Cannabidiol reduces attentional bias to cigarette cues in nicotine addicts, study finds

Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from the cannabis plant that does not produce a psychoactive “high,” might help tobacco smokers kick the habit, according to new preliminary research.

The study, published in the journal Addiction, is the first to investigate the psychological effects of CBD on nicotine withdrawal.

“Cannabis, and the brain system which it acts upon, the endocannabinoid system, is highly associated with tobacco use, but I wanted to investigate if a component of cannabis, cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid could be used in a positive way, to treat withdrawal,” explained study author Chandni Hindocha, a doctoral student at the Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit of University College London.

“The second reason was that there was another study in 2013 that showed that a week of CBD inhaler vs placebo reduced cigarette smoking in the following week by 40%.”

“This was such a large effect, but there was no mechanism investigated. I thought that the mechanism might be through a modulation of the salience (or attentional grabbing) properties of drug cues; as we have seen this also before,” Hindocha said. “In other words, cannabis users with high CBD in their cannabis showed a lower bias to cannabis cues.”

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 30 dependent cigarette smokers found that 800mg of CBD reversed the attentional bias to cigarette cues.

The participants were initially tested amid their normal cigarette habit. They were tested two more times after having abstained from nicotine overnight (for about 9.5 to 13 hours.)

Participants who received a placebo showed a greater bias towards cigarette-related images compared to neutral images after abstaining. But participants who received CBD showed no increase in this attentional bias.

An associated study, published in Scientific Reports, examined whether CBD could improve memory and reduce impulsivity in the participants. But the researchers failed to find evidence that CBD improved cognition in cigarette smokers who were abstinent overnight.

“Cannabidiol can reduce some aspects of nicotine withdrawal in dependent cigarette smokers, which include the attentional bias to and liking of drug cues, but did not affect craving withdrawal, cognition or impulsivity associated with withdrawal,” Hindocha told PsyPost. “This is likely because we gave people a single dose of the drug.”

The study — like all research — has limitations. It is still unclear how effective CBD would be in helping someone quit tobacco use.

“Everyone who took part was a dependent cigarette smoker who had been asked to not smoke for 12 hours, and we tested for this, however, we were not able to test for nicotine use via e-cigarettes,” Hindocha said.

“Many questions still need to be addressed such as what is the efficacy of CBD in comparison to leading smoking cessation drugs? Can CBD be used as an adjunct to smoking cessation drugs? What dose of CBD is actually required for the desired effect on craving and withdrawal? Is there another mechanism by which CBD acts?”

“CBD is now the centre of a ‘neutraceutical” market such that it can be bought in health food shops — that type of CBD is nowhere near the quality or dose used in this study, therefore we are not encouraging people to treat themselves with CBD,” she added.

The study, “Cannabidiol reverses attentional bias to cigarette cues in a human experimental model of tobacco withdrawal“, was authored by C. Hindocha, T. P. Freeman, M. Grabski, J. B. Stroud, H. Crudgington, A. C. Davies, R. K. Das W. Lawn, C. J. A. Morgan, and H. V. Curran.