The spread of legalized cannabis in the West has been accompanied by rising interest in cannabidiol, or CBD. Consumers, CBD supplement businesses, and even healthcare providers are talking about the cannabinoid, but there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding CBD’s purported benefits. Anecdotal evidence regarding CBD’s effects is sometimes conflicting, and while some research has been conducted into CBD’s health benefits, it has not been extensive or in-depth enough to confirm some of the claims that are being made.
To make matters worse, some companies that currently make money selling CBD products care more about their profit margins than about the information they provide. So, these companies often make unsubstantiated claims about the cannabinoid’s potential health benefits, or leave out important information.
Nonetheless, CBD has been flying off the shelves in Canada, with the country even facing a shortage in May 2019. And, in laboratory settings, CBD has been shown to have potential when it comes to treating certain ailments and conditions. For example, CBD has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in some forms of childhood epilepsy. Aside from these uncommon cases, though, one of the most common uses of CBD is to help treat anxiety. But does it really work?
As I mentioned before, the anecdotal evidence regarding CBD’s effectiveness as an anxiety treatment is confusing and occasionally contradictory. On a Reddit thread titled “CBD / Anxiety – Pls share your experience!” one user writes, “It’s been amazing for me! Better than Xanax, 10x.” Another user writes “I feel great! It works better than Xanax or even Klonopin for me.” Some users write that they prefer CBD because it works without the “drugged” feeling of benzodiazepines or other pharmaceuticals.
Meanwhile, other users write that CBD either produced no noticeable positive effect in them. A user on another thread wrote “…this did not work for me. Lexapro worked much, much better for me, and CBD in fact at times made symptoms worse for me…” and one user even wrote that “[cannabis] actually enhanced my depression and anxiety. At first it was great at treating it but then it became a crutch and made it worse over the years especially my anxiety.” Based on anecdotal evidence, CBD does seem to work, but obviously it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
Dr. Esther Blessing, a psychiatrist and researcher at New York University, says “I think there’s good evidence to suggest that CBD could be an effective treatment of anxiety and addiction, but we need clinical trials to find out.” That just about sums up the situation – at this point, human studies of the effects of CBD have been too small to prove anything definitively. However, as Dr. Blessing said, there is “evidence to suggest” that CBD could help treat anxiety.
One study conducted in 2010 seemed to show that CBD reduced anxiety in patients suffering from generalized social anxiety disorder, likely by lowering activity in areas of the brain that deal with anxiety. However, the study only had 10 subjects.
A more recent study, published in January 2019, found that of 72 test subjects, 57 (or 79.2%) experienced an improvement in anxiety symptoms, while 15.3% experienced worsening of symptoms. For those that showed improvement, the CBD treatment continued to be effective over several months – the duration of the study. Anxiety symptoms decreased quickly, and then stayed low. Also worth noting is that this study used low doses (compared to other studies) of CBD – 25-175 mg per day. This is because, in the researchers’ experience, these doses are enough to elicit a measurable response, and also because the high doses used in other studies are prohibitively expensive for most consumers.
This was one of the best, largest studies into CBD’s ability to treat anxiety so far. However, it still has some limitations. For one, there was no comparison group, so there may be a significant placebo effect at play here. Also, the patients continued to use their other psychiatric medications along with CBD, so the study did not see how CBD works on its own. On the other hand, though, this can be seen as a strength – in the real world, patients might often use CBD and psychiatric medications concurrently.
A study performed in 2011 took 24 subjects with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and had them perform a simulated public speaking test after receiving either a placebo or a 600mg dose of CBD. There was also a control group of 12 people who also suffered from SAD, but did not receive any treatment. The results showed that those who received CBD before they delivered their speech experienced significantly less anxiety and discomfort than the other groups. The participants who received CBD were also much less likely to give themselves negative self-evaluations following their speeches. This study’s writers note that SSRIs and SSNRIs can take some time before they begin to be effective, and that benzodiazepines can impair motor skills, as well as sedation and physical dependence.
One study conducted in 2017 seems to suggest that CBD does not have a noticeable effect on healthy individuals’ anxiety. Another study in 2018 used people with high paranoid traits as subjects, and found that CBD had no effect on their anxiety or persecutory ideation. It is not yet clear why these studies demonstrated different results from the others.
In light of the lack of conclusive research, it would be irresponsible to make a blanket statement about whether or not CBD is an effective treatment for anxiety. However, much of the research that has been conducted shows that CBD can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, even if we don’t know exactly how it does this. and anecdotal evidence seems to support this. However, both the research and the anecdotal evidence show that while CBD works for some people, others experience no effect at all, and a small number of people even experience worsening of their symptoms. So, if you are interested in CBD as a way to control anxiety, your best bet is to start with a low dose and then work your way up, paying attention to how CBD works for you.