Does CBD Really Work for Anxiety?
Updated: Sep 20
Since the legalization of cannabis,CBD products have hit the market in a big way. Marketed as a solution for everything from muscle aches to insomnia, there seems to be a new CBD product every time you turn around. But one thing that we’re really interested in is this claim: Can CBD oil really eliminate anxiety symptoms?
Anxiety goes beyond just nervousness or worrying thoughts. Many people with anxiety experience physical symptoms, including heart palpitations, shakiness, sweating, dizziness, and muscle tension or twitching. Heightened anxiety can lead to panic attacks, altered daily routines, and make it difficult for the person experiencing it to function regularly. Long-term anxiety puts the body under chronic stress and can lead to further health complications down the road. And it’s incredibly common: Up to 18% of the population is dealing with anxiety at any given time.
So it’s no wonder that more and more people are turning to CBD for relief.
What is CBD?
CBD is short for cannabidiol, one of the active chemical compounds found in cannabis. While most people associate cannabis with THC, the compound that alters your state of mind, CBD has no psychoactive effects - it doesn’t produce a “high” at all. In fact, many CBD products are derived from hemp, not marijuana. Hemp is a cannabis plant that produces minimal amounts of THC but higher levels of other cannabinoids (like CBD). While hemp and marijuana are technically both cannabis, licensed hemp growers are regulated to only produce plants with minimal, trace amounts of THC. CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, as well as other receptors in the brain. It has been shown to lower inflammation, decrease pain, and treat many types of seizure disorders. While you can find CBD in everything from food and drinks to bath bombs, the most common form of CBD is CBD oil or CBD gummies.
What the Science Says
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of research on CBD oil and how it impacts anxiety specifically. In the United States, growing hemp was illegal until 2018, making research particularly difficult (in Canada, hemp cultivation has been legal since 1994, selling CBD oil outside of medical use was prohibited until 2018 as well).
Since legalization, however, the science has been rushing to catch up, and early research looks very promising. One review of the available studies said that the evidence “strongly supports” CBD as a treatment for many anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The research suggests that CBD interacts with receptors in the brain that regulate fear and anxiety, as well as serotonin receptors.
A study done in New Zealand in 2020 followed almost 400 adults who were given a CBD prescription. After three weeks, 70% of people reported satisfaction with the treatment, with many people saying it helped lessen anxiety and depression symptoms and helped them manage their day to day lives better. Many of the respondents also reported better sleep quality, and improved appetite. A study done on the effects of CBD used to treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found that the CBD lowered anxiety and lessened sleep problems in those suffering with PTSD. Additionally, the CBD seemed to help the processing of aversive memories that accompany PTSD. This makes CBD a very promising potential treatment for people with post-traumatic stress, for whom psychiatric medications are often not an effective treatment.
What the People Say
Anecdotally, you don’t have to look far to find reports of people singing the praises of CBD for anxiety. Many personal experiences have been posted online - from social media and reddit to sites like Business Insider and Byrdie.
The CBD experience can be hard to parse: Most people don’t feel any different after taking it (though some feel drowsy or tired). One personal experience article describes the author’s disappointment until she got some advice from her roommate: “Focus on what you don’t feel.” From there, she realized that the constant nervous flutter in her stomach had subsided. Unlike anti-anxiety medication, CBD does not have a sedating effect or an initial wash of euphoria: sometimes you will notice a sense of calm, but for the most part, what you will notice is that your symptoms of anxiety - tense muscles, a racing heart, shaking hands or however it effects you - slip away quietly. The bottom line is, the effects of CBD on anxiety are often subtle. Rarely will it ever cause an effect; instead, it removes. From personal experience, taking CBD for anxiety makes you feel exactly the way you felt before - just this time, without the racing heart, shaking hands, or sense of unease that accompanies chronic anxiety.
Is CBD Safe?
While long-term research is lacking, no clinical evidence has appeared to suggest the possibility of dangerous side effects as a result of CBD. In fact, CBD has little to no side effects at all, especially when compared to medication. There’s no risk of dependence, which can’t be said for anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals.
At higher doses, CBD can make the user feel sleepy or just a little tired - but whether that’s a bug or a feature is up to you. CBD has been shown to help with onset and quality of sleep. Since sleep can be a struggle for those with anxiety that may keep them up at night, this is often a welcome effect. If you don’t want the tiredness, cutting back on your dose should help. Lower doses still have anti-anxiety benefits without the urge to sleep.
The most common side effect of CBD being reported is nausea, although this also mostly occurs at higher doses and may be an effect of the carrier oil if taking it in this form, and not the CBD itself. If you’re experiencing stomach discomfort with CBD, try finding a product that uses a different carrier oil or taking it as a gummy with food.
Our favourite way to take CBD is to put it in homemade CBD gummies - which are quicker and easier to make than you might think! If the nausea is an issue, you can add ginger to your CBD gummies to settle your stomach.