The Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Landscape and Plant Therapy-Based Clinical Trials


The World Health Organization reported in 2018 that an estimated 3 million deaths result from harmful use of alcohol, representing 5.3% of all deaths worldwide. Alcohol is the underlying cause of many different diseases, and it is estimated that 5.1% of the entire global burden of disease is attributed to alcohol. But the harm drinking alcohol can cause doesn’t stop just by ceasing its consumption; alcohol can still cause harm even after an individual abstains from alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal is a condition that can result from abruptly stopping alcohol consumption after prolonged periods of heavy use. 

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

When excessive alcohol consumption is abruptly stopped, withdrawal symptoms can begin to appear as quickly as a few hours, but commonly within the first day after the patient’s last drink. The most common signs of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) include the following.

  • Anxiety
  • Decreased Appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Sweats
  • Tremors

In severe cases, some individuals also experience elevated heart rate and blood pressure, confusion, delirium, and, in an estimated 15% of cases, seizures also occur. The onset of alcohol withdrawal is more prevalent in individuals who drink several drinks daily and those who drank daily for at least two consecutive weeks.

When Should You Seek Help for Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

If you or a loved one experience severe confusion, heavy sweating, racing heartbeats, violent shaking, hallucinations, the sensation of bugs crawling on your skin, seizures, or delusions, it is essential that you seek medical assistance immediately. The symptoms can be a sign of a condition known as delirium tremens, which typically starts within the first 48 to 72 hours after drinking has ceased. It is estimated that 5% of individuals that suffer from alcohol withdrawal develop delirium tremens. Of those individuals, it is estimated that 5%-25% of these cases result in fatality.

How Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Diagnosed?

To diagnose Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, your doctor will review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and ask you about your symptoms and alcohol use. The doctor may also perform a toxicology screening and ask you a series of questions that are a part of the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol, which utilizes a scale to measure the severity of 10 different symptoms. This assessment, also known CIWA-Ar, reviews the severity of symptoms such as agitation, headaches, nausea and vomiting, sweating, tremors, visual/audio disturbances, and more.

The Endocannabinoid System and Alcohol Withdrawal

The body’s endogenous cannabinoid system has been attributed to helping balance many functions within our bodies through cannabinoid receptors found in tissues and organs throughout our anatomy. Cannabinoid receptors such as CB1 receptors are devastated when alcohol is introduced into the body. Alcohol consumption greatly reduces the prevalence of these receptors and also increases the production of GABA and dopamine within the brain. Introducing cannabinoids such as CBD and THC may help to bring balance to the brain’s chemistry and increase the prevalence of these vital receptors within our bodies.

A 2017 study published by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver concluded that nearly half of all medical cannabis consumers that participated in the study applied for medical cannabis cards in order to substitute the natural alternative of cannabis for alcohol. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, cannabis can also work as a neuroprotective agent to protect the brain stem from damage already caused by alcohol consumption.

Traditional Treatments for Alcohol Withdrawal

When Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome is diagnosed, it is most often treated with either home care or hospitalization. Both of these can include a combination of medications and therapies. In the case of hospitalization, in many instances, the patient will have to be administered IV medications and fluids to prevent dehydration. Whether at home or in the hospital, many individuals diagnosed with AWS will be prescribed sedatives such as benzodiazepines, including Ativan, Xanax, or Valium.

Additionally, patients may receive medications to help with symptoms such as headache, nausea, and vomiting, fever, and lower blood pressure. The most beneficial treatment for AWS, however, is the abstinence of alcohol consumption. In some cases, patients may have to seek out addiction centers in order to be able to overcome AWS and abstain from alcohol when their home environments do not support sobriety.

Plant Therapies for Alcohol Withdrawal Clinical Trials Synopsis

Currently, the University of Sydney is recruiting participants for a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial to explore the effectiveness and tolerability of CBD for the treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome symptoms in an in-patient setting. This randomized clinical trial will include 52 participants. Inclusion criteria for this study states that you must be between the ages of 18 and 65 years old. You must have had at least one prior episode that lasted for two days or more in which you experienced withdrawal symptoms that caused incapacitation, or a prior instance of medical detoxification in which withdrawal symptoms were exhibited.

To be included, you must have a history of consuming at least eight alcoholic beverages per day for a two-week period prior to enrollment in the study. You must also be willing to give written informed consent to participate in the study and have adequate cognition and English language skills in order to give valid consent and complete the research interviews. There is also an extensive list of exclusion criteria that can prevent you from participating in this study. If you are interested in participating in this study, check out the full details and register your interest.

To see if you are eligible for plant-based therapies, you can book a telehealth appointment with one of our specialist doctors through Cannatrek Access.