Join Stoptober: How can CBD help you quit smoking?

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It is hard to imagine, but tobacco has been an attribute of our culture for about 2,000 years. It was mainly chewed or smoked during cultural or religious ceremonies and events. Moreover, some populations may regard the plant as a gift from the Creator, by smoking tobacco can help carry thoughts and prayers up to the heavens. Here is a brief history of how tobacco arrived to 2020:

  • Christopher Columbus was the first European who discovered smoking tobacco.
  • In 1531, tobacco was cultivated for the first time in Europe, specifically at Santo Domingo. By 1600, its consumption had spread across Europe and was being used as a monetary standard, which continued throughout the following century.
  • By the 1700s, smoking had developed into a separate industry.
  • But only in 1798 the U.S. physician Benjamin Rush discovered the medical dangers of tobacco.
  • During the 1920s, the medical reports relating to smoking is lung cancer cause started to appear. However, many publishers refused to report these findings to stay away from tobacco production business. The following 1950-1960s finally claimed the danger and linked smoking to many serious illnesses.

What do we have now?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, more than 1.1 billion people smoke. Considering there are 7.8 billion people worldwide, if the current pattern continues, tobacco consumption will kill approximately 10 million people every year across the globe by the end of 2020. This is why smoking is the leading preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. and worldwide.

Why do people start and keep smoking?

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In most cases, experimenting with smoking usually occurs in the early teenage years and is predominantly driven by psychosocial motives.

  • Psychologists claim that at a young age, smoking a cigarette is a symbolic act conveying Philip Morris messages: "I am no longer my mother's child." Such feelings of perceived adulthood and rebelliousness are usually observed in children from the related background (parents or peers who smoke, deprived neighborhood). So one of the crucial reasons people start and continue smoking is a desire to be socially acceptable.
  • Psychological difficulties experienced by teenagers like overweight, low self-esteem, poor school performance, and lack of family support can also push children to find a new way to ease inner anxiety.
  • With age, stress seems more frequent, and smoking a cigarette becomes a behavioral pattern related to our brain reward system. It can also be associated with a lunch break, anxiety, or meeting with friends over a glass of wine. All these factors are called triggers, which provoke immediate desire to smoke one. With time, the more a person continues to reward such behavior with tobacco, the more it becomes fixed in memory. In this sense, tobacco addiction is indeed a vicious cycle of learned memories and intensified action.

Who smokes more?

Gender differences in withdrawal-related cognitive deficits are biologically plausible, given evidence that hormonal fluctuations contribute to changes in cognitive functioning. There are sex differences in the regulation of nicotinic receptors and rates of nicotine metabolism. For instance, females with attention problems report more significant smoking-induced improvement in concentration and greater withdrawal-induced deficits in response inhibition than males.

Consequences of smoking

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Just look at the pictures printed on cigarette packs, and you will know that smoking can lead to:

  • Lung cancer (90% of cases)
  • Other types of cancer
  • Unhealthy skin colour
  • Unpleasant odour
  • Poor oral health
  • Infertility/impotence
  • Pregnancy miscarriage
  • Respiratory infections
  • Weakened immune system
  • Heart disease (hypertension, heart attacks)
  • Premature ageing

Withdrawal symptoms

In chronic cigarette smokers, cessation of use produces unpleasant physiological, affective, and cognitive withdrawal symptoms that already occur within the first few days of nicotine privation (Hughes, 2007; Teneggi et al., 2005). There is no need to say that fast-approaching anxiety and intensive cravings follow everyone who decides to quit. However, there are more also more severe nicotine withdrawal symptoms, which include:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Nausea and abdominal cramping
  • Hunger
  • Depressive feelings
  • Slow heart rate
  • Restlessness
  • Thinking problems
  • Mood swings
  • Frustration
  • Cravings
  • Reduced brain function

How nicotine works

When you inhale, nicotine is absorbed through the mucosal linings in the nose and mouth. The absorption of cigarette smoke by the lung is very rapid, and it reaches the brain within 10-16 seconds.

The stimulation of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) makes nicotine a primary addictive chemical in tobacco. The most abundant subtypes in the brain are the α7 and the high-affinity α4bβ2* receptors. Nicotine binds to nAChRs, which then stimulates dopamine release, GABA, and glutamate (for reviews, see Paolini and De Biasi, 2011; Tuesta et al., 2011). Nicotine binds to receptors in such specific brain areas, essential in nicotine's rewarding and cognitive-enhancing effects, respectively, which also gives the "nicotine rush" euphoria.

Nicotine is a psychomotor stimulant, and in new users, it speeds simple reaction time and improves performance on sustained attention tasks. However, tolerance to many of these effects soon develops, and chronic users probably do not continue to obtain definite improvements; hence, they have to increase the amount.

If you want to quit, where should you start?

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So here is the list of things which will maximize your chances to quit the habit:

  • First, you should make a clear and conscious decision for yourself - do you truly want to quit or not?
  • Make a list of the risks of what will happen if you continue to smoke and the rewards of quitting.
  • Please pay attention to your smoking pattern, even better write it down. How many cigarettes a day you smoke and time intervals. It is also important to observe whether you crave nicotine or have symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine.
  • Set a goal date/deadline to stop smoking and stick to that date. Ask your friends or close ones to support your efforts to quit. Even better, share your experience and ask for advice from people who have already stopped smoking.
  • Talk to your health care practitioner about the most effective ways to manage your nicotine addiction. They can also estimate your level of addiction to nicotine by Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence. Based on your answers, your level of addiction can be described in three categories - severely dependent, moderately dependent, and minimally dependent. According to this test, people who smoke within 30 minutes of waking are usually more severely addicted to nicotine than others. Advice on quitting smoking is also available from many sources, including public health authorities and mobile applications. Furthermore, there is no shame in asking a psychotherapist.

Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence

The more points you score on this scale, the more severe your nicotine addiction is considered to be.

How soon after you wake up, do you smoke your first cigarette?

  1. Within 5 minutes (3 Points)
  2. Within 6-30 minutes (2 Points)
  3. Within 31-60 minutes (1 Points)
  4. After 60 minutes (0 Points)

Do you find it difficult to refrain from smoking in places where it is forbidden (e.g., in church, at the library, in a restaurant, cinema, etc.)?

  1. Yes (1 Point)
  2. No (0 Points)

How many cigarettes per day do you smoke?

  1. 10 or less (0 Points)
  2. 11-20 (1 Point)
  3. 21-30 (2 Points)
  4. 31 or more (3 Points)

Do you smoke more during the first hours after waking than during the rest of the day?

  1. Yes (1 Point)
  2. No (2 Points)

Do you smoke even when you are ill enough to be in bed most of the day?

  1. Yes (1 Point)
  2. No (2 Points)

One possible way to quit smoking is to use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as patches, gums and inhalators. Such therapy offers delivering small doses of nicotine into the bloodstream. Replacement therapy also implies sport, healthy nutrition, hobbies, and quality time.

No doubt that all of these forms of assistance may be beneficial, the most critical factor in successful quitting is to have the motivation to stop and the self-belief that you can do so.

What is Stoptober?

Stoptober is the 28-day national challenge initiated by Public Health England and supported by the NHS to encourage people all around the UK and the rest of the world to quit smoking. It is a great opportunity for those people that needed an extra push to finally put a stop to the nasty habit of smoking. Partaking in the Stoptober challenge can be very effective because you wouldn’t feel alone going through the difficulty that comes with quitting. Instead, you would know that there are thousands of people in the same boat as you, which can be very comforting and motivating to keep at it.

What makes CBD such a useful tool to fight smoking addiction?

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The Endocannabinoid system is a biochemical communication system that exists in every living being. It helps to maintain body homeostasis, regulating mood, appetite, sleep. Even though our body produces a vast variety of useful molecules, even natural endocannabinoids, such production is sometimes not enough. In such instances, we need external sources, and CBD can be one of them.

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of the hundred compounds extracted from the cannabis plant. Even though the cannabis plant contains other essential compounds like THC, terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids, CBD seems to be the best medically-oriented cure. So, how can CBD help with smoking, and particularly with tobacco addiction?

Anxiety

It's common knowledge that smoking is not only a chemical addiction but a mechanical one as well. It's straightforward to form habits and associations between behaviour, but very difficult to break those cycles. Let's imagine a person who follows a coffee cup with a cigarette – a disruption to that cycle can cause feelings of distress. So, the first thing that CBD can help is to reduce this anxiety feeling, which is related to breaking the usual behavioural pattern such as coffee plus cigarette resulting in a relief.

CBD also interferes with serotonin receptors, which is one of the essential neurotransmitters responsible for mood and well-being. Serotonin regulation was commonly treated with a specific group of antidepressants (SSRIs). Nicotine withdrawal starts to kick in, and the decreased serotonin levels in your brain can result in moodiness, lack of energy, irritation, anxiety, and even depression. Your body needs to restore the serotonin balance, that is when you crave that next smoke. CBD oil can activate the brain's 5-HT1A receptor, which boosts serotonin's availability, similar to SSRIs. An increasing number of scientific studies show the efficacy of CBD in providing anxiety relief with no side effects, unlike antidepressants.

Number of smoked cigarettes

In 2013 a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled study found that smokers who took CBD significantly reduced the number of smoked cigarettes by an impressive 40%. Twenty-four smokers were randomised, and twelve of them received an inhaler of CBD, and the other half received a placebo for one week; they were instructed to use the inhaler when they felt the urge to smoke. Over the treatment week, placebo-treated smokers showed no differences in the number of used cigarettes. In contrast, participants treated with CBD significantly reduced the number of cigarettes smoked by ~40% during treatment.

