Can CBD Help With Alcohol Use Disorder?

October 10, 2022

Table of Contents

CBD is being explored for its potential to decrease alcohol consumption, lessen cravings, and reduce some of the harmful effects on the liver and brain caused by alcohol use disorder. 

Nearly 30 million people in the United States had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2020.[1] 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a legal component of marijuana that is increasing in popularity for a wide variety of uses. It is not considered to be psychoactive or mind-altering, because it does not cross the blood-brain barrier and does not act in the brain the way that THC, the psychoactive component of Marijuana, does. 

Many people want to know if CBD might help with substance use disorders. 

Can CBD Help With Alcohol Misuse?

We don’t know. CBD is in clinical trials to discover if it can help treat alcohol use disorder.[2] Studies involving animals have shown CBD to be effective for the following:[3]

  • Decreasing alcohol consumption
  • Reducing cravings related to alcohol
  • Lowering liver inflammation and damage related to excessive alcohol use
  • Protecting the brain against alcohol-related damage

Testing CBD for its potential to treat alcohol use disorder is still in the early stages, but it does seem to show some positive attributes that could help. As of now, it is largely unknown if CBD could help with alcohol use disorder. Most medical professionals would not yet recommend it for this use. 

What Is CBD?

CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive component of the marjiuana plant. Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), it does not create a euphoric high because it does not enter the brain. It only binds in peripheral receptors in the body, and has long been used (legally) for muscle relaxation and some calming effects. 

CBD is currently FDA-approved to treat a few rare seizure disorders caused by specific syndromes, such as Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS).[4] The safety and efficacy of CBD for other potential medical applications are still being explored.

Aside from seizure disorders, CBD may also have the potential to treat the following (although this has not been well studied and has certainly not been FDA approved for these indications):

  • Inflammation
  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction

How Can CBD Help?

Alcohol use disorder is characterized by excessive and compulsive alcohol consumption. Animal studies have shown that CBD can actually reduce cravings for alcohol and rates of alcohol consumption. However, this has NOT been replicated in humans. 

AUD is a chronic and relapsing condition, and these animal studies show promise that CBD could be effective in reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol cravings. CBD could also potentially help minimize relapse, impulsivity, and anxiety. However, this has not yet been proven in human studies. 

Is CBD Addictive?

No. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is not considered to be addictive, and there does not seem to be misuse or dependence potential.[6] CBD does not have the same mind-altering and euphoric effects that the other main active component of marijuana (THC) has. Therefore, it does not have the same ability to cause mental and physical dependence, which can lead to addiction. CBD does not seem to impact the reward processing center or interfere with the pleasure receptors in the brain in the way that most addictive substances do. This significantly lowers its addictive potential.

Alternatives to CBD for AUD

Currently, there are three FDA-approved medications for AUD:

  • Acamprosate
  • Naltrexone
  • Disulfiram

These medications can help to decrease cravings and increase rates of abstinence from alcohol. In addition to medications, behavioral therapies and supportive measures are beneficial for the treatment of AUD. If you are serious about starting an evidence based treatment for AUD, you should speak to your doctor about one of these three medications. 

The Bottom Line: Should I use CBD to help treat alcohol use disorder?

Every time we try a medication, there are always risks and benefits. The risks of CBD are very low: it has no abuse potential and no psycho-active component. Therefore, it is relatively safe to try. 

On the other hand, the benefits of CBD for treating alcohol use disorder are also probably pretty low. The benefits of CBD for AUD have not been shown or proven. 

Therefore, the bottom line is that while it is probably very low risk to try, it probably will not significantly help to reduce cravings for alcohol use. One of the FDA approved medications - Disulfiram, Acomprosate, or Naltrexone - are much more likely to help you maintain abstinence from alcohol long term. 

For more information about validated treatments for AUD, reach out to your doctor.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2020-nsduh-annual-national-report. October 2021. Accessed August 2022.
  2. CBD for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04873453. February 2022. Accessed August 2022.
  3. Therapeutic Prospects of Cannabidiol for Alcohol-Use Disorder and Alcohol-Related Damages on the Liver and Brain. Frontiers in Pharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6554654/. May 2019. Accessed August 2022.
  4. What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-Derived Compounds, Including CBD. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/what-you-need-know-and-what-were-working-find-out-about-products-containing-cannabis-or-cannabis. May 2020. Accessed August 2022.
  5. Alcohol-Related Liver Disease. American Liver Foundation. https://liverfoundation.org/liver-diseases/alcohol-related-liver-disease/. 2022. Accessed August 2022.
  6. Cannabidiol (CBD): What We Know and What We Don’t. Harvard Medical School.https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476. September 2021. Accessed August 2022.

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