Taking CBD for anxiety

Man with anxiety sitting at work desk

Cannabidiol has the potential to provide relief for people who suffer debilitating anxiety.

Researchers studying the effects and benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) are finding that taking CBD for anxiety has real potential for treating a variety of anxiety disorders.

In reviews of research findings suggest that people who took CBD had reduced anxiety levels overall. More research is needed, but mounting scientific evidence seems to suggest CBD can help some people with their anxiety.

Types of anxiety

Everyone feels nervous or anxious from time to time.

However, there are several conditions in which people have severe mental and emotional difficulties with anxiety. That level of anxiety means everyday daily tasks create almost insurmountable barriers to social engagement, work, and relationships.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also called social phobia, is an intense fear of social situations requiring interaction with other people. Typically, people with SAD fear that others will evaluate and judge them negatively in all social situations. SAD is pervasive, causing anxiety in nearly all areas of life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a disturbing and unsettling event. Sufferers are often in a persistent condition of emotional or mental stress while having almost constant vivid recall of the psychological shock they experienced. Symptoms include disturbed sleep, dull or sluggish response to other people and the world around them.

People with generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, experience near-daily anxiety about many different things for 6 months or more. People with GAD often experience severe episodes of exaggerated worry and tension that isn’t justifiable, given the circumstances.

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that results in panic attacks—sudden feelings of terror when there is no real danger. Panic disorder and attacks are typified by feelings of losing control. Other symptoms include rapid heartbeat, chest or stomach pain, difficulty breathing. Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere, and without warning.

How taking CBD helps anxiety

CBD is extracted from Cannabis sativa, usually from hemp, but also from cannabis. It is generally mixed with a carrier oil, MCT oil or coconut oil, and sometimes other extracts. CBD oil has less than 0.3% THC by volume; THC is the psychoactive compound responsible for the euphoric effect of marijuana. CBD does not produce the same result.

Specifically, cannabis with anxiety-relieving terpenes such as caryophyllene, myrcene, and linalool help.  

The human body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) has two cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. These receptors are in the central and peripheral nervous systems, respectively. Receptors are protein-based chemical structures that are attached to the body’s cells and are stimulated to react for specific functions. Recent research has shown that CBD does not attach to CB1 or CB2. Instead, CBD appears to modify the body’s serotonin signals to cell receptors in the endocannabinoid system.

Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter for mental health. People who are depressed typically have low serotonin levels. Research also suggests that in some people, low levels of serotonin are responsible for anxiety. Mental health and medical professionals often prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) like Zoloft or Prozac to treat anxiety and depression.

If you are being treated for anxiety by a mental health professional, discuss taking CBD with them before beginning a CBD regimen. Because everyone reacts differently, start with a low dose before gradually increasing over time. Tinctures and sublingual sprays take effect more quickly while edibles and oil releases are slower.

What the research says about cannabis for anxiety relief

Most people taking CBD report that it helps to relieve their anxiety levels. The limited research available seems to support users’ anecdotal evidence.

Specifically, it appears that CBD can help patients suffering anxiety-induced insomnia fall asleep and stay asleep.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports CBD appears to show promise for reducing the stress of generalized anxiety disorder. Researchers found that in studies involving animal models, CBD reduced anxiety-related behavioral symptoms. The investigators also observed that the subjects’ physiological symptoms improved as well, including lowered heart rate. More research is needed, especially in human trials on people who suffer from GAD.

CBD may also benefit people with social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. One study researched CBD’s effects on people with social anxiety disorder. The control group received a placebo while the test group received an oral dose of CBD (400 mg). The test group experienced an overall reduction in anxiety levels when compared with the control group.

A number of recent studies have reported promising results for CBD and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms of nightmares and reliving negative memories. Some of the studies examined the effects of CBD on post-traumatic stress as the sole treatment for PTSD symptoms. Others explored the use of CBD in conjunction with other modalities, such as prescription medicines, meditation, cognitive behavior therapy, and dialectical behavior therapies.

Other uncontrolled CBD studies show promise in treating anxiety. In these uncontrolled studies, participants received CBD, and their progress followed for a time without having a control group against which to compare findings. The results indicated that participants saw relief in their anxiety symptoms. However, a comparison against a control group would give more accurate conclusions.

In uncontrolled studies, it’s impossible to say whether the subjects would have improved on their own or in conjunction with other treatments. Further studies on human subjects are necessary to understand how CBD works and affects anxiety, recommended dosages, and any possible side effects.

How much CBD should one take for anxiety? 

In 2018, a small study of 57 men, found that those who took an oral dose of 300 mg of CBT 90 minutes before a simulated public speaking test reduced their anxiety by a significant margin. The placebo group and a group that received a half dose (150 mg) reported little benefit. Similarly, the group receiving twice the amount (600 mg) also reported no relief.

Although the results are promising, much more research, especially human trials, is required into the benefits of taking CBT for ordinary anxiety, as well as the more severe anxiety disorders. Again, talk with your doctor or therapist before beginning a CBD regimen.

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Andrew Mattison

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