Reconsolidation

Dr. Neil Benowitz, a University of California nicotine researcher, says that "from a scientific standpoint, nicotine is just as hard, or harder to quit than heroin or morphine."

One such study that tested CBD's efficacy on drug addiction was published in Addiction Biology journal (2016), where morphine-dependent rats were treated with CBD. The mice used in the study were trained to associate the pleasure of morphine with a specific location. Each time the rats returned to the site and received morphine, the link between place and satisfaction was enhanced. This period of the interconnection of two things is called reconsolidation. The same principle works for any addiction - this is when the memory of the reward for smoking is restored by merely observing another person's smoking or being in a specific smoking-associated location.

Surprisingly, treating rats with CBD during the memory reconsolidation phase seemed to disrupt the process. When the rats were given the mixture after rubbing in their favorite "morphine" place, they seemed to forget about its existence and began to do something else. The cannabis compound appeared to alleviate the desire for the next dose.

Sleep

By acting on various neurotransmitter systems, nicotine also influences sleep and mood (daytime sleepiness, insomnia, depression, and increased sleep latency). Research on CBD effect on a sleeping pattern, published in 2019, involved 72 subjects, with 47 experiencing anxiety and 25 experiencing poor sleep. Each subject took 25 milligrams (mg) of CBD in capsules every day. Results were impressive- within the first month, 79.2 percent of the patients reported lower anxiety levels, and 66.7 percent showed better sleep.

Carcinogenicity

Studies by Melamede R. et al., 2005 presented a study that estimated more than 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are known to cause cancer. CBD is a natural cannabis extracted compound that does not cause cancer. Strictly speaking, cannabis smoke contains cannabinoids, whereas tobacco smoke contains nicotine. Even more, there's substantial evidence supporting the idea that cannabinoids can reduce tumor growth in animal models of cancer. If talking about cancer prevention, CBD research still has a long way to go.

Nicotine activates some CYP1A1 activities, thus potentially increasing the carcinogenic effects of tobacco smoke. When THC and CBD present in cannabis inhibits the enzyme and exerts a protective effect against pro-carcinogens that require activation. Cannabis typically down-regulates immunologically-generated free radical production by promoting a Th2 immune cytokine profile, boosting the immune response.

Never tried CBD?

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Do the research and choose a good-quality product.

Purity is critical. First of all, CBD products with more than 0.2% THC are strictly illegal and can be sold only in a few countries. Secondly, as scientists have already discovered the "high" effect of the THC compound, it is better to use pure CBD isolate. During THC consumption, a person can feel too relaxed, resulting in a lack of limits (food, cigarettes, etc.). Before buying a product, look at the company's reputation by reviewing its BBB ratings, if it has a warning letter Trusted Source from the FDA or FSA in the U.S. and the U.K., respectively.

Choose a method appropriate for you.

Don't be lazy and spend some time searching for what the cannabis market can offer you nowadays. With a wide variety of different brands, proportions of CBD: THC, make sure that you know what intake method suits you the most.

  • CBD Edibles

Enjoy the CBD food and drink supplements and various tasty snacks. CBD gummies are available in different flavours, forms and exclude the need for dosing. There are also various brands that create CBD-infused chocolates, CBD cookies and even honey and peanut butter. The choice of options is endless.

  • CBD Vaping e-liquids

It may sound like a paradox to suggest substituting smoking regular cigarettes with CBD vaping. However, CBD vaping provides fast action anxiety or pain relief. It was already proven that vaping e-liquids is an entirely different process from smoking cigarettes.

  • CBD Oils and Tinctures

It reduces the anxiety manifestations that invariably accompany the painful process of quitting. Taking small doses of CBD oil every day can help you overcome smoking cravings, and a few drops under your tongue in the evening can help you sleep better. The cannabinoid quickly enters the bloodstream when ingested sublingually. The result can appear in 10 minutes and last for three to four hours.

Find the right dosage

Consult medical practitioners what would an optimal CBD dosage be for your needs based on your body weight, metabolism, and possible chronic conditions.

Possible side effects of CBD

  • Sleepiness and relaxation;

  • Low blood pressure;

  • Mouth dryness;

  • Dizziness;

  • Alterations in appetite or weight;

  • Consult your doctor about possible CBD interaction with other medications (if you take any).

While everyone's experience is different, being able to use CBD to quit smoking within just a few months altogether is a good argument in CBD's favour. All in all, considering the dangers of smoking and the very low risks involved with using CBD oil, it is definitely worth a try.

Good luck with quitting this nasty habit!

Verified by a Healthcare Professional

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.