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Using CBD Oil for Anxiety: Does It Work?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a type of cannabinoid, a chemical found naturally in cannabis (marijuana and hemp) plants. Early research is promising regarding the ability of CBD oil to help relieve anxiety.

Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another type of cannabinoid, CBD doesn’t cause any feelings of intoxication or the “high” you may associate with cannabis.

Learn more about the potential benefits of CBD oil for anxiety, and whether it could be a treatment option for you.

The human body has many different receptors. Receptors are protein-based chemical structures that are attached to your cells. They receive signals from different stimuli.

CBD is thought to interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system, respectively.

The exact way CBD affects CB1 receptors in the brain isn’t fully understood. However, it may alter serotonin signals.

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, plays an important role in your mental health. Low serotonin levels are commonly associated with people who have depression. In some cases, not having enough serotonin may also cause anxiety.

The conventional treatment for low serotonin is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), such as sertraline (Zoloft) or fluoxetine (Prozac). SSRIs are only available by prescription.

Some people with anxiety may be able to manage their condition with CBD instead of an SSRI. However, you should talk to your doctor before making changes to your treatment plan.

Several studies point to the potential benefits of CBD for anxiety.

For generalized anxiety

For generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that CBD has been shown to reduce stress in animals such as rats.

Study subjects were observed as having lower behavioral signs of anxiety. Their physiological symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, also improved.

More research needs to be done, specifically on humans and GAD.

For other forms of anxiety

CBD may also benefit people with other forms of anxiety, such as social anxiety disorder (SAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It may help treat anxiety-induced insomnia as well.

In 2011, a study researched CBD’s effects on people with SAD. Participants were given an oral dose of 400 milligrams (mg) of CBD or a placebo. Those who received CBD experienced overall reduced anxiety levels.

Multiple recent studies have shown that CBD can help with PTSD symptoms, such as having nightmares and replaying negative memories. These studies have looked at CBD as both a standalone PTSD treatment as well as a supplement to traditional treatments like medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

For other neurological disorders

CBD has also been studied in other neurological disorders.

A 2017 literature review on CBD and psychiatric disorders concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to tout CBD as an effective treatment for depression.

The authors did find some evidence to suggest that CBD could help with anxiety disorders. However, these studies were uncontrolled. This means that the participants weren’t compared to a separate group (or “control”) that might have received a different treatment — or no treatment at all.

Based on their review, more human tests are needed to better understand how CBD works, what the ideal dosages should be, and if there are potential side effects or hazards.

A 2016 study found that CBD can have antipsychotic effects in people with schizophrenia. Moreover, CBD doesn’t cause the significant debilitating side effects associated with some antipsychotic drugs.

If you’re interested in trying CBD oil for your anxiety, talk to your doctor. They can help you figure out a starting dosage that’s right for you.

However, the nonprofit National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) does advise that very few commercially available products contain enough CBD to replicate the therapeutic effects seen in clinical trials.

In a 2018 study, male subjects received CBD before undergoing a simulated public speaking test. The researchers found that an oral dose of 300 mg, administered 90 minutes before the test, was enough to significantly reduce the speakers’ anxiety.

Members of the placebo group and study subjects who received 150 mg saw little benefit. The same was true for subjects who received 600 mg.

The study only looked at 57 subjects, so it was small. More research, including studies that look at female subjects, is needed to determine the appropriate dosage for people with anxiety.

CBD is generally considered safe. However, some people who take CBD may experience some side effects, including:

  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in weight

CBD may also interact with other medications or dietary supplements you’re taking. Exercise particular caution if you take medications, such as blood thinners, that come with a “grapefruit warning.” CBD and grapefruit both interact with enzymes that are important to drug metabolism.

One study on mice found that being gavaged with, or force-fed, CBD-rich cannabis extract increased their risk for liver toxicity. However, some of the study mice had been given extremely large doses of CBD.

You shouldn’t stop taking any medications you’re already using without talking to your doctor first. Using CBD oil may help your anxiety, but you could also experience withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking your prescription medications.

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • irritability
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • fogginess

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.

In some parts of the United States, CBD products are only allowed for specific medical purposes, such as the treatment of epilepsy. You may need to get a license from your doctor to be able to purchase CBD oil.

If cannabis is approved for medical use in your state, you may be able to purchase CBD oil online or in special cannabis clinics and dispensaries. Check out this guide to 10 of the best CBD oils on the market.

As research on CBD continues, more states may consider the legalization of cannabis products, leading to wider availability.

Find out what the research says about CBD oil and anxiety. Also get the facts on how it affects other disorders and its legal status.

I Took CBD Oil Every Day for My Anxiety—Here’s What Went Down

When I first learned about CBD oil, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. My mind immediately turned to weed and the unnerving experiences I’d had with heightened anxiety in college. