CBD, short for cannabidiol, has become popular in recent years. It’s sold online and in stores in tinctures, capsules, food and drink products, and more.
The claims made by CBD companies about their products are far-reaching.
One common belief is that CBD may be a natural way to alleviate anxiety.
But before you try it, learn the truth about if CBD is an effective treatment and if these products are safe.
In this article, first I’ll explain what CBD is and how it works.
Then I’ll discuss what research shows about using CBD to treat anxiety.
I’ll wrap up with the dosages and potential risks and adverse effects of taking CBD.
What Is CBD?
CBD is a purified chemical compound that is extracted from the cannabis plant (a.k.a. hemp plant).
It is not the same thing as medical marijuana or organic hemp.
It’s also different from THC, the compound in marijuana that causes people to get “high”.
CBD is legal in most states, but regulations change often, so if you want to take CBD, check your state laws.
How It Works
Our bodies have an endocannabinoid system.
This is part of the nervous system, so it sends and receives signals.
CBD works by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system, specifically, CB1 and CB2 receptors.
This may lead to an increase in serotonin signaling and response.
It is thought that low levels of serotonin may contribute to anxiety.
However, it is not completely established how CBD impacts brain chemicals.
How to Use It
Because research is limited and CBD is not regulated in the same way that prescription medications are, it is not possible to definitively state how to use CBD for anxiety.
Below, I explore what research says and possible ways to use CBD for anxiety.
Research & Evidence: CBD for Anxiety
There’s some scientific evidence for potential benefits of CBD for anxiety.
While research continues, here’s what we know at this point:
- For social anxiety disorder, compared to placebo, CBD significantly reduced overall perception of anxiety. It also reduced anxiety in people with social anxiety who participated in simulated public speaking situations.
- For post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), CBD may reduce negative memories and anxiety-related symptoms.
- For anxiety, CBD may increase serotonin levels in the brain, which could modulate symptoms.
- A review of 49 studies found that CBD has the potential to improve panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), PTSD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
- For anxiety and sleep problems, CBD was found to improve anxiety in about 80% of study participants, while 70% had improved sleep, although the sleep benefits decreased after the first month of treatment.
Although these studies show positive outcomes, other research on CBD’s health benefits can be inconclusive, have conflicts of interest, or show negative effects.
A small study of 32 people, for example, found that CBD had the potential to increase anxiety in some people.
A limitation of many studies is that they do not look at long-term treatment or relief, or whether the benefits continue after CBD is discontinued.
Additionally, the small sample size for most studies may make the research hard to replicate in larger groups.
Like any substance, CBD may work for some people but not for others.
Researchers and medical providers continue to learn more about how CBD may support mental health conditions like anxiety.
If you want to start taking CBD, work with your healthcare provider to identify a safe product and dosage.
Many CBD products do not contain dosages similar to those used in clinical trials, which could decrease the potential for beneficial results.
You can purchase cannabidiol products in different forms, including:
- CBD oils
- CBD gummies
- CBD tinctures
- Hemp oils with CBD
Risks & Side Effects
CBD is not associated with significant or strong adverse side effects.
However, unlike prescription medications, CBD products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Some have been found to be contaminated with small amounts of THC, and the safety, effectiveness, dose, and ingredients cannot be verified.
The prescription medication Epidiolex is the only FDA-approved medication that contains cannabidiol.
It is nearly 100% CBD and is used to treat severe forms of epilepsy that primarily impact children.
Its side effects include:
Epidiolex may increase the risk of liver damage in some people.
It can also interfere with certain medications such as blood thinners, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antihistamines, opioids, calcium channel blockers, antipsychotics, and more.
There’s insufficient research to assess how CBD affects pregnancy or breastfeeding, so do not take CBD if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How K Health Can Help
Want mental health support?
K Health offers anxiety medication for the right candidates.
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K Therapy offers free smart chats, which are dynamic, pre-written conversations designed by experts that cover a number of common mental health topics such as depression, anxiety, stress, relationships, and more. Access them for free by downloading the K Therapy app.
Online therapists are also available in select states for individualized care.
Connect with a licensed mental health therapist for unlimited asynchronous text-based therapy. Therapists respond Monday through Friday between 9am-5pm, within 24-hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. (2015).
Cannabidiol as a Therapeutic Alternative for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: From Bench Research to Confirmation in Human Trials. (2018).
Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. (2019).
Cannabidiol Modulates Serotonergic Transmission and Reverses Both Allodynia and Anxiety-Like Behavior in a Model of Neuropathic Pain. (2019).
Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients. (2011).
The Effects of Cannabidiol on Persecutory Ideation and Anxiety in a High Trait Paranoid Group. (2017).
FDA Approves First Drug Comprised of an Active Ingredient Derived from Marijuana to Treat Rare, Severe Forms of Epilepsy. (2018).
An Introduction to the Endogenous Cannabinoid System. (2015)
Neural Basis of Anxiolytic Effects of Cannabidiol (CBD) in Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder: A Preliminary Report. (2010).