Can CBD help anxiety? What the research shows so far
CBD research is promising for anxiety — but there’s a lot more to know.
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She’s written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women’s Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
CBD is extracted from hemp plants and the oil is found in a variety of products.
Anxiety is the leading mental health disorder in the United States, with at least 40 million Americans affected every year. Anxiety is a treatable condition and one recent popular supplement that is touted to potentially aid in stress reduction and relaxation is CBD (cannabidiol, extracted from hemp plants). Marketing agency Bigeye conducted a 2020 survey with approximately 750 people who use CBD products, and 38% reported using them specifically for anxiety.
CBD products are marketed and sold in a plethora of different types of product from gummies, chocolates and oils to creams and beyond. But given that the products are still a relatively new area, they don’t have that much solid science behind them (even though claims and anecdotal evidence are readily available).
CBD research is ever-growing and promising, but using it to treat a mental health disorder seems iffy at best, and at worst, dangerous. It’s important to understand that stress and anxiety are not the same thing — everyone experiences stress. But anxiety is a reaction to stress and a diagnosable mental health condition that should be addressed by appropriate mental health professionals.
A lot of claims surrounding CBD and anxiety are purely anecdotal (word of mouth, customer reviews or social media testimonials). So what should you do if you’re interested in trying CBD to help with anxiety? Does it really work? I consulted with psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Ditzell who specializes in medical marijuana treatment for mental health disorders.
Disclaimer: CBD is still considered an unproven supplement or treatment. If you are experiencing mental health issues you should always seek the help of a professional first before trying supplements like CBD.
How CBD might help with anxiety
“CBD is the over-the-counter, homeopathic equivalent to medical marijuana and has been touted by many to help with sleep, anxiety and depression,” says Ditzell, who compares using CBD to using melatonin instead of a prescription sleep aid like Ambien.
“I have had many patients relate that they use CBD products and that generally they have experienced help with sleep, anxiety and in aiding in overall recovery (such as from physical training),” says Ditzell, which are, again, only anecdotally based claims.
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With the sheer number of CBD products on the market and the lack of regulation in general, there’s no way to make a fair blanket statement about all CBD products since they vary so widely in dosage, potency and form. In general, some research like this case series shows the potential of CBD for helping with anxiety, but also points out the lack of clinical studies on CBD in psychiatric science literature, and the need for more clinical research on the topic.
Research has pointed to evidence that CBD can interact with receptors in the brain that regulate fear and anxiety, which may explain its potential anti-anxiety effects.
How CBD works for different types of anxiety disorders
There are several different types of diagnosable anxiety including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and anxiety related to PTSD. The current research shows that CBD has the potential to help with different types of anxiety disorders. For this reason, it’s best to consult with a qualified medical professional to determine whether CBD could be right for you.
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Warning for some types of mental health disorders
It’s important to note that CBD can make some disorders worse. “Marijuana derivatives [like CBD] can also exacerbate mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia. Again, the best bet is consultation with a trusted mental health professional,” says Ditzell.
The bottom line is that CBD research has a long way to go before we really know how it works and how safe it truly is. The CBD industry is still highly unregulated so you are essentially taking a gamble when you purchase products containing this substance. (CBD is not classified as a dietary supplement by the FDA, so it’s not screened for the same things as other dietary supplements.) Again, mental health disorders like anxiety should be treated by medical professionals and you should not replace proper treatment with a supplement like CBD.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
CBD Oil for Anxiety: What the Research Has to Say
Your heart is pounding and your mind is racing. It seems like there’s nothing you can do to soothe the anxiety and regain your mental wellbeing. Whether you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder or chronic stress, you know you need to find a way back to your happy place.
Most of us have felt this way at one time or another, and it’s paramount to find a way to stop the stress before it takes over.
Enter: CBD oil.
Plenty of people are turning to cannabidiol oil, also known as CBD hemp oil, as a way to address daily stress. The question that we often hear from our customers is, “does CBD actually do anything for anxiety?”
