Regulating cannabis is often discussed in the same terms as regulating alcohol. But their impact on the human brain really is much different. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows down vital functions like the ability to speak clearly and motor skills. Marijuana, meanwhile, can be a depressant, stimulant or a hallucinogen, depending on the type.
Now, scientists are studying if hallucinogens, like CBD or LSD, can have an effect on Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
Two different studies, both published in May, showed that CBD and LSD could reduce the amount of alcohol consumed by individuals with AUD and potentially slow down or repair some of the harm done to the brain and liver.
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AUD is essentially alcoholism that has been diagnosed by a medical professional. It affects 16 million people in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The symptoms of AUD include loss of control over alcohol intake and a negative emotional reaction when alcohol isn’t being consumed.
AUD impacts both the liver and the brain. The brain especially is one area where cannabis and psychedelics have been shown to have a wide range of impact to treat things like anxiety and PTSD, and now some studies are saying the symptoms of AUD could be one more.
A study in the Journal of Pharmacology found that LSD and other psychedelics could be used to treat AUD.
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The study was conducted as an anonymous online survey. In it, 343 people who claimed a psychedelic experience helped reduce their previous alcohol consumption were asked questions about the experience. On average, most reported seven years of “problematic alcohol use” before the experience, and 83% of those no longer met AUD criteria afterwards.
38% reported taking a high dose of LSD and 36% reported taking psilocybin – or mushrooms. The study found that a “greater psychedelic dose… [was] associated with a greater reduction in alcohol consumption.”
Other studies, as outlined in a paper in Frontiers in Pharmacology, have shown that “CBD reduces the overall level of alcohol drinking in animal models of AUD by reducing ethanol intake, motivation for ethanol, relapse, anxiety, and impulsivity.”
This paper also concludes that previous studies have also shown that “CBD reduces alcohol-related brain damage” through its antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties – aka it helps or modified the function of the immune system. Other studies have shown that immune cells “express high levels of CB2” or Cannabinoid receptor 2. More studies are needed, but the Frontiers paper concludes that there is evidence that CBD could help the immune system repair some of what AUD harmed in some individuals.
It’s important to remember that these studies are all at the very early stages, sometimes being conducted on mice still and not on humans; and until either cannabis and other hallucinogens are re-scheduled within the Controlled Substances Act or the DEA and DOJ open up more research opportunities, getting a final answer on the impact of CBD or LSD on AUD won’t come soon.