Anxiety—ranging from butterflies in your stomach, to the kind where your heart is racing and you’re up all night—is pretty common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 30 percent of U.S. adults will experience some type of anxiety disorder at least once in their lives.
If you’re one of those people, you’ll know that anxiety can interfere with work, relationships, and every other aspect of your life. What you might not know is that if you experience anxiety, CBD might be able to help you.
What Is CBD, and How Does It Work?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical compound found exclusively in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, another well-known compound in cannabis, CBD does not cause a high. Instead, it has become popular because of increasing evidence of its numerous health benefits. One of these is that for some people it lessens the symptoms of anxiety.
Exactly how CBD works is not fully understood, but experts believe that it reduces anxiety by influencing what’s going on in your brain. Your brain is an astoundingly complex system that controls everything you do. Every thought and feeling you have is the result of its billions of nerve cells and chemicals, which are constantly interacting together. Usually, all these chemical reactions go smoothly and you feel happy and healthy, but sometimes the chemicals cause feelings that you don’t want, like anxiety. Experts believe that when this happens, CBD can be used to change the chemistry in your brain and throughout your body, and get things running smoothly again.
Those who had taken CBD experienced significantly less anxiety and discomfort than those who received the placebo.
What’s the Evidence?
There is quite a bit of evidence that CBD can help with anxiety, however, most of it is preclinical—meaning that it comes from animal trials—or anecdotal. Few human studies have been carried out. However, researchers generally agree that the existing evidence is very favorable. For instance, in a 2015 study, researchers reviewed existing preclinical research and report that it strongly supports the use of CBD for anxiety. Those human studies that have been conducted have also been positive. For instance, in a 2011 study twenty-four people with social anxiety disorder were given either CBD or a placebo, then asked to make a speech. Those who had taken CBD experienced significantly less anxiety and discomfort than those who received the placebo. The researchers conclude that these results are promising, and urge further clinical trials on CBD for anxiety.
The anecdotal evidence on CBD is abundant. Despite a lack of clinical trials, more and more people are deciding to give CBD a try for their anxiety, and it doesn’t take much research to uncover stories about how well it works. For example, writer Dominique Astorino experimented with CBD for anxiety and states, “I’m astounded at how well this prevented a panic attack and mitigated my anxiety in a naturopathic way. . . It really is Mother Nature’s liquid Xanax.”
What About the Risks?
Since there’s a lack of clinical research concerning the effects of CBD on anxiety, you might be thinking that it seems a bit risky to treat yourself with it. The good news is that despite the lack of FDA regulation, people commonly take CBD for anxiety and a wide range of other health and wellness benefits, and negative side effects don’t seem to be too common. When there are side effects, they are mainly relatively minor things like mild mood changes, tiredness, or upset stomach. In 2017 CBD even received a favorable assessment from the World Health Organization (WHO). In its preliminary report, WHO states that there is evidence showing that CBD might be an effective treatment for a number of medical conditions, and finds that this chemical doesn’t seem to cause any negative health effects, or lead to abuse or dependence.
Many people prefer CBD—clinically tested or not—to other common anti-anxiety drugs since these other options can cause some fairly unpleasant side effects; things like confusion, muscle weakness, and vomiting. Anti-anxiety medications can also be very addictive. In one 2017 review researchers conclude that the potential side effects of CBD are generally much more tolerable than those from alternative medications.
So How Do I Use It?
Unfortunately, since CBD hasn’t been officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for anxiety, there are no official guidelines on how to use it if you decide to do so. Most experts recommend starting with a low dose and working your way up slowly, taking note of how it makes you feel. Everybody reacts differently to CBD. Take into consideration that researchers have found that more CBD is not necessarily better. Instead, there is evidence that depending on what you’re trying to treat, you need to find the sweet spot for dosage. If you use too little or too much, you probably won’t get the optimal result.
A lot of people do seem to be finding their own sweet spot. In a 2017 survey of 2,400 people from the medicinal cannabis community, researchers found that the majority use CBD products, and the most common medical condition they are using it for is anxiety. Most of the CBD-users in this study reported that CBD works very well, with 42 percent saying that they have actually stopped using traditional medications now that they use CBD.
If you’re interested in learning more about CBD, check out this book that covers all things CBD.