In this article, we’re going to explore the human studies that have sought to answer this question. By understanding the current published research and what we still have to learn, you’ll gain the tools to draw your own conclusions.
What Is Anxiety?
Stress and anxiety occur as part of our body’s natural fight or flight response. When we sense danger, our bodies release stress hormones that prepare us to face the threat. This can mean sweaty palms and a racing heartbeat, or feelings like irritability and worry.
Once the stressor has been dealt with, our fight or flight response dampens. This means fewer circulating stress hormones and a calmer sense of being. Unfortunately for many of us, feelings of ongoing stress mean that the fight or flight response continues, leaving us feeling restless.
Chronic stress occurs when we aren’t able to cope with daily stressors. It’s marked by things like excessive worry, trouble sleeping, and moodiness.
Anxiety conditions are different from chronic stress, but often come with similar symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, anxiety conditions are marked by “intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear.” Common anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Chronic stress and anxiety conditions are hard to treat, but with the right strategy, many people can regain their inner peace and live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives.
How Should You Address Stress and Anxiety?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with chronic stress and anxiety. However, there are a few tricks that might help.
First, figure out what’s causing you to feel stressed and anxious. You may consider including a therapist or primary care physician to figure out if you have an anxiety condition or simply chronic stress. From there, you can work together to formulate a plan that targets your source of anxiety.
No matter what’s causing your cortisol levels to skyrocket, there are multiple natural remedies that you can try. Things like exercise, meditation, and deep breathing are a good place to start. You may want to consider minimizing alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes, and starting a journaling practicing to work through your feelings.
If you have an anxiety disorder, even the best holistic plans often fall short. This is why people with anxiety may turn to using an FDA-approved anxiolytic medication . But even with prescription drugs, some people won’t find the relief that they need. Additionally, many anxiolytic drugs come with side effects like addiction.
Due to medication side effects and a hope for an all-natural remedy, people with chronic stress and anxiety often turn to natural supplements in hopes of relief. Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the most popular natural compounds that people try when they want to regain a calm, balanced life.
Can CBD Help with Stress and Anxiety?
One of the most popular Google searches for CBD is “CBD for anxiety,” and there’s a reason for that. There’s no shortage of testimonials online from people who have experienced impressive results from using daily CBD to relieve stress. There are even stories from those who incorporate CBD into their anxiety disorder treatment protocols.
While these stories are promising, it’s important to understand that CBD is not approved by the FDA to treat any anxiety condition. There simply haven’t been enough large scale human clinical trials to determine what effect CBD has on anxiety and stress.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything about the benefits of CBD. There have been a multitude of small-scale human studies that have found anxiolytic effects of CBD. Below is a summary of some of the leading research looking into CBD and stress. We’ve summarized the CBD oil studies so you can make your own conclusions about CBD and anxiety.
Human Studies on CBD and Anxiety
1. CBD’s Impact on THC-Induced Anxiety
Aim: In this study , scientists sought to understand how CBD influences the anxiety caused by THC consumption in normal volunteers.
Study Design: Eight volunteers received each of the following treatments in a double-blind study: 0.5mg/kg THC, 1 mg/kg CBD, 0.5 mg/kg THC and 1 mg/kg CBD, placebo, and 10 mg diazepam (an anti-anxiety drug). The researchers compared the level of anxiety experienced by the participants following each treatment.
Findings: The researchers concluded that CBD lessened THC-induced anxiety in these healthy volunteers.
2. The Influence of CBD on Public-Speaking-Induced Anxiety
Aim: The goal of this preliminary study was to find out how CBD influences the feelings of anxiety during public speaking for patients with Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).
Study Design: Twenty-four SAD patients and 12 healthy controls participated in a simulation public speaking test. Twelve SAD patients were given 600 mg CBD an hour and a half before the test, 12 SAD patients a placebo, and 12 normal control participants were given neither placebo nor CBD.
Findings: SAD patients who were given CBD pretreatment experienced less anxiety when compared to the SAD patients who were given the placebo. The subjects with SAD that were given CBD experienced similar anxiety levels as those in the healthy control group.
