New Study Reveals CBD May Help with Cocaine Withdrawal

While more research is necessary, a recent study has found we may be able to use CBD for cocaine withdrawal's behavior and psychological symptoms.

Calvin Chan, Ph.D. December 14, 2020

According to a new study done in mice, CBD can help improve the motor, behavioral, and neurological symptoms caused by chronic and relapsing cocaine use.

The study was led by researcher Jorge Manzanares from the Universidad Miguel Hernández de Elche and published in the journal, Neurotherapeutics. According to the report, the research indicates a “potential for [CBD in] the management of cocaine withdrawal.”

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over a hundred different compounds naturally found in hemp and cannabis. But unlike other common cannabinoids such as THC, CBD has garnered both popular and medical attention due to its non-intoxicating health effects.

In recent years, CBD has been investigated for use in treating numerous substance use disorders, including alleviating withdrawal effects from opioids, tobacco, alcohol, and other stimulants.

“This is probably because of [CBD’s] anxiolytic, antidepressant, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective actions,” the researchers explained in the study.

Cocaine Use on the Rise

Cocaine use disorder affects an estimated 20 million users globally, making it the most predominantly used psychostimulant in the world. It is also the leading cause of death among adults using illicit substances.

According to the Manzanares’ study, “up to 5 to 6% of cocaine users will develop cocaine dependence within the first year of use.”

Dependence typically involves a cycle of intoxication, bingeing, withdrawal, and cravings.

Currently, no regulatory agencies have approved specific drugs for use in treating cocaine withdrawal. However, preclinical studies have shown that CBD may be a promising tool due to its ability to block anxiety and psychosis-like symptoms.

CBD Alleviates Both Behavioral and Neurological Symptoms

In the study, mice were given increasing doses of cocaine across a 12-day period 3 times a day. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms were measured 6 hours after the final dose.

Researchers found that mice undergoing cocaine withdrawal were significantly more restless, spending more time running, digging, and rubbing. They also and experienced more “anxiety-like” behavior such as spending less time grooming and exploring.

But the “administration of CBD significantly regulated [these] behavioural and [neurological] alterations,” Manzanares’ team explained.

Even at low doses, CBD improved motor and anxiety-like symptoms, normalizing the amount of time the mice spent rubbing and grooming. At higher doses, time spent on activities such as running, exploring, and digging also returned to levels to animals without a cocaine addiction.

CBD also alleviated neurological changes caused by cocaine withdrawal as well.

Mice undergoing sudden cocaine withdrawal showed increased DAT and TH levels, and reduced CNR2 levels in their brain tissue. This was reversed in cocaine-addicted animals given CBD.

DAT and TH are both proteins involved in the synthesis and transport of dopamine – a hormone that triggers feelings of happiness and pleasure. The brain’s dopamine signals become dysregulated upon cocaine addiction and withdrawal.

CNR2 is a brain protein involved in preventing anxiety and depression. Higher CNR2 levels have been shown to reduce cocaine use in mice with cocaine addictions.

CBD Studies for Treating Cocaine Addiction Underway in Humans

While most research continues to focus on animal models, similar studies are currently being performed with human patients.

The Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal is currently leading a study investigating the effect of 92 days use of CBD in alleviating cocaine craving in cocaine-dependent individuals.

The study on 79 participants has since been completed, but results have not yet been published.

While additional research is still needed to evaluate the use of CBD in treating cocaine addiction in humans, Manzanares’ team described their work in mice as “unequivocal evidence” that CBD can improve anxiety-like behaviors and motor activities caused by cocaine withdrawal.


Calvin Chan, Ph.D.

Calvin Chan is a researcher and medical writer from Edmonton, Canada. As a big science nerd, he loves reading and writing about everything science - from cannabis to dark matter and even alien life. Calvin has a PhD from the University of Alberta.