CBD, short for cannabidiol, has quickly become a popular way to relieve anxiety. Based on the research so far, it may not be an overstatement to say CBD could revolutionize how individuals manage anxiety and support their mood.
Is CBD Nature’s Answer to Anxiety?
Recent research has determined CBD provides the same benefits as traditional SSRIs – with a big bonus. It works faster. [i] This has led researchers to suggest CBD may be able to help individuals with [ii] :
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The one thing about CBD research is that it’s relatively new with most of it being done in the last decade. So far, studies have found CBD helps:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine measured CBD’s effect on 11 adults suffering from (PTSD). By the end of the 8-week study, 10 of the 11 study participants experienced a significant reduction in the severity of their symptoms. [iii]
- Social Anxiety Disorder. Patients given 400 mg of CBD felt less anxiety in a social situation compared to how they felt in the situation when given a placebo. This double-blind study also featured neuro-imaging of the patients and observed brain activity that matched the patients’ assessments of their feelings – taking CBD reduced brain activity associated with heightened feelings of stress. [iv]
- Researchers gave 57 adults CBD to measure its effect on their stress response and feeling when facing the #1 fear of most people – public speaking! The group that received 300 mg experienced much less anxiety than those given 150mg, 600mg or a placebo. [v]
- Support for Memory and Emotion. Additional research has suggested CBD helps regulate memory and emotion. The researchers suggest these findings indicate CBD may be a potential treatment for a wide range of anxiety disorders, including individuals recovering from anxiety and stress related to substance abuse. [vi]
The results of these studies match what many who have started taking CBD for anxiety have said. CBD works.
How CBD Works to Relieve Anxiety
Scientists have identified at least three ways CBD works to support mood and relieve anxiety.
- By boosting serotonin signaling. CBD blocks the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor, a lot like SSRIs; it just does it much faster. [vii]
- Through the creation of new brain cells. Individuals suffering from anxiety have been shown to have a smaller hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory and linked to depression and anxiety. Animal studies have shown that like SSRIs, CBD supports hippocampal neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells. [viii] , [ix]
- Slowing FAAH breakdown. FAAH is an enzyme that breaks down the body’s natural endocannabinoid, anandamide. CBD prevents FAAH activity, slowing the breakdown of anandamide and the amount of stress experienced by an individual. [x]
This third effect is what makes CBD very different from THC, the until-very-recently better-known cannabinoid.
THC, CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
THC is well-known as the compound in marijuana that causes one to feel “high.” It’s also the reason the benefits of CBD were discovered. The research on THC led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.
- Immune response
- Memory and mood
In fact, some researchers believe that the endocannabinoid system is tied to your body’s homeostasis, the balance between all systems needed to make it work properly. [xiii]
The body relies on endocannabinoids, compounds similar to THC and CBD, to drive this system. Anandamide (AEA) is one of the them. Another is known as 2-AG. The body produces them as needed to start a system and then quickly breaks them down.
Researchers have found that individuals who are stressed have lower amounts of anandamide. [xiv] This is why CBD is more effective in alleviating stress than THC. CBD encourages the body’s natural cannabinoids to do their work; it supports the body’s natural processes.
In contrast, THC binds directly to cells, specifically in the brain and nervous system, altering the state of the body. One may feel euphoria; or as is also the case with THC’s relationship to anxiety, it may aggravate a feeling of anxiety.
This is very likely the reason so many individuals and researchers have chosen CBD over medical marijuana with THC for anxiety relief.
Who Would Benefit from Taking CBD for Anxiety?
CBD’s success – based on the research done so far – suggests it can help address a wide range of anxiety-related issues from chronic conditions like social anxiety disorder and PTSD to situationally-related anxieties, ie., public speaking.
As such, CBD may be an option for anyone. The many subtle ways it can be taken may make it even more appealing and accessible to those who suffer from anxiety.
Types of CBD for Anxiety
There are four types of CBD available:
Isolate: CBD is extracted from marijuana or hemp and isolated from other cannabinoids, making this the purest form of CBD you can take. At 98-99% purity, 5 mg of isolate means you’re effectively getting 5 mg of CBD. This is valuable if you’re tracking dosing. CBD isolate comes as an oil, in crystals or sheets.
