Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S. About 40 million adults, or nearly 20% of Americans, have some form of an anxiety disorder. These may include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, depression, or specific phobias.
For people living with anxiety, the disorder impacts all aspects of their daily lives, causing them to live with a constant sense of stress, worry, or apprehension—which at times can be very intense.
A combination of psychotherapy with medication tends to be very effective for helping these individuals cope with, manage, and treat their anxiety. However, the medication typically prescribed to treat anxiety, such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines, can cause many unpleasant side effects, including weight gain, fatigue, sexual issues, sleep problems, and even increased thoughts of suicide.
As a result, many individuals are searching for alternative therapies to treat their anxiety. One promising option is CBD oil. A growing body of research suggests CBD can be quite effective at treating anxiety—due to the way it interacts with neuroreceptors to boost serotonin levels in the brain.
What is CBD Oil?
CBD (or cannabidiol) is one of many chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, in the cannabis plant. CBD can be found in different strains of the cannabis plant, including both hemp and marijuana.
Typically, CBD oil is extracted from industrial hemp, although it can come from either hemp or marijuana. This is because hemp is federally legal across the U.S.
Another, perhaps more well-known cannabinoid, is THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the chemical compound in marijuana that produces the feeling of being “high” or “stoned.” CBD, on the other hand, contains no psychoactive properties, so it does not create a high.
Some individuals report feeling a general sense of relaxation upon consuming CBD (which can be helpful for those with anxiety), but it’s primarily used to treat a growing number of ailments, including anxiety, seizures, chronic pain, cancer-induced nausea, and more.
The majority of people (62%) who use CBD take it to help treat a medical condition. Of those, pain, anxiety, and depression are the most common conditions. Over a third of these users report the CBD treats their condition “very well by itself.”
Is CBD Good for Anxiety and Stress? A Research Review
Currently, researchers agree that CBD oil “has considerable potential” as a treatment for multiple forms of anxiety.
However, the research is still developing around the efficacy of CBD for anxiety, and why it seems to work. A majority of research done thus far has focused on acute dosing for short-term anxiety. There isn’t much research into the efficacy of CBD for treating long-term anxiety. But, the findings thus far are quite promising:
- In a 2010 study of 10 patients with social anxiety disorder, researchers measured cerebral blood flow before and after participants were given a 400mg oral dose of CBD or a placebo. The individuals who took the CBD reported significantly reduced subjective anxiety, and their brain scans also revealed differences in blood flow to the limbic and paralimbic areas of their brain—two areas of the brain involved in producing anxiety.
- A 2011 study of patients with social anxiety disorder split participants into two groups. One was given a placebo, while the other received a single dose of CBD, 90 minutes before performing a public speaking test. Throughout the test, the patients who received the CBD presented significantly less anxiety, discomfort, and cognitive impairment. Moreover, they also rated themselves much higher in their self-assessments following the test.
- A 2012 study of animals with anxiety and patients with social anxiety disorder further confirmed its anxiolytic effects and ability to reduce anxiety.
- In a 2012 study, researchers observed rats to see how CBD affected their stress response to a predatory threat. An hour after they were exposed to a cat (the predator), they were given single or repeated doses of CBD, and observed over the following week. The rats who received repeated doses had less anxiety throughout the observation period.
- In 2016, researchers explored the effects of CBD on a pediatric patient with PTSD, for whom traditional medications had only been somewhat effective, and had created negative side effects. After switching to a once-daily CBD dose of 12 to 25mg, she was able to significantly control her anxiety symptoms, and enjoy better sleep.
How Does CBD Oil Reduce Anxiety?
Currently, researchers hypothesize CBD is able to treat anxiety due to the way it interacts with neuroreceptors involved in serotonin regulation. This interaction appears to affect your serotonin levels, which can be lower in individuals with anxiety or depression.
In the predator threat study we cited above involving rats, as well as in a separate study of mice, researchers found that CBD affects the functioning of 5HT1A receptors in the hippocampus and frontal cortex. These receptors help regulate serotonin levels in the brain. CBD appears to reduce the regulatory feedback provided by these receptors, which allows more serotonin to be released at a faster rate (thus reducing anxiety). Furthermore, in both studies, researchers observed that chronic administration of CBD causes these receptors to make adaptive changes that may sustain these effects for the long-term.
CBD is so effective at treating anxiety, that it can even counteract the anxiety produced by other cannabinoids, like THC. When both THC and CBD are consumed, CBD blocks the activation of THC by changing the shape of CB1 receptors in the brain, making them smaller so that THC has less to hold on to. As a result, THC-induced anxiety, and the increased heart rate that often accompanies it, go away.
What’s intriguing about CBD’s effects on anxiety is that it appears to only work for individuals with anxiety. For instance, a 2017 study of healthy adults without anxiety found that CBD did not affect their responses to negative emotional stimuli or stressors.
However, for individuals with anxiety, CBD appears to be quite effective at reducing short-term anxiety, and may have potential as a long-term treatment, if the studies above are any indication.
Is It Safe to Take CBD Oil for Anxiety?
A large part of what makes CBD so attractive as an alternative treatment for anxiety are its minimal side effects. In fact, it’s rare for people to experience any side effects when taking CBD. However, when experienced, they may include:
- Dry mouth
- Changes in body weight or appetite
- Low Blood Pressure
About 40 million adults, or nearly 20% of Americans, have some form of an anxiety disorder. These may include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, depression, or specific phobias.