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Ask an MD: Will CBD Actually Help Me With Anxiety?

March 18, 2019

The field of cannabis medicine is growing fast, and researchers are taking a new interest in the multifaceted health benefits of the plant. Much of this new research has focused on its cannabinoids — naturally-occurring chemical compounds that give cannabis many of its medicinal properties. Of these cannabinoids, the two most well-known are THC and CBD. Both have attracted attention for their impact on anxiety, but despite their shared origin, their actual effects are quite different.

While THC can sometimes increase anxiety in patients and lessen it in others, cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to consistently reduce anxiety. The stress-reducing effect seems to be correlated with activity in both the limbic and paralimbic areas of the brain. There are two endocannabinoids (closely-related chemicals that are produced by the body rather than the cannabis plant) which have similar effects, AEA and 2-AG.

How Cannabinoids Interact With the ECS to Reduce Anxiety

These endocannabinoids are part of the body’s endocannabinoid system [ECS], a complex network of receptors that helps regulate functions like mood, sleep, and appetite. As studies have shown, CBD’s ability to reduce anxiety is due to its ability to interact with the ECS.

A 2012 research paper titled “Cannabidiol, a cannabis sativa constituent, as an anxiolytic drug” concluded that CBD is effective for reducing anxiety and called for more research and clinical trials. Two years later, researchers in a similar study related to anxiety and the endocannabinoid system confirmed that the augmentation of the endocannabinoid system may be an effective strategy for treating the physical and mental symptoms of stress and anxiety.

In a 2011 study titled “Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients,” researchers stated, “pretreatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance, and significantly decreased alert in their anticipatory speech. The placebo group presented higher anxiety, cognitive impairment, discomfort, and alert levels when compared with the control group as assessed with the VAMS [Visual Analogue Mood Scale].”

Several other studies have been published and the evidence appears to support that CBD can be used to manage or treat stress and anxiety.

For immediate relief, such as a panic attack or severe anxiety, smoking or vaping a high-CBD strain of cannabis can be very effective. Sublingual sprays or tinctures can also be effective for immediate relief, though they do generally take 30-60 minutes to take effect. When inhaled, the body can absorb cannabinoids faster than when ingested.

Smoking or vaporizing may have negative side effects and doesn’t last as long as a sublingual ingestion. However, inhalation is the fastest way to stimulate the endocannabinoid system and get cannabinoids into the body.

According to a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), CBD is safe to use, with “no potential for abuse and no potential to produce dependence.” Still, at the time of writing, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any CBD-derived medications for the treatment of anxiety.

If you are considering using CBD to treat anxiety, check with your doctor first to prevent any possible complications with your current medication.


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