Researchers have discovered that taking cannabidiol (CBD) completely disables some of the most fundamental triggers for relapse in smokers who have quit – cues they strongly associate with cigarettes such as friends smoking or particular settings.
The study published in the journal Addiction builds on previous research that found smokers who used a CBD inhaler whenever they felt like smoking cut their cigarette consumption by 40 per cent over the course of a week.
Both studies, led by University College London (UCL), were small scale and the researchers have cautioned much bigger groups were needed to confirm the results.
But experts said the results still offered significant hope CBD could play a fundamental role in an effective way to quit smoking, with a treatment potentially becoming available in as little as five years.
Dr Tom Freeman from King’s College London, who worked on the study with UCL researchers, said: “These findings suggest that cannabidiol has promise as a treatment for tobacco addiction.
“It might be particularly effective when abstinent smokers are exposed to cues that trigger relapse such as when they are with a friend who lights a cigarette or in a particular place they associate with smoking.”
Cannabidiol boosts levels of a “happy chemical” anadamide that is thought to be the secret of its success at removing the effect of smoking cues.
Beyond boosting moods and reducing anxiety, little is known about how anadamide – a class of chemical that transmits signals between neuros – has the effect on smoking that it does.
The findings have been welcomed by experts in the field who were not involved in the projects.
“Taken together, these studies suggest CBD could play a key role in helping people to give up smoking,” Professor Yasmin Hurd, director of the Addiction Institute at the Mount Sinai hospital network in New York, said.
Dr Amir Englund, from King’s College London, added: “These findings are exciting as they suggest CBD may interfere with some of the underlying mechanisms behind tobacco addiction and could potentially be a treatment for people who are trying to quit.”
Although scientists welcomed the finding, they also cautioned much more research was needed to confirm whether cannabidiol may be an effective treatment for giving up smoking.
They pointed out CBD did not reduce craving or withdrawal symptoms in smokers in the experiments they conducted, both of which are key drivers of relapse.
But CBD could still prove an effective treatment for those smokers who are impacted by smoking cues above any other trigger for relapse, while it could form part of a broader, catch-all cessation programme, scientists said.
The researchers will also conduct further tests with larger doses of CBD to see whether that reduces craving or withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms to cravings manifest themselves in things like irritability, increased heart rate and anxiety.
Both are major triggers to relapse, along with smoking cues and stress.