Full Spectrum: You might see this also under the name broad spectrum or whole-plant CBD. This type of CBD is extracted and includes other cannabinoids present in the plant. It might also contain a small amount of THC as well - .3% THC is the maximum allowable amount. If you want to avoid THC or don’t want any in your system, look for brands that remove all the THC. Due to the “entourage effect,” a synergy that enhances CBD’s effectiveness, researchers believe whole-plant may offer the greatest benefits. [xv] A big advantage of full spectrum CBD is that can be taken as a gummy, so it’s easy to take and not obvious that it’s being taken.
Water Soluble: Innovation has enabled some providers to make the oil soluble CBD available in water. CBD water makes the anti-anxiety benefits of CBD available to anyone on-the-go.
Topical CBD: Often used for pain relief to ease achy muscles, topical CD comes in creams, lotions, soaps and more.
Although any of the four types of CBD may work, the full spectrum and water-soluble types offer a lot of flexibility and ease-of-use. Ultimately, the best one to use for anxiety is the one that delivers the best results. Work with your healthcare provider to choose the form of CBD that best fits your need and lifestyle.
Precautions and Warnings
CBD may come from the same plant as medical marijuana, but you can get CBD without taking medical marijuana. This is important too as marijuana is still illegal under federal law, even though many states have legalized it for medical use. [xvi] If the CBD is synthetically created or comes from hemp, it would be legal; if it comes from medical marijuana, it’s important to confirm it’s legal for use in your state.
Although research has not reported any serious or adverse side effects from taking CBD, some people have reported:
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty sleeping
- Digestive discomfort
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
Anyone taking medications should consult with their healthcare provider before taking or replacing current prescriptions. Pregnant or breast-feeding women should always consult with their doctors before taking any herb or supplement.
[i] Raquel Linge, et al. Cannabidiol induces rapid-acting antidepressant-like effects and enhances cortical 5-HT/glutamate neurotransmission: role of 5-HT1A receptors. Neuropharmacology, Volume 103,
2016, Pages 16-26, ISSN 0028-3908, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2015.12.017.
[ii] Tambaro S, Bortolato M. Cannabinoid-related agents in the treatment of anxiety disorders: current knowledge and future perspectives. Recent Pat CNS Drug Discov. 2012;7(1):25-40.
[iii] Elms L, et al. Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series. J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Dec 13. doi: 10.1089/acm.2018.0437. [Epub ahead of print]
[iv] Crippa JA1, et al. Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report. J Psychopharmacol. 2011 Jan;25(1):121-30. doi: 10.1177/0269881110379283. Epub 2010 Sep 9.
[v] Linares IM, et al. Cannabidiol presents an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve in a simulated public speaking test. Braz J Psychiatry. 2018 Oct 11. pii: S1516-44462018005007102. doi: 10.1590/1516-4446-2017-0015. [Epub ahead of print]
[vi] Lee JLC, et al. Cannabidiol regulation of emotion and emotional memory processing: relevance for treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorders. Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Oct;174(19):3242-3256. doi: 10.1111/bph.13724. Epub 2017 Mar 9.
[vii] Raquel Linge, et al. Cannabidiol induces rapid-acting antidepressant-like effects and enhances cortical 5-HT/glutamate neurotransmission: role of 5-HT1A receptors. Neuropharmacology, Volume 103,
2016, Pages 16-26, ISSN 0028-3908, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2015.12.017.
[viii] Campos AC1, et al. The anxiolytic effect of cannabidiol on chronically stressed mice depends on hippocampal neurogenesis: involvement of the endocannabinoid system. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2013 Jul;16(6):1407-19. doi: 10.1017/S1461145712001502. Epub 2013 Jan 9.
[ix] Fogaça MV, Galve-Roperh I, Guimarães FS, Campos AC. Cannabinoids, Neurogenesis and Antidepressant Drugs: Is there a Link?. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2013;11(3):263-75.
[x] Bluett RJ, et al. Central anandamide deficiency predicts stress-induced anxiety: behavioral reversal through endocannabinoid augmentation. Transl Psychiatry. 2014 Jul 8;4:e408. doi: 10.1038/tp.2014.53.
[xii] Blessing, E.M., Steenkamp, M.M., Manzanares, J. et al. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics (2015) 12: 825. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
[xiv] Bluett RJ, et al. Central anandamide deficiency predicts stress-induced anxiety: behavioral reversal through endocannabinoid augmentation. Transl Psychiatry. 2014 Jul 8;4:e408. doi: 10.1038/tp.2014.53.
[xv] Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-64.
[xvi] Noel C. Evidence for the use of "medical marijuana" in psychiatric and neurologic disorders. Ment Health Clin. 2018;7(1):29-38. Published 2018 Mar 23. doi:10.9740/mhc.2017.01.029