If you are dealing with anxiety, you are not alone. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that 40 million U.S. adults, slightly more than 18 percent of the population, suffer from anxiety disorders, while only 36.9 percent of people receive treatment for these illnesses.
If you are searching for a natural way to address your anxiety, products containing CBD, or cannabidiol, may help provide relief from anxiety without the potentially harmful side effects and addiction risk of prescription drugs for anxiety, such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.
“A Cross-Sectional Study of Cannabidiol Users,” the results of which were published in July 2018 in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, found that “almost 62% of CBD users reported using CBD to treat a medical condition. The top three medical conditions were pain, anxiety, and depression.” It goes on to note that nearly 36 percent of the people surveyed reported that CBD treats their condition(s) “very well by itself.”
Read on for more information on what CBD is, what scientific research says about CBD, and how CBD can help with your anxiety.
What Is CBD?
CBD—short for cannabidiol—is a natural compound contained in the hemp plant, which is a subtype of the plant commonly known as Cannabis sativa. (Yes, as in marijuana.)
However, only one subtype of Cannabis sativa is rich in THC (tetrahydrocannibinol) and produces the “high” associated with marijuana. The hemp plant, a different subtype, contains only trace amounts of THC and won’t get you high—but, rich in CBD, hemp can be beneficial to human health.
Unlike marijuana, which is typically smoked, CBD is usually ingested, vaped, or applied topically to the skin.
(For a way more in-depth, science-y discussion of what CBD is—and what it isn’t—check out our article, “Is CBD Right for Me?”)
Is CBD for Anxiety as Good as Anti-Anxiety Drugs?
It’s important to remember that the exact mechanisms by which many psychiatric drugs work are not completely understood by science. Why CBD helps some people isn’t totally clear, either, but there is ample anecdotal evidence and a growing body of formal, scientific research that supports its ability to ease the symptoms of anxiety.
These anxiety symptoms can include rapid heart rate or breathing, overwhelming feelings of dread, excessive perspiration, insomnia, digestive upset, and other unpleasant effects.
Anxiety can be acute and temporary, like the anxiety you feel before taking a big test or going skydiving for the first time. It can also be chronic, long-term, and debilitating, leading to depression, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and other psychiatric problems. Due to anxiety’s negative impact on the immune system, it can also make a person more susceptible to colds, flu, and other infections.
“Similar to clinically used antidepressants, cannabinoids can also regulate anxiety and depressive symptoms,” notes the abstract of a 2013 study in the journal Current Neuropharmacology. “Although the mechanisms of these effects are not completely understood, recent evidence suggests that changes in [the] endocannabinoid system could be involved in some actions of antidepressants.”
The Endocannabinoid System?
Human beings have an endocannabinoid system that helps regulate our perception of pain, appetite, memory, and other functions. To explain it very simply, the human body naturally produces compounds called endocannabinoids, which bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and the immune system.
The presence of CBD is believed to help facilitate this binding action, which is critical to easing pain, inflammation, and emotional upset. Such as anxiety!
More Evidence, Please
The abstract of a 2015 research review published in the journal Neurotherapeutics states that “existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” but goes on to note the effects have only been studied for acute, not long-term dosage.
“Overall, current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders, with need for further study of chronic and therapeutic effects in relevant clinical populations,” the abstract finishes.
Another study, published in 2011 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, focused on giving oral CBD to patients who had been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD). While the study only involved 10 test subjects, it showed that the patients given CBD for anxiety had “significantly decreased subjective anxiety,” along with positive changes in the brain’s blood flow.
“These results suggest that CBD reduces anxiety in SAD and that this is related to its effects on activity in limbic and paralimbic brain areas,” the researchers note.
A third study, published in 2014 in CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets, reviewed research involving CBD and animal subjects, and found that outcomes suggested an association between CBD and anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects.
“Cannabidiol (CBD) is a constituent non-psychotomimetic of Cannabis sativa with great psychiatric potential, including uses as an antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like compound,” the study’s abstract notes.
