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how does cbd oil help with anxiety

Using CBD Oil for Treating Anxiety

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman’s World, and Natural Health.

Arno Kroner, DAOM, LAc, is a board-certified acupuncturist, herbalist, and integrative medicine doctor practicing in Santa Monica, California.

In recent years, cannabidiol (CBD) oil has become a widely favored remedy for anxiety. While some individuals take CBD oil to soothe their everyday worries, others use it to treat more serious conditions like generalized anxiety disorder.

A container of cbd oil on a table

A compound found in the marijuana plant, cannabidiol has increased in availability as marijuana use is legalized in more and more states across the country. A growing number of companies have begun selling supplements, salves, and other products made with CBD oil, typically touting these items as natural remedies for issues like anxiety and pain.

Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, another compound found in marijuana), cannabidiol doesn’t produce a “high” when consumed.

Anxiety Disorders That CBD May Help Treat

The most common mental illness in the U.S., anxiety disorders affects more than 18 percent of the population each year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Although anxiety disorders are generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two, many people opt to forgo these standard approaches and self-treat with products like CBD oil.

According to a survey published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in 2018, almost 62 percent of cannabidiol users reported that they used CBD to treat a medical condition, with the top three conditions being pain, anxiety, and depression.  

Due to a lack of research, scientists aren’t sure how CBD oil might help treat issues like anxiety. Some research suggests that in addition to impacting the endocannabinoid system, cannabidiol may influence receptors involved in the modulation of serotonin (a chemical messenger thought to play a role in anxiety regulation).

Research

So far, most of the evidence for CBD’s effects on anxiety comes from animal studies and laboratory experiments.

For a report published in the journal Neurotherapeutics in 2015, scientists analyzed this preliminary research and found that CBD oil shows promise in the acute treatment of conditions like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

Social Anxiety Study

While there’s currently a lack of large-scale clinical trials testing the use of CBD oil in the treatment of anxiety, a small study published in Neuropsychopharmacology in 2011 determined that CBD may help alleviate social anxiety.  

For this study, 24 people with social anxiety disorder received either 600 milligrams (mg) of CBD or a placebo an hour and a half before performing a simulated public speaking test. Additionally, 12 other people with social anxiety disorder performed the same test without receiving any CBD treatment.

Results revealed that pre-treatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort while participants were delivering their speech.

Dose-Response Study

The anxiety-reducing effect of CBD may follow a bell-shaped dose-response curve, suggests a study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology.   After administering different dosages of CBD before a public speaking test, researchers found that subjective anxiety measures were lowered with the 300 mg CBD dose, but not with the 100 or 900 mg CBD dosages.

Paranoid Trait Study

Another study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2018, tested the effects of cannabidiol in people with high paranoid traits and found that cannabidiol had no impact on anxiety, cortisol levels, heart rate, systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), and persecutory ideation.  

Anxiety in Healthy Participants Study

Cannabidiol did not reduce responses to negative emotional stimuli or reduce anxiety in healthy participants, according to a study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in 2017.   Researchers tested participants’ responses to negative images or words and threatening emotional faces and sensitivity to social rejection after taking oral cannabidiol.

Safety

Using CBD oil may cause a number of side effects, including anxiety. Some research indicates that CBD oil may also trigger the following side effects:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in mood
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Cannabidiol has been found to slightly increase heart rate at a dose of 900 mg. In addition, there’s some evidence that the use of CBD oil may lead to increased levels of liver enzymes (a marker of liver damage).

CBD oil may also interact with several medications, including benzodiazepines, calcium channel blockers, antihistamines, and some types of anti-epileptic drugs. If you are on any of these types of medications, consult your doctor before using CBD oil.

A research review found that in the treatment of certain types of refractory epilepsy, participants used lower dosages when using a CBD-rich extract compared to purified CBD products, and found adverse effects were less frequent in those using CBD-rich extracts.  

