When you look at the negative cognitive symptoms of nicotine abstinence in cigarette-dependent smokers versus the positive effects of cannabidiol (CBD), you might wonder how the latter could help with the former. This is precisely what an insightful study investigated.
Cognitive Symptoms of Nicotine Abstinence in Cigarette-Dependent Smokers
The study examined a few major indicators of the participants’ working memory and impulsivity, which are the two main cognitive processes that nicotine withdrawal takes a toll on, to determine whether CBD actually alleviates the symptoms. 
These indicators of impulsivity were delay discounting, which refers to “the degree to which one prefers smaller, immediate rewards over larger, more delayed rewards,” and response inhibition, which is “the ability to stop a pre-potent response (e.g. craving for cigarettes).”
Specific tasks (go/no-go, prose recall, and N-back) were used to measure arithmetic and recognition memory ability, which are the memory aspects that suffer the most when a cigarette-dependent smoker is abstinent. 
Why Would CBD Help?
Clearly, the researchers didn’t just randomly stumble upon the idea of using CBD as a potential source of relief for the aforementioned symptoms. On the contrary, previous pertinent studies had shown quite promising results.
From the studies [2,3] the researchers examined, CBD showed promise with alleviating heroin cravings. Furthermore, past studies found that “a single week of ad-hoc CBD via inhaler, compared to placebo, reduced cigarette smoking by almost 40%, however craving was unaffected” , while “800 mg oral CBD, in comparison to placebo, reversed attentional bias away cigarette cues, and reduced explicit liking of cigarette stimuli” . And CBD’s ability to “protect against the detrimental cognitive effects of THC” put a stamp on the researchers’ hypothesis. 
The study involved 30 participants (1:1 men to women) at the average age of 28 who smoked 13.5 cigarettes per day for the past 9.6 years on average. Such a habit is considered moderate-to-high cigarette dependence, which is why nicotine withdrawal was considered acute and posed uncharted territory.
The study implemented a double-blind placebo-controlled crossover design “to compare the effects of 800 mg oral CBD with matched placebo after overnight abstinence.”
The results were a let-down, especially when you consider CBD’s hypothesized promise. In terms of impulsivity, delay discounting wasn’t improved by CBD; rather, it was 4.6 times likelier for CBD and placebo to have the same effect on nicotine withdrawal. The results of the go/no-go task were even worse — CBD actually increased errors.
As far as memory abilities, CBD didn’t have a positive effect on prose recall or the N-back task, with the null being 3.6 and 5.5 times likelier than the central hypothesis, respectively.
Even though this is not what the researchers and cigarette-dependent people were probably hoping for, it doesn’t definitively say that CBD can’t smooth the edginess of abstinent smokers to a certain extent over time. After all, the study used a single, large dose of CBD for acute rather than sustained abstinence. 
- Hindocha et al. “The Effects of Cannabidiol on Impulsivity and Memory During Abstinence in Cigarette Dependent Smokers.” Scientific Reports, vol.8, no.1, 2018, p.7568. Journal Impact Factor = 4.122; Times Cited = 7
- Ren, Y., Whittard, J., Higuera-Matas, A., Morris, C. V. & Hurd, Y. L. “Cannabidiol, a Nonpsychotropic Component of Cannabis, Inhibits Cue-Induced Heroin Seeking and Normalizes Discrete Mesolimbic Neuronal Disturbances.” The Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 29, no.47, 2009, pp.14764–14769. Journal Impact Factor = 6.074; Times Cited = 92
- Hurd, Y. L. et al. “Early Phase in the Development of Cannabidiol as a Treatment for Addiction: Opioid Relapse Takes Initial Center Stage.” Neurotherapeutics, vol. 12, no.4, 2015, pp. 807–815, https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0373-7. Journal Impact Factor = 5.719; Times Cited = 41
- Morgan, C. J., Das, R. K., Joye, A., Curran, H. V. & Kamboj, S. K. “Cannabidiol Reduces Cigarette Consumption in Tobacco Smokers: Preliminary Findings.” Addict Behav, vol. 38, no. 9, 2013, pp. 2433–2436. Journal Impact Factor = 2.963; Times Cited = 60
- Hindocha, C. et al. “Cannabidiol Reverses Attentional Bias to Cigarette Cues in a Human Experimental Model of Tobacco Withdrawal.” Addiction, vol.113, no.9, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1111/add.14243. Journal Impact Factor = 6.851; Times Cited = 14
Image Credits: HealthAhead