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CBD for Anxiety

Are you considering using CBD for anxiety?

We’ve all felt it: sweaty palms, a pounding pulse, trembling hands. Maybe it was right before giving an important presentation, or during a scary movie. Or maybe you feel it when you’re in enclosed spaces, or when you remember a traumatic experience.

Whatever the trigger, when you are experiencing anxiety, it can seem like there’s nothing more urgent than getting that feeling to go away. So, how can you figure out whether you should try CBD? We’ve pulled together the latest research on CBD for anxiety to help you make the best decision for you.

About CBD for Anxiety

Claim

CBD treats various types of anxiety, from situational anxiety to chronic issues like PTSD or panic disorder.

Research Shows

The results of peer-reviewed studies are mixed, but promising.

Just the Facts

Some studies have found that CBD is an effective treatment for anxiety in certain situations. But other studies report that CBD has no effect.

About Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal response to stressful or threatening situations. But sometimes those physical and emotional symptoms can kick in during times when you’re not, you know, in danger. And under those circumstances, that fight-or-flight response isn’t helping you to escape a hungry tiger. Nope, it’s just getting in your way.

Because we all experience anxiety in some degree, it might not be surprising that it’s so prevalent. In the United States, about one third of adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH).

So, if we all experience anxiety, what qualifies as an anxiety disorder? The main categories include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive, intrusive, unprovoked worry and stress
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder: frequent upsetting thoughts accompanied by urges to repeat specific actions
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): flashbacks and/or anxiety after experiencing a traumatic event
  • Panic Disorder: panic attacks, or episodes of intense fear
  • Phobias: intense, irrational fear of things or situations that don’t actually pose a threat

There are plenty of pharmaceutical treatments for anxiety disorders, but these can have unwanted side effects. The most common of these are dizziness and fatigue, and serious adverse effects like difficulty breathing or loss of coordination are also possible.

Recently, there’s been a lot of media coverage around using CBD for anxiety and stress. Even National Public Radio recently reported on the possibility of using CBD to relieve anxiety, interviewing doctors and scientists who express cautious optimism. And when you look for anecdotal evidence, you’ll find testimonial after testimonial claiming that CBD can have a powerful impact on anxiety.

How CBD Could Affect Anxiety

CBD is short for cannabidiol, and is part of a group of cannabis-derived substances called cannabinoids.

While CBD has been getting more attention in the last few years, the most well-known cannabinoid is probably still THC, or  tetrahydrocannabinol. That’s the compound in cannabis that is primarily responsible for the “high” feeling that marijuana is known for, and it also may have a number of therapeutic benefits. From relieving pain to promoting sleep, THC is more than just a recreational drug.

CBD in isolation, on the other hand, isn’t psychoactive, and doesn’t really have any potential for abuse. For most people, it’s about as recreational as popping an ibuprofin—which is to say not at all.   

So, what does CBD do?

CBD interacts with a system of chemicals and receptors found throughout the body, which is known as the endocannabinoid system. And it’s not just part of the human body; every vertebrate on the planet has an endocannabinoid system.

This system regulates a variety of processes in the body, from managing mood to controlling the balance of individual cells. Because of this, cannabinoids like CBD could have wide-ranging medical applications.

When it comes to anxiety in particular, CBD seems to affect the brain by increasing levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and glutamate. These neurotransmitters affect learning, memory, and sleep, and may play a role in treating anxiety and mood disorders.

Research Highlights

We’ve highlighted some of the most important studies on CBD for anxiety in the last few decades. Click on the date to see the studies published that year.

2011: CBD and Public Speaking Anxiety (Randomized Controlled Trial)

This study, published in the scientific journal Neuropsychopharmacology, divided 36 volunteers into three groups:

  • CBD group: 12 patients with social anxiety disorder who received a single dose of CBD
  • Placebo group: 12 patients with social anxiety disorder who received a single dose of a placebo
  • Healthy control group: 12 people who did not have an anxiety disorder, and didn’t receive any treatment

The people in each group took a public speaking test, and each rated their own mood and self-assessment. The researchers also recorded physiological data like blood pressure and heart rate.

The result? Compared to the placebo group, the patients who took CBD experienced less anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort. In fact, there weren’t any significant differences between the CBD group and the healthy control group.

Basically, CBD helped the patients to perform as if they did not have social anxiety.

2018: CBD and Emotional Responses (Randomized Controlled Trial)

According to a recent study in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, CBD did not reduce emotional responses to negative stimuli in healthy volunteers.

The researchers gave 38 healthy participants either oral CBD (at doses of 300, 600, and 900 mg) or PLB or a placebo. Then, the participants completed several tasks designed to measure their responses to negative stimuli.

Their findings?

CBD has minimal behavioral and subjective effects in healthy volunteers, even when they are presented with emotional stimuli. Further research into the behavioral and neural mechanisms of CBD and other phytocannabinoids is needed to ascertain the clinical function of this drug.

In other words, the subjects who took CBD didn’t have reduced responses to negative stimuli, compared to the placebo group.

Concerns About Using CBD for Anxiety

CBD is generally thought to be safe for most people to use. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed the human and animal studies on CBD. Their conclusion?

CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.

Reported adverse effects may be as a result of drug-drug interactions between CBD and patients’ existing medications.

Several countries have modified their national controls to accommodate CBD as a medicinal product.

To date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.

So, about those drug interactions. A specific group of liver enzymes, called cytochrome P450, or CYP, is responsible for metabolizing CBD. They also break down a wide variety of substances in the body, including many medications. The result is that if you take a high enough dose of CBD with one of these other medications, the two basically compete for your CYP enzymes.

It’s like trying to do laundry and mow the lawn at the same time. It’s going to take longer to get the job done. And the overall effects will depend on what the other medication is and how it works in your body.

CYP enzyme interactions can either increase or decrease the effects of your medication—including any side effects. That means that it may feel like you’ve taken a higher or lower dose of your medication than you really did.

Remember: we’re not medical professionals, and we can’t/won’t/shouldn’t give you medical advice. Always talk to your doctor before using CBD to treat any condition. Especially if you are already taking other medications.

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The Author

Meg Kramer

Meg Kramer

Meg Kramer is the Managing Editor of CBD Hacker. She's a writer and editor who has covered topics in science, health, and education.

When she's not writing about CBD, you can find her playing with her dogs or perfecting her bagel recipe.