Labeling Inaccuracy

It should also be noted that, because CBD oil is mostly unregulated, products may be incorrectly labeled. To that end, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2017 found that nearly 70 percent of all CBD products sold online are mislabeled and that a number of products contain a significant amount of THC.  

Since THC can aggravate anxiety and make your heart beat faster than normal, it’s possible that using CBD oil that contains THC might make your anxiety worse.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re experiencing symptoms like frequent restlessness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, fatigue, lack of control over feelings of worry, and sleep problems, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. By working with a mental health professional, you can find the anxiety treatment plan that’s right for you.

Because letting an anxiety disorder go untreated can deplete your quality of life and lead to physical health problems (such as digestive conditions), it’s crucial to consult a doctor rather than self-treating. If you’re thinking of using CBD oil to help manage your anxiety (and it is legal where you live), make sure to talk with your doctor about whether it’s right for you.

Discover how CBD oil is touted as an all-natural way to find relief for people suffering from anxiety.

What happened when I took CBD for a week to help with my anxiety

Following is a transcript of the video.

Steven Phan: You gotta lean back. No, tongue back!

Benji Jones: That’s me, trying CBD at a shop in New York City. Lately, I’ve seen this stuff everywhere: At the local health food store, but also at Urban Outfitters , Sephora , and CBD shops like this one. And if you look at some of the branding, it kind of makes sense.

CBD products claim to help with everything from anxiety to insomnia to muscle pain. It almost sounds too good to be true. And maybe it is. To find out, I set up a little experiment. For one week, I took CBD three times a day, while tracking my anxiety with a scorecard. I also chatted with an expert before and after to sort through the results. Here’s what I learned.

CBD is a distant cousin of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. They both come from the cannabis plant, but CBD isn’t psychoactive. Meaning it doesn’t get you high. Now, of course, getting high isn’t the only reason why cannabis is popular. People also use it to relieve pain, control seizures, and lessen anxiety. But as researchers like Dr. Yasmin Hurd are discovering, it’s likely CBD, not THC, that’s behind these benefits.

Dr. Hurd: “It can activate some serotonin receptors, and the serotonin system is associated with alleviating anxiety.”

Jones: Hurd has been studying the effects of CBD for over 10 years. And she’s found that it can reduce anxiety in people with a history of heroin addiction . Now, fortunately, I don’t have a history of addiction, but I do see a therapist for chronic anxiety. And CBD could still help.

Dr. Hurd: “Both under normal conditions and in people who have anxiety disorders, enough research has started to show that it does have an anti-anxiety effect.”

Jones: So, back at the shop, I tried all kinds of product. From sweets to lotions and sprays. And while Hurd couldn’t recommend a specific dose for me, she did say that 300 milligrams a day should be enough to feel something. Because participants in clinical trials typically take anywhere from 300 to 600 milligrams. So, those chocolates and sprays? They weren’t going to cut it. Instead, I went for something else.

Phan: The tinctures, right? This is where you really get into the higher-strength things.”

Jones: I decided to err on the side of caution and take 250 milligrams each day, broken out into three doses: 50 milligrams in the morning, 100 milligrams at midday, and another 100 milligrams at night. That way, it wouldn’t hit me all at once.

Jones: All right, today is the day! I have my CBD here. I’m kind of nervous. All right, here we go.

Now, mind you, this was a Wednesday. A workday. Side note: The reason I’m taking CBD this way is that there are tons of capillaries under your tongue. So, anything you put there can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream. Whereas when you ingest CBD, like with that chocolate, a lot of it is broken down by your stomach. Which means you probably won’t feel much.

Anyway, several hours later, I took my last dose of the day.

If anything, I just feel extremely tired.

That was the first thing I noticed: that CBD was making me drowsy. Really drowsy. Which Hurd said is a pretty normal side effect at high doses. Though we’re not exactly sure why. But as I discovered the next night, it’s also great for hangovers.

I had some alcohol, and I’m certainly not going to have trouble sleeping. I think I’m going to eat a slice of pizza.

