New Scientist reports on researchers at the British Neuroscience Association’s conference in Edinburgh, UK, and discusses the possible use of cannabidiol to help teenagers quit weed addiction.
Although weed or marijuana is considered a soft drug when it is smoked, it can become an addiction. More and more young people are seeking help for cannabis addiction.
To define addiction or dependence is not easy. Usually someone is considered an addict if they want to stop using a substance, but can’t or if a substance has a negative impact on their life. Withdrawal is what makes it hard to quit. In heavy cannabis use these symptoms could include anxiety, mood swings and insomnia.
It is not clear how many marijuana users get hooked. A study done in the US in the 1990s is often quoted. It says 9 percent of regular users become dependent.
Compared to other drugs, this would place cannabis in a relatively non-habit-forming category. 23 percent of heroin users become addicted and 15 percent of alcohol users get hooked.
Luke Mitcheson, who treats drug users at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, warns there is a perception that smoking marijuana is fine, but one should not underestimate its habit-forming potential.
Cannabidiol for addiction to cannabis
Unlike most other drug addictions, there is no medical treatment to help cannabis users to quit. A clinical trial is underway looking into cannabidiol as a possible treatment.
The number of teenagers seeking treatment for their addiction to cannabis has risen by 50 percent over the last decade. People are coming for help and no one can argue with that, says Tom Freeman of University College London, who is involved in a randomized trail. The trail compares cannabidiol with placebo in 48 people. If the results are positive, the number of people will be expanded to 168.
It is vital that we find a way to treat people seeking help for cannabis addiction, he says. The most promising treatment at the moment seems to be cannabidiol, paradoxically an extract of cannabis.
Doctors in São Paulo, Brazil suggested synthetic cannabidiol as a treatment for a 19-year-old girl who experienced intense withdrawal symptoms trying to quit cannabis in 2012. She smoked daily since she was 13. The cannabidiol eased her symptoms, and within days and she managed to quit. José Crippa of the University of São Paulo presented the case at the Edinburgh conference.
The increase in the number of teenagers seeking help may be accounted for by the fact that the cannabis available to them is becoming more potent with increased levels of THC. THC is the compound, which makes you high. Prolonged intake of THC lowers the levels of the brain’s natural cannabinoid, anandamide.
After quitting, levels recover but until such time, people experience withdrawal symptoms. Cannabidiol boosts anandamide and therefore might help.
Cannabis is becoming legal in a growing number of countries and is being decriminalized in others. It has the potential to create more addiction issues. Those arguing for legalization say it should be regulated for that exact reason. The risk is high when it is illegal because of drug dealers selling it. If it were legal more people would seek help with their addiction.
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Not really a paradox
To conclude, trialing Cannabidiol for addiction to cannabis makes perfect sense. It counteracts the effects of THC, and may yet prove to counteract addiction at the same time.