Written by Tara Boustany on
August 16, 2021
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Tara Boustany on:

CBD for anxiety: does it really help? Well, the short answer is that cannabidiol has a natural way of fighting anxiety.

CBD is a chemical compound found in cannabis plants. CBD has been shown to have many therapeutic benefits, one of them being relief from anxiety.

CBD can be taken as an oral supplement or applied on your skin in the form of lotion, gel, cream, or spray. You can also take it through your nose using a vape pen that has been specially designed for this purpose.

In this article, we’ll tell you all about the anxiolytic effects of this miracle plant extract. If you’ve tried other treatments for your anxiety and they haven’t worked, it might be time to try something new!

What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

The Cannabis sativa plant is one of the most frequently used illicit recreational substances in Western culture.

The plant contains 2 major cannabinoids with central nervous system activity: CBD and THC. CBD stands for Cannabidiol and THC for Tetrahydrocannabinol. While THC is responsible for the euphoric effects, CBD lacks these psychoactive effects.

CBD binds to special receptors in the brain like the cannabinoid type 1 receptor (CB1R) and the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor. These interactions have been shown to have a direct effect on anxiety-related behaviors.

Is CBD FDA approved for any disease?

Only one CBD containing medication, Epidiolex, is FDA approved for two different indications:

  • The treatment of seizures is associated with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome. Both are two severe forms of epilepsy.
  • The treatment of seizures associated with tuberculosis sclerosis complex.

What is CBD used for?

As mentioned earlier, CBD is only FDA approved for 2 indications. But, CBD is being used as a treatment for many other conditions as well, including:

Anti-seizure

CBD is being studied as a potential treatment for epilepsy.

In a 2016 study on people with epilepsy, participants were given 2 to 5mg of CBD daily besides their anti-epilepsy medications. Participants had 36.5% fewer seizures each month. However, severe side effects were reported in 12% of the patients.

Neuroprotective

Neurodegenerative disorders are conditions that result in progressive degeneration of nerve cells. Researchers are looking at the CB1 receptor located in the brain to learn about the ways that CBD could help people with these disorders. CBD may also reduce the inflammation that can worsen neurodegenerative symptoms.

Neurodegenerative disorders include:

More research needs to be conducted to fully understand the effects of CBD on neurodegenerative disorders.

Pain relief

CBD may help you manage pain.

Studies have shown promising benefits for cannabis when taken after chemotherapy. It may also help with:

More studies are needed to evaluate the potential benefits of CBD for pain management.

Anti-acne

CBD oil may help with acne management.

One study found that CBD oil prevented activity in sebaceous glands. These glands produce sebum, a natural oily substance that hydrates the skin. Acne occurs when sebaceous glands produce too much sebum.

But, more research is needed to determine whether CBD can be used as an acne treatment. Consult your dermatologist before using CBD for your acne.

Cancer treatment

Only 2 cannabinoids are FDA-approved for the treatment of nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. These cannabinoids are Dronabinol and Nabilone.

CBD is not FDA-approved as a cancer treatment but is being studied for this indication. CBD may help alleviate cancer symptoms and reduce the side effects of cancer treatment. The action of CBD that’s promising as a cancer treatment is its ability to reduce inflammation. CBD may also reduce the ability of some tumor cells to reproduce.

What does the research say about cannabidiol for anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 31.1% of adults in the U.S experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Also, 19.1% of adults in the U.S had an anxiety disorder in the past year, and it happened more in women than in men.

There are several types of anxiety disorders. They include:

  • Phobias
  • Panic disorder (PD)
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Due to CBD’s rising popularity, several studies are now being done on CBD as a potential treatment for anxiety. Researchers believe CBD can change the way your brain’s receptors respond to serotonin, a chemical linked to mental health. Receptors are tiny proteins attached to your cells that help the cell respond to different chemical messages.

In a small 2011 study on people with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), CBD reduced anxiety in the patients’ speech performances.

Another small 2011 study on 10 people with SAD showed that CBD reduced symptoms of anxiety.

A 2015 review of 49 studies demonstrated that CBD could help with many anxiety disorders.

A 2017 study showed no evidence of any benefits of CBD on anxiety in healthy volunteers with high trait paranoia. It actually increased anxiety in some people.

In a 2019 study on 11 people with PTSD, 91% of people experienced a decrease in PTSD symptoms severity. CBD also appeared to offer relief in a subset of patients who reported frequent nightmares as a symptom of their PTSD.

In a 2019 study, CBD was given to 72 adults who were struggling with anxiety disorders and sleep. After 2 months of CBD treatment, about 80% of participants reported improvements in anxiety symptoms.

Also, about 70% of participants reported improvements in sleep quality. Yet, about 15% of participants developed worse symptoms after treatment with CBD.

In a 2020 study, patients received CBD for many different diseases. They included: non-cancer pain, cancer-related symptoms, neurological symptoms, and mental health symptoms.

All groups reported improvements in their overall quality of life after 3 weeks of CBD treatment. The ones who received CBD experienced improvements in their ability to perform daily functions. They also experienced a reduction in pain and anxiety symptoms.

A 2020 review of 8 studies investigated CBD’s role in treating many anxiety disorders. The authors found evidence supporting the use of CBD alone or as a complementary therapy for treating GAD, PD, SAD, OCD, and PTSD.

