Originally published at the Ministry of Hemp.
As millions of Americans struggle with increasingly stressful lives, some of them are turning to cannabis, specifically CBD, to ease their anxiety.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 18 percent of Americans experienced the symptoms of an anxiety disorder at some point over the past 12 months, making it the most common form of mental illness in the United States. Even for the rest of us, our chaotic world can still often leave us feeling overwhelmed.
Regular users of psychoactive cannabis, also commonly known as marijuana, frequently report using the substance to relax after a hard day. For many people, hemp-based CBD oil can offer similar benefits, but with few side effects and without making them feel “high.”
Just as with our recent article on using CBD for pain relief, we’ve examined both the scientific evidence and anecdotal reports from regular CBD consumers online. Though there is still a lot of research to be done into CBD and anxiety, the preliminary results look extremely promising.
The link between cannabis, CBD and anxiety
Paradoxically, while many people look forward to that afterwork toke, other people report struggling with paranoia when they ingest psychoactive cannabis. This seems to happen often when they take more than they’re used to. Science suggests that CBD plays a key role in this seemingly paradoxical set of responses to the same substance.
Bailey Rahn, a writer at the cannabis information site Leafly, reported that some cannabis users have successfully counteracted these feelings of paranoia by taking additional CBD oil. High CBD strains also seem to generally be less likely to induce paranoia, and are often sought out by anxiety sufferers in states with legal recreational or medicinal cannabis.
“Cannabidiol balances the buzz and softens the euphoria — or, in some cases, the dysphoria — induced by THC, which, in concentrated form, can make people feel very loopy and weird,” wrote cannabis expert Martin A. Lee in his book “Smoke Signals,” in a passage quoted by Rahn.
Science supports CBD’s ‘considerable potential’ as anxiety treatment
Like all extracts of hemp or cannabis, CBD oil is known to work primarily through its effects on the endocannabinoid system, where it mimics chemicals similar to cannabis that are naturally occurring in all humans. Some research has even seems to link Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety-linked conditions to lower than normal levels of these natural occurring compounds.
Currently, however, more research has been done into the effects of CBD on serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the human brain and nervous system that plays a crucial role in mood (including depression and anxiety), sleep and other key biological processes.
Most scientific research of CBD for anxiety is “preclinical,” meaning animal research rather than on humans, but these studies have found that CBD seems to function similarly to commonly prescribed SSRI class of pharmaceutical drugs by encouraging the action of serotonin receptors in the brain. Both SSRIs and CBD seem to promote regeneration of the hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays a role in both depression and anxiety.
In a survey of 34 studies which did include human subjects, published in May 2012 in Pharmaceuticals (Basel), Simon Zhornitsky and Stéphane Potvin found that CBD showed promise in numerous conditions from bipolar disorder to social anxiety.
“[P]reliminary clinical trials suggest that high-dose oral CBD (150–600 mg/d) may exert a therapeutic effect for social anxiety disorder, insomnia and epilepsy,” they wrote, but warned that high doses of CBD can “also … cause mental sedation.”
In a similar September 2015 survey, published in Neurotherapeutics, a team of 4 researchers looked at the results of both human and animal studies of CBD.
“Overall, current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders,” the team wrote, though they emphasized that further study is needed.
CBD users find lower doses can also be effective
“For me, it’s good for quelling the low level, day-to-day anxiety that buzzes in the background, but it isn’t strong enough to stop a panic attack the way xanax can,” wrote redditor WilliamMelvinHicks in a December discussion on Reddit.
Other redditors reported that too high of a dose of CBD can sometimes exacerbate anxiety. “That’s why [it’s] always good to start small and work yourself up,” wrote kiiinglouie, another redditor.
Though much is still waiting to be learned about CBD and anxiety, since CBD oil is legally available to consumers and has few side effects for most, it’s worth experimenting with hemp extracts to see if they can help you destress, too.
Let us know how you’re using CBD too, we’d love to hear your stories. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.