3. THC, CBD, and Emotional Processing
Aim: This study evaluated how THC and CBD influence neutral activation and emotional processing.
Study Design: Fifteen healthy male volunteers were studied on three occasions to determine their subjective and objective anxiety when viewing faces that elicit anxiety. Each subject ingested 600 mg CBD, 10 mg THC, or a placebo before viewing the faces.
Findings: Compared with placebo consumption, THC consumption was associated with higher levels of subjective anxiety when viewing faces that elicit anxiety and CBD was associated with lower levels of subjective anxiety.
4. Case Study: CBD and PTSD
Aim: This study sought to determine if CBD could help minimize the anxiety and sleep difficulties experienced by a young girl with posttraumatic stress disorder.
Study Design: A young girl with severe PTSD was given a CBD dosage of 25 mg/day or more for five months. Her anxiety and sleep troubles were tracked during this time.
Findings: The patient’s anxiety decreased during the course of treatment, and her sleep also improved.
5. CBD and Craving and Anxiety in Abstinent Heroin Abusers
Aim: This study examined how CBD influences craving and anxiety in people with heroin use disorder who are currently not using heroin.
Study Design: Abstinent heroin addicts were randomly split into either a CBD or placebo group. The CBD group received either 400 or 800 mg/day CBD for three consecutive days, while those in the placebo group were given a placebo. Researchers then examined their cue-induced anxiety and craving at 1 hour, 2 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, and 7 days.
Findings: Compared to the placebo, CBD treatment resulted in a significant reduction in the craving and anxiety caused by drug cues.
6. CBD on Sleep and Anxiety
Aim: The aim of this study was to determine if CBD had an impact on anxiety and sleep problems for patients in a psychiatric clinic.
Study Design: Seventy-two patients in a psychiatric clinic with anxiety or sleep complaints were given CBD in addition to their other treatments. Most patients received 25 mg of CBD each day in an oral capsule, although other patients received 50, 75, or 175 mg/day.
Findings: Anxiety scores decreased in 79.2% of patients in the first month and remained lower throughout the study’s duration. Sleep scores improved for 66.7% of patients in the first month but fluctuated after.
7. CBD’s Impact on Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder
Aim: This study’s aim was to examine the effect of CBD on subjective anxiety in patients with Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).
Study Design: Ten SAD patients were brought into the lab on two occasions. In one, they were given 400 mg CBD and in the other a placebo. Researchers measured subjective anxiety and took brain images following the treatment.
Findings: The patients experienced less subjective anxiety when given 400 mg CBD than when given a placebo.
More research is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the anxiolytic properties of CBD hemp oil. Scientists around the world are currently working hard to help us understand more about CBD’s potential.
When we visited clinicaltrials.gov, we found 18 current studies examining CBD and anxiety. Here’s a breakdown of a few of the ones that we’re following closely.
- A phase 2 clinical trial evaluating the impact of full-spectrum CBD oil on participants with diagnosed anxiety disorders.
- A phase 2 clinical trial examining the impact of a single dose of CBD on anticipatory anxiety in breast cancer patients prior to a scan that assesses tumor burden.
- A phase 3 clinical trial evaluating a 50:2 CBD:THC treatment’s efficacy against symptoms of anxiety disorders, including patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and agoraphobia.
Over the next few years, we expect for these and other studies to help us understand more about the potential for the use of CBD and other cannabinoids for chronic stress and anxiety conditions.
The effects of CBD and other hemp and cannabis compounds, such as cannabinol (CBN) and cannabigerol (CBG), are an exciting new frontier in health and wellness. Because hemp and cannabis legalization is so recent, it’s going to take time for research to catch up with popular use.
If you want to utilize CBD oil and aren’t sure where to start, try finding a local healthcare practitioner who’s educated in using cannabis for wellness. The Society of Cannabis Clinicians is a great place to find a practitioner near you who can help you towards your health goals.