Although results look promising, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Many of these studies are relatively small, so the results don’t represent the general population. Larger studies are required for definitive results.
  • These studies only looked at the short-term anxiolytic effects of CBD. This means that we don’t know if the long-term use of CBD will reduce anxiety. These patients need to be observed for a longer period.
  • The studies showed significant variation in CBD doses. To establish a standard dosing, larger clinical trials need to be done over a longer time.

Some important properties of CBD

CBD dosages

As mentioned before, there’s not one definitive CBD dose for anxiety, and more research is needed to determine an effective dose. 

Studies show that doses of 300-600mg reduce anxiety in individuals without anxiety disorders. It also reduces anxiety in patients with Social Anxiety Disorder.

But, commercially available CBD contains way less CBD than is necessary to replicate the effects seen in clinical trials.

If you’re considering using CBD for your anxiety, talk to a health care provider first. They can help you find a starting dosage that’s right for you.

CBD dosage forms

CBD is available in many different forms, such as:

  • Oils
  • Capsules
  • Edibles
  • Sublingual spray
  • Teas
  • Vaporized oil or cannabis flower

Some coffee shops are even serving lattes that contain CBD.

Orally administered CBD (oils, capsules, or edibles) begin working within 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Smoking or vaping CBD oil or cannabis buds provide immediate relaxation.

It’s important to keep in mind that CBD-containing products are not FDA-regulated. Also, there are no common labeling systems or seals of approval to assure safe usage.

When purchasing CBD products, you should use your best judgment. Only buy CBD products from reputable distributors.

CBD major side effects

In general, CBD is considered safe. However, some people who take CBD may experience some side effects.

The major side effects reported from CBD include:

  • Skin rash
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite, diarrhea, vomiting
  • Anemia
  • Infections
  • Drowsiness, weakness, fatigue, insomnia, lethargy, malaise, sedated state, sleep disorder, sleep disturbance
  • Fever
  • Liver damage

CBD interaction with other drugs:

CBD use is not prohibited with any medication. However, CBD may interact with some medications, which will need a dose adjustment or close monitoring by your doctor.

Talk to your doctor if you are taking or plan on taking any of the following medications:

  • Anticoagulant (Warfarin)
  • Antiplatelets (Cilostazol, Clopidogrel)
  • Antidepressants (Citalopram and escitalopram)
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (Omeprazole, Dexlansoprazole)
  • CNS Depressants (Alcohol, Tizanidine, Phenobarbital, Clozapine, Diazepam, Carbamazepine)
  • Other (Ketoconazole, Rifampin, Ritonavir)

More research is needed to fully understand the extent to which CBD interacts with other medications. 

CBD in pregnancy and lactation:

Pregnancy can be a very emotional experience. Mood swings, irrational fears, and crying fits happen when you least expect them, even if you’re excited about your pregnancy. Hormonal surges, your changing body, social isolation, and lack of sleep can all contribute to your anxiety.

More research is needed to determine whether it’s safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women to use CBD.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women avoid taking CBD products.

ACOG also notes that there is not enough data to evaluate the effects of CBD use on breastfed infants. Thus, CBD use is discouraged when breastfeeding as well.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should talk with their doctor about the potential risks of taking CBD.

Alternatives to CBD for pregnant or breastfeeding women who suffer from anxiety:

There are many ways to manage the anxiety associated with pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Talk therapy, light therapy, and taking care of yourself can help relieve your anxiety.

Share your feelings with your doctor, and don’t take any medications without their okay. Some antidepressants are safe for use during pregnancy.

Is CBD legal?

Each U.S state has its own law on CBD oil. As research on CBD progresses, more states may consider legalizing it, leading to wider availability.

Be sure to check your state’s laws or those you travel to before using CBD. Keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, which may have inaccurate labels.

Will it show up on a drug test?

The average drug test doesn’t screen for CBD, but THC. So, if the product you’re using is pure CBD, you will have a negative result. If the administration of CBD products resulted in a positive drug test, it is likely because it contained trace quantities of THC. You may also have a positive drug test because of an error in the drug test itself.

Why CBD oil over conventional medicine?

People love consuming CBD products because it helps them relax in stressful situations, and helps with their sleep. The benefit of CBD products over conventional medications is that CBD products cause little to no side effects. They also allow you to remain present without feeling disconnected from your surroundings. Effectively, while conventional medications work well to relieve anxiety, they have a long list of side effects. They also leave you feeling disconnected and numb.

Over the past few years, CBD products have gained huge popularity, which makes them worth trying for many. Always talk to your doctor before making any decisions about the use of your medications. He or she will help you determine the best course of action when addressing your anxiety and other diagnoses.

Takeaways on CBD for anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders. An ever-growing body of evidence suggests that CBD helps relieve anxiety. But, CBD research has a long way to go before we know how it truly works and how safe it is. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Research on Cannabidiol for treating anxiety disorders looks promising. But, larger clinical studies done over a longer period need to be conducted.
  • CBD regulations are different for each state, and you may want to research the laws in your state before using them.
  • CBD is not FDA-approved for treating anxiety. This means that the quality and dosage can vary a lot between one distributor and another.
  • If you use prescription medication, you may want to consult a health care provider before using CBD.
  • Consult with your doctor or pharmacist about any alternative health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.

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