Growing numbers of people claim that cannabidiol (CBD) alleviates anxiety and reduces stress. But what’s the evidence, and how might CBD help? If you struggle with symptoms of stress or anxiety, or if you want to focus on overall wellness, you might want to learn more about how CBD could be a potentially practical tool to support your needs.
What Is Anxiety?
Everyone struggles with anxiety from time to time. It can occur on a spectrum of intensity. Anxiety can be a normal response to a stressful situation, in which case these feelings should subside once the stressor passes. On the other hand, if you frequently feel panicked, uneasy, stressed, or fearful without an obvious stressor, then you could have an anxiety disorder that should be evaluated by a doctor or mental health professional.
If you suspect that you’re dealing with garden-variety anxiety, which can cause occasional insomnia, worry, problems concentrating, or irritability, then you might be wondering what steps you can take to help yourself feel better. Although many people are turning to CBD as a natural way to soothe anxiety symptoms, can it deliver?
The Jury Is (Mostly) Still Out
In an article for the Harvard Health Newsletter, Dr. Peter Grinspoon explains that CBD is still undergoing research for its potential anxiety-reducing benefits. However, the available research appears promising.
One large clinical study at a psychiatric clinic examined CBD’s effect on anxiety and sleep, with results demonstrating a significant improvement in anxiety scores. Individuals experienced a noticeable improvement in sleep quality during the first month of CBD usage, but the overall sleep scores then fluctuated over time.
A clinical review examined the results of CBD for anxiety in many preclinical (meaning mainly animal models) and clinical studies (in humans) and concluded that existing evidence seems to support the benefits of CBD for anxiety. However, it also indicates that more studies are needed to specifically examine factors such as the most effective routes of administration and long-term safety and efficacy.
CBD vs. THC
CBD is a type of chemical known as a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, which is the compound that gets you high, CBD does not have psychoactive effects.
Your body has an endocannabinoid system that manufactures its cannabinoids, known as endogenous cannabinoids. These chemicals serve a range of functions, such as providing pain relief and managing inflammation. Exogenous cannabinoids get made outside of the body, mainly in plants like cannabis, from which CBD gets extracted. You need to ingest these forms of CBD to experience benefits.
How CBD Could Help
CBD could help reduce anxiety and improve anxiety- or stress-related insomnia. CBD may help anxiety due to its regulating effect on the limbic system, which is your body’s fight-or-flight system that helps you respond to stress. CBD may also have a calming impact on certain brain receptors activated during times of stress and anxiety.
Some research has shown that 300 mg is the optimal dosage for achieving anxiety reduction, but more evidence is needed to substantiate this claim. Generally speaking, the best way to use CBD is to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Full vs. Broad-Spectrum CBD
It’s vital to be aware that CBD products are available in full-spectrum and broad-spectrum formulations. Full-spectrum products can contain up to 0.3% THC by law (it’s not enough to get high); the inclusion of THC may contribute to the entourage effect, the synergistic, combined effect of all compounds in the cannabis plant.
Broad-spectrum products should contain no THC but contain other compounds that may also play a role in the entourage effect. Generally speaking, the type of CBD product that’s best for your needs can be a matter of personal preference and trial and error. You can try out different products and see what works for you.
Points to Consider
Since CBD products aren’t yet federally regulated, it’s important to buy your products from a reputable seller who participates in third-party testing. You should be able to see a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) on retailer websites.
CBD is generally considered safe but could interact with certain medications.
As with any supplement, you should inform your doctor if you use CBD and take any medications, herbs, or over-the-counter products. You can also use the ScriptSave® WellRx “Ask a Pharmacist” support feature for any questions you may have. In the end, CBD may not be a cure-all for anxiety, but it may be an option to ask your doctor about.
Stacy Mosel, LMSW, is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, and substance abuse specialist. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a Master of Social Work degree in 2002. She has extensive training in child and family therapy and in the identification and treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Currently, she is focusing on writing in the fields of mental health and addictions, drawing on her prior experiences as an employee assistance program counselor, individual and family therapist, and assistant director of a child and family services agency.