Have you ever driven down the street in any city and noticed all the signs from stores marketing CBD? CBD is so popular you can now find it in coffee shops, grocery stores, and even gas stations.
A big reason for the boom in CBD’s popularity is its wide variety of benefits, none more highly touted than anti-anxiety. But what does the science actually say about using CBD for anxiety? In this article, I am going to cover the basics of CBD so you can determine whether or not you can depend on this supplement for reducing your anxiety and improving your overall quality of life.
What is CBD?
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is the second most abundant active compound found in cannabis behind tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC. The biggest difference between THC and CBD is that CBD is not psychoactive and THC is. To put it more simply, CBD does
The unique characteristics of CBD are what allow it to insert such a wide range of benefits. The focus of this article is anxiety but check out another article I wrote covering the other benefits of CBD and how it works.
CBD & Anxiety Science
Anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million Americans and 260 million people worldwide and this is a stat from before COVID and the latest presidential election. While there are prescription options used to treat this condition, these drugs are often only mildly and temporarily effective, lead to dependencies, and create many additional side effects that in some cases are worse than the anxiety itself.
This is why so many people are turning to CBD for its potential anti-anxiety benefits but does the science say this can actually work?
While there has been more research done in animals than humans when it comes to CBD, there is a fair amount of evidence supporting the use of CBD for anxiety. A review of the available research published in 2020 concluded that, “CBD has a promising role as an alternative therapy in the management of anxiety disorders.”(*)
“Promising” is one thing, but when it comes down to it, does CBD actually work? Research suggests so:
A study published in 2019 in 72 adults with anxiety found that nearly 80% reported lower anxiety scores after taking CBD (*).
Another study in healthy adults found reduced perceived anxiety from CBD and found that CBD actually led to changes in brain activity associated with less anxiety(*).
A study in subjects with social anxiety disorder (SAD) also found that supplementing with CBD led to changes in brain blood flow and reductions in perceived anxiety(*).
CBD has also been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety in a few specific practical settings. One of my favorites is a study in men that found CBD before public speaking led to reduced anxiety(*). A study that makes anyone who dreads talking in front of audiences’ ears perk up.
Another favorite study of mine found that CBD can alleviate THC induced anxiety(*) or in simpler terms, helping you when you come back down a bit if you get too high.
It is important to point out that while this research is very promising, the studies are mostly using tests that evaluate perceived reductions in anxiety according to anxiety assessment scales. The issue with this is that the improvements experienced could be due to the placebo effect.
Several of the studies cited are set up in a “double-blinded” fashion which takes this into account by preventing the subjects and the researchers from knowing if they are taking the CBD or the placebo. Regardless, even in the instances where the placebo effect is producing positive results, does it really matter if in the end someone feels less anxious after taking CBD?
Putting the placebo effect aside, it is important to point out that some of the research presented above reported physiological changes to the brain from CBD and additional research has found that CBD can reduce heart rate and blood pressure (**) suggesting that there is more going on than just the placebo effect.
How Much CBD Should I Take for Anxiety?
If the last section has you thinking that you want to give CBD a shot, your next question is likely on dosing. The truth is that much of the research on dosing is still up in the air with benefits being found anywhere from 6-400 milligrams (*). A review of the research concluded that “more studies with standardized approaches to dosing and clinical outcome measurements are needed to determine the appropriate dosing strategy for CBD and its place in therapy (*).”
While the exact dose for anxiety is unclear, research has displayed that too much CBD could render it ineffective(*). The public speaking study displayed a bell-shaped dose-response to CBD which looks like this:
A bell-shaped dose-response curve means that not enough CBD and too much CBD are both ineffective and that the benefit is found somewhere in the middle. The sweet spot.
A published review of additional studies on the topic agree that “the anxiolytic effects of CBD presented a bell-shaped dose-response curve, with anxiolytic effects observed at moderate but not higher doses (*).
Due to the variance in the research, it is recommended to experiment with CBD to find what dose is optimal for you and your goal. My approach is always to find the minimal effective dose and sticking to that to better preserve the benefits long-term.
When Should I Take CBD for Anxiety?
Research has found that CBD can reduce anxiety just 90 minutes after dosing (*) suggesting that it can be used preventatively when you know an opportunity for anxiety is approaching or in response to feelings of anxiety.
We could no doubt benefit from more research on CBD for anxiety to better understand its effects, mechanisms, and optimal dosing protocols. But the research we do have alongside a mountain of anecdotal evidence suggests CBD could be a great tool to help manage anxiety. Given the safety of CBD, it’s certainly worth a shot.
I use CBD to help me get in workflow mode and to help manage stressful or anxious situations when they arise. My go-to brand is Santa Cruz Medicinals because they make clean products that combine CBD with other great functional ingredients. I like the CBD MCT oil, CBD coconut oil, and their Calm Caps featuring some of my favorite relaxing ingredients like ashwagandha and l-theanine.