The next morning, I felt…great. And according to Hurd, that’s because CBD also has some anti-inflammatory effects. But what about anxiety, what I was really in this for? Each morning, I filled out the anxiety scorecard that Hurd gave me. It was a rough estimate of my daily emotional state, based on numbered responses to statements like, “I feel at ease.” But day to day, it was harder to figure out whether CBD was helping.

Just walking home on Friday night after three days of CBD, and I’m reporting that I’m mostly just tired and feeling lethargic. Not in a bad way; it kind of feels like I have a warm blanket around me, so I don’t hate it.

But over the weekend, I finally got the relief I was looking for, even more quickly than I had expected.

So, I happened to take CBD right before I had to do something stressful. It’s Sunday, but I had a task that I was not looking forward to. And I took 100 milligrams, and I pretty quickly felt my nerves calming down. And I was like, OMG, this is totally working, which is really great because I’m looking for that quick relief like everyone is.

Now, of course, this could have been a placebo. I mean, all of this could have been placebo. So, a few days later, I tried it again in a similar high-stress situation.

Not going to lie, I actually feel a little bit more calm. It kind of puts me into a dissociative state, where I’m slowing down a little bit. I actually get physical pain in my heart region when I’m anxious, which I know sounds terrible. But just 30 minutes after taking my 100-milligram dose for the evening, I feel an absence of that. I will say that I’ve also been listening to the “Lion King” soundtrack, so there are confounding variables. But yeah, I feel a lot better right now.

At that point, I had just one day left.

All right, I’m about to take my last dose of CBD! I must say, I’m kind of excited to stop having to take this three times a day. I think part of it is scheduling and remembering. But also, yeah, I’ve also just been so much more tired. I don’t feel like my anxiety was just washed away. I felt like there were a few times where it really helped in certain instances. And, overall, kind of lowered the intensity of how I was feeling because I felt lethargic. But yeah, I don’t want to be tired anymore.

Afterward, I looked over my anxiety scorecards. And sure enough, it showed that I was feeling slightly less anxious on my last day, compared to my first. Especially when I looked at statements like this. Yeah, that’s a big one for me. I wanted to run these results by Hurd.

Dr. Hurd: “How do you feel?”

Jones: Um, to be honest, I don’t feel that different. I think that the biggest change that I noticed is…I was just tired all the time. I feel this kind of slo-mo lethargia that makes me feel, like, a little bit disassociated with reality. And I think that is what made me feel a little less anxious at times.

Dr. Hurd: So, perhaps…taking it at night only might be best because it can make you a bit sleepy, and everyone has a different sensitivity. If you take it at night you get past the initial sedative effects… and then you don’t have to worry about taking other things like caffeine to try to stay awake.

Jones: And what about those moments of instant relief? Was that in my head, or could CBD act that fast?

Dr. Hurd: “Yeah, absolutely. It can act that quickly. For us, in our studies, people did — shortly after getting CBD — report reduced anxiety.”

Jones: But if there was one takeaway from our conversations, it was this:

Dr. Yasmin Hurd: Ironically, even though it’s now this huge fad in our society, we still don’t have a very good handle on how it’s working.

Jones: In other words, we don’t know: what size dose you should take, how, exactly, it changes your brain, or how it impacts different people in different ways. That’s because until late 2018, nearly all CBD was classified as an illegal substance. Which made it really difficult for scientists to study. And while research is starting to catch up… in some ways, it’s too late.

Dr. Hurd: It’s one of the first times in history that the public is determining whether something is medicine, not scientists and physicians.

Jones: As for me, will I continue using CBD? Yes — but likely only for those moments when I need instant relief. Because, while it seems to benefit a lot of people … I’m not yet fully convinced. But also because, this bottle? It costs more than $130! And if I’m going to spend that much, I want to be absolutely sure it works.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on August 20, 2019.

CBD products claim to help with anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain and more. It almost sounds too good to be true. So I conducted my own experiment.