Study raises early hopes for the use of CBD in treating nicotine withdrawal

Researchers at the University of San Diego in California have published a paper showing early evidence that CBD may help ease the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Rats made nicotine dependent were treated with either a CBD solution or sesame oil, and researchers monitored differences between the two groups in perception of pain, weight gain, and levels of nicotine in the blood. While the CBD treatment group experienced less sensitivity to pain and lower levels of contine (a metabolite of nicotine), there was no difference in weight or nicotine levels.

The modest findings of the study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, speak largely for themselves. However, while some proof of concept for CBD may be said to exist in aiding nicotine withdrawal, the results are only at the beginning of evidence generation.

They come from a relatively basic animal model looking only at withdrawal symptoms – as opposed to human studies, where self-administration of nicotine or other nicotine dependence-related behaviours may come into play. It should be pointed out, however, that animal models for evaluating nicotine addiction can be more reliable than animal models in other areas of medical research.

What’s more, the study’s duration was short, with CBD being administered over 14 days. This means that the effects shown may not scale up well as the duration is expanded, which is of importance as human experience with nicotine cessation typically takes much longer.


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    The use of CBD to treat nicotine dependence would expand the available treatment options for nicotine withdrawal.

    There already exist an array of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) options that have shown to be quite effective in assisting smokers to quit. Smoking is by far the more serious public health threat than nicotine use alone, which is associated with comparatively few health harms.

    There are also a variety of existing medications, such as varenicline or bupropion, with a fairly strong evidence base that are entrenched in clinical practice for treating nicotine dependence. While technically these products are approved in the US as “an aid to smoking cessation treatment” the application to treat broader tobacco use disorder is clear.

    Outside of these, antidepressants (SSRIs) are often used off-label  that is without express approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the purpose  to treat nicotine withdrawal.

    This raises the question where a CBD nicotine treatment would fit. But as shown by the introduction of e-cigarettes, their impact on smoking rates and the still remaining “hump” of continuing smokers, new approaches can have a significant impact and more are yet needed.


    What This Means: It remains too early to tell with the early pre-clinical evidence from the San Diego study whether CBD will have a place in the arsenal of treatment options for nicotine withdrawal. The early suggestion, though, is that it may help ease symptoms and there remains heavy commercial interest in researching it. We will certainly see more studies in the near future.

     Clayton Hale TobaccoIntelligence contributing writer

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    This article was written by one of TobaccoIntelligence’s international correspondents. We currently employ more than 40 reporters around the world to cover individual nicotine markets.

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