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“Nonpsychoactive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nonpsychoactive. Accessed 29 Aug. 2021.

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In early May, a federal court declined to protect cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical produced by the cannabis plant, from federal law enforcement, despite widespread belief in its medical value.

Epidiolex was developed by the London-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which grows cannabis on tightly controlled farms in the UK. It embarked on the Epidiolex project in 2013, as anecdotes of CBD’s value as an epilepsy drug began emerging from the US.

CBD has been sought for its healing properties. Illustration: George Wylesol

In late June, the US Food and Drug Administration could approve the Epidiolex, a pharmaceuticalized form of CBD for several severe pediatric seizure disorders. According to data recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the drug can reduce seizures by more than 40%. If Epidiolex wins approval it would be the first time the agency approves a drug derived from the marijuana plant. (The FDA has approved synthetic THC to treat chemotherapy-related nausea.)

Despite the government ruling, CBD is widely available over the counter in dispensaries in states where marijuana is legal.

A preclinical study in rats has shown that there might be value in using a non-psychoactive and non-addictive ingredient of the Cannabis sativa plant to reduce the risk of relapse among recovering drug and alcohol addicts. The study’s findings inform the ongoing debate about the possible medical benefits of non-psychoactive cannabinoids, and the way that these may be used as therapeutics. So says Friedbert Weiss, leader of an investigative team at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, in Neuropsychopharmacology published by Springer Nature.

“The efficacy of the cannabinoid [CBD] to reduce reinstatement in rats with both alcohol and cocaine – and, as previously reported, heroin – histories predicts therapeutic potential for addiction treatment across several classes of abused drugs,” says Weiss. “The results provide proof of principle supporting the potential of CBD in relapse prevention along two dimensions: beneficial actions across several vulnerability states, and long-lasting effects with only brief treatment.” He goes on to say that “Drug addicts enter relapse vulnerability states for multiple reasons. Therefore, effects such as these observed with CBD that concurrently ameliorate several of these are likely to be more effective in preventing relapse than treatments targeting only a single state.”

The researchers applied a gel containing CBD once per day for a week to the skin of the rats in the current study. These animals had a history of voluntary daily alcohol or cocaine self-administration, leading to addiction-like behaviour. Various tests were performed to see how they reacted to stressful and anxiety-provoking situations and behavior in tests of impulsivity, a psychological trait associated with drug addiction. The researchers reported that CBD effectively reduced relapse provoked by stress and drug cues; CBD also reduced anxiety and impulsivity in the drug-experienced rats.

Further studies showed that CBD was completely cleared from the brain and plasma of the rats three days after the therapy was completed. Quite unexpectedly though, five months later, experimental animals that had been treated with CBD still showed a reduced relapse induced by stress or drug cues. The authors of the study believe that insight into the mechanisms by which CBD exerts these effects in future research may open new vistas for the pharmacotherapeutic prevention of relapse to drug use.

Weiss and his research associate Gustavo Gonzalez-Cuevas set out to test the effect of Cannabidiol (CBD) on drug relapse in a rat model. CBD is the major non-psychoactive ingredient of Cannabis sativa, a plant that is used to make marijuana. CBD has been considered for some time as a possible treatment for various neurological and psychiatric disorders, and more recently also for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction.