Exploring the use of CBD in treating alcohol use disorder

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The CBD industry is booming. CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a chemical compound derived from the cannabis plant that is marketed as a cure-all and added to everything from bath bombs to dog treats.

But has the hype of CBD gotten ahead of the science?

“The use of medical cannabis in Canada has increased by 2000 per cent since 2014, but the evidence to support its therapeutic benefits simply isn’t there,” says Dr. James MacKillop, Senior Scientist at Homewood Research Institute (HRI) and Director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. Dr. MacKillop is overseeing research that will help to address this need for evidence in Canada.

One of the most pressing questions surrounding the therapeutic application of CBD relates to its potential for treating addiction – specifically, alcohol use disorder.

Jasmine Turna


Dr. Jasmine Turna

Recently, Dr. Jasmine Turna, an HRI Research Trainee and post-doctoral student working under Dr. MacKillop’s supervision, shared findings from a systematic review exploring CBD’s utility in treating alcohol use disorder. The review, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, sought to characterize existing literature from animal studies to evaluate the credibility of CBD as a potential treatment option for alcohol addiction.

In a webcast hosted by Homewood Health Centre on April 25th, Dr. Turna shared her findings with clinicians, researchers and other mental health professionals.

Three themes emerged from the literature review:

  1. CBD may have the potential to limit alcohol-related liver damage.
  2. CBD may reduce brain degeneration associated with alcohol use, thereby protecting cognition.
  3. CBD may influence factors like impulse control and anxiety, thereby possibly reducing the risk of relapse.

Previous research on CBD suggests that the compound has notable anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may explain its potential to limit liver damage and neurodegeneration. CBD’s influence on relapse, on the other hand, could be attributed to its ability to affect risk factors associated with relapse, such as anxiety and impulsivity.

Next steps

While animal studies have generated promising findings, further research is now needed to determine whether these findings will translate to human studies. Dr. Turna’s review identifies three key areas in which CBD may produce therapeutic effects, providing clear avenues for human clinical trials. These include:

  1. Alcohol motivation: how does CBD affect cravings and withdrawal?
  2. Neurocognition: what effect does CBD have on the brain’s reward systems, learning, memory and cognitive function?
  3. Liver function: how does CBD impact liver enzymes indicative of liver health?

View the Webcast               Read the Article