasing it in some places in the brain and decreasing it in others. When alcohol replaces dopamine in the brain, it can result in loss of motor control, i.e. slurred speech or stumbling while drunk. Most importantly, alcohol lights up the reward system of the brain just like heroin and cocaine, literally hijacking the addict’s brain to go to alcohol for that feeling of pleasure.
- GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) helps the nerve cells send signals to each other and regulates how active they are. When alcohol fills up the GABA receptors, brain activity declines in the short term, resulting in the slowed thought patterns and responses people experience while drunk. If someone continues to flood these GABA receptors with alcohol, the brain can even shrink in size because it’s less active.
- Glutamate helps send signals between brain cells too, but it works more on cognitive functions like learning and memory. Alcohol affects the glutamate receptors much like the other receptors in the brain, throwing off the balance of neurotransmitters. The result of glutamate imbalances is memory blackouts, slurred speech, difficulty performing tasks during drinking. With long term alcohol abuse, the brain can suffer permanent damage to these important cognitive functions.
That’s just what alcohol does to those specific receptors in your brain. Imagine the cascading effects of these neurotransmitter changes in the body, especially over time. When alcohol abuse turns chronic, the brain and body are damaged in a number of ways that keep the addict returning to the bottle. Not only does alcohol hijack that reward center to make the brain seek it more, but it also depresses the brain’s activity so much that it can make the brain smaller.
Many of the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain can be reversed by stopping drinking, which allows the brain to heal and return to normal function. Of course, to a chronic drinker, abstinence comes with major withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Seizures and tremors
- Anxiety, mood changes
- In severe cases, hallucinations
There is hope for those who want to quit drinking, though. Cannabinoids have been shown to help addicts relapse less, help restore the natural balance of neurotransmitters, and also ease withdrawal symptoms.
How CBD Can Reverse the Damage Caused by Alcohol
Cannabinoids like CBD and CBN are the non-psychotropic chemicals in cannabis, meaning they don’t produce the “high” people experience. That doesn’t mean they don’t have some benefits to the brain and the body of addicts (and healthy people too). After all, our body makes its own cannabinoids and has specific receptors just for these chemicals. Scientists are interested in how CBD interacts with those neurotransmitter receptors in the brain, and they’ve focused their studies on rats that are addicted to drugs like alcohol to see how their brains respond to cannabinoids.
Their findings were encouraging. It turns out, CBD acts in a very unique way in the brain because it can fit into a lot of different neurotransmitter receptors, replacing the drug molecule. When an addict goes through withdrawal without any treatment, their brain suffers from lack of neurotransmitters because the brain has been using the drug instead of making them. With CBD treatment, the addict’s brain has a natural chemical to fill those empty receptors, and this eases the brain into recovery. While CBD fills those receptors, the brain can ramp up production of those important chemicals like dopamine until it’s back to normal. CBD molecules even break the cycle of craving and relapse because they fill those receptors, making the addict less likely to go look for drugs.
Transdermal CBD Treatment for Alcoholism
A new study published in the journal “Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior” focuses on transdermal CBD delivery as a treatment for the brain damage caused by alcoholism. They report very encouraging results: CBD reverses the neurodegeneration caused by chronic alcohol use. Remember that slowing down of brain activity and the shrinking size of the alcoholic’s brain? That’s neurodegeneration, and scientists found that CBD reversed this damage to nerve cells by just over 50% when it was injected, but it performed even better (56%) when delivered through the skin. Transdermal patches are the newest form of drug delivery, and they’re most commonly used to deliver nicotine to ease smoker’s withdrawals.
The news that CBD patches can help ease withdrawals for alcoholics is encouraging to scientists and doctors who focus on drug treatments. We have a growing drug abuse problem in the U.S., including alcohol, and we need to find new ways to treat it. According to the CDC, there were 88,000 alcohol related deaths from 2006 – 2010. Many of those can be prevented if we open our eyes to new addiction treatments like CBD hemp oil and transdermal patches.