The volume of formal research on CBD is growing rapidly—a search for the term “CBD” on the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed.gov returns more than 6,000 results—and showing therapeutic promise for the treatment of a variety of illnesses and health conditions, including anxiety.
CBD and Substance Abuse
A study by Scripps Research Institute, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, shows promise for CBD as an intervention for drug and alcohol addiction, according to a March 2018 news release. The research, conducted on rats, involved CBD gel applied to the skin and seemed to have long-term benefits.
“The CBD appeared to be effective in reducing reinstatement of drug-taking—considered a model of drug and alcohol relapse. It also reduced anxiety and impulsivity often associated with drug dependence,” the press release stated. “Notably, the reduced reinstatement, which was induced by stress or drug-related environmental cues, lasted for five months after the initial treatment was discontinued, when CBD was no longer detectable in either blood or brain.”
Many people suffering from anxiety and other untreated mental health issues turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, so CBD’s potential usefulness as an addiction intervention is important. Using it can help break the cycle of addiction, while providing a natural means of dealing with the anxiety that often contributes to the development of addiction in the first place.
CBD for Anxiety Associated with Marijuana Use
If you live in a place where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes, products with CBD can help with some of the unwanted side effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the feeling of being “high.”
One of those possible side effects, a feeling of paranoia or anxiety, is especially helped by CBD; the CBD can come via a CBD product or from the marijuana itself, provided the level of CBD in that strain of marijuana is high enough.
“If you’re like me, you most likely have had that anxious/paranoia feeling come on” when using marijuana, says Danny Prosser one of the founders of ERTHHEMP. “Do you know that you can get rid of that feeling with CBD?
“CBD has been known to reduce the activation of the CB1 receptors that THC binds to,” he continues. “Certain strains of marijuana contain more CBD and can produce a mellower, less anxious high. I personally do not like the “high” feeling and prefer to use purely hemp derived CBD products”
If you intend to use CBD-containing products to counteract the effects of THC, it is important to know how much of each compound is present in both the CBD product and the strain of marijuana in question. A CBD product will typically have very little to no THC, while various strains of marijuana contain both, but in varying ratios to each other.
Strains of marijuana with higher levels of CBD usually produce less of the paranoid, anxious feeling that can sometimes accompany the use of THC.
So...How Much CBD Should I Take?
Before you try CBD for your anxiety, you need to figure out how much to take, and also how to take it—for example, smoking or vaping a substance gets it into your bloodstream faster than ingesting it orally in oil format, but the effects will not last as long. For longer-term relief, oils or edibles are preferred.
There is no one dose—and no one CBD product—that is right for everyone. Experts recommend starting with a small dose, seeing how it affects you, and then going from there. The instructions on the product can also give you an idea of how much to take.
Project CBD, a California nonprofit organization dedicated to cannabis research, recommends starting with a few small doses over the course of a few days, and adjusting the dose according to its effect. Also, the effects may vary based on the amount; for example, a small dose may have more of a stimulant effect, while a large dose has sedative effects. In other words, more isn’t necessarily better.
“CBD has no known adverse side effects, but an excessive amount of CBD could be less effective therapeutically than a moderate dose,” notes Project CBD’s “CBD User’s Manual.”
(Of course, you should never discontinue the use of any pharmaceutical or try any natural alternative without first getting your physician’s OK. This type of medical advice is especially important if you have a chronic health condition, or if you are taking other medications that might interact with CBD, such as steroids, antihistamines, beta blockers, or several others.)
Does CBD Really Help with Anxiety?
The market for CBD-containing products is expected to grow 700 percent, to a $2.1 billion industry, by the year 2020, reports CannabisNewsWire.
Regardless of what science has validated about CBD thus far, a huge body of anecdotal evidence supporting CBD’s usefulness as a health supplement exists. To put it plainly, CBD works—on a wide variety of health conditions—and many people swear by its efficacy as an anti-anxiety intervention.