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CBD May Help During Cocaine Withdrawal

Research shows that CBD may correct the genetic changes due to cocaine abuse.

Long-term abuse of cocaine induces compensatory changes in numerous genes associated with brain function. These compensatory changes lead to the appearance of the classic series of withdrawal symptoms when cocaine use is discontinued. The withdrawal behavioral symptoms are the exact opposite of what was experienced while taking cocaine, including fatigue, a near complete anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure, and depression and anxiety that often lead to thoughts of suicide.

The withdrawal symptoms demonstrate a basic principle of brain function: If you repeatedly expose the brain to any chemical, whether drug or nutrient (such as cocaine or sugar) the brain will adjust. This adjustment is called neuroplasticity and it is a critical feature of the brain that allows all animals to survive. When you take away the drug or nutrient, the brain demands its return because the biochemical adjustments it made have the led the brain to act as though the presence of the cocaine or heroin or whatever is now normal.

Cocaine is pleasurable. If it wasn’t, no would bother abusing it. No one is guilty of snorting broccoli. Scientists have specified many of the changes in gene expression that underlie the withdrawal symptoms following long-term cocaine abuse. The changes in gene expression occur in the brain’s two most important reward and pleasure-related neurotransmitter systems, dopamine and endocannabinoids.

A recent study investigated the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on the gene expression changes that underlie the symptoms cocaine withdrawal. CBD is a cannabinoid. The typical (i.e., original) cannabis plant contains about two molecules of THC for every molecule of CBD. CBD does not produce the typical cannabis high because it lacks the ability to bind to the brain’s endogenous cannabinoid receptors. CBD may interact with a specific serotonin receptor; this action may be responsible for its claimed anti-anxiety effects.

In this study, the effects of CBD treatment were evaluated on cocaine withdrawal-induced alterations in motor activity, somatic signs, and anxiety-like behavior as well as for changes in gene expression changes for two indicators of dopamine function, the Dopamine Transporter and the enzyme Tyrosine Hydroxylase, in the ventral tegmental area, and the two cannabinoid receptors, type 1 and type 2, in the nucleus accumbens. The ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens are well known pleasure centers in the brain.

The administration of CBD normalized motor and somatic signs disturbances and induced an anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effect. Moreover, the administration of CBD corrected the changes in gene expression for the Dopamine Transporter and Tyrosine Hydroxylase due to cocaine abuse. The CBD treatment also increased the expression of the two cannabinoid receptors that had been decreased by the cocaine abuse. Overall, this study in mice demonstrated that CBD treatment may be useful in the management of cocaine withdrawal.

© Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D. is the author of Your Brain on Food, (3rd Edition, 2019; Oxford University Press) and is a member of the Governor’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee for the State of Ohio.


Gasparyan A et al (2020) Cannabidiol modulates behavioural and gene expression alterations induced by spontaneous cocaine withdrawal, NEUROTHERAPEUTICS.

Nov 23. doi: 10.1007/s13311-020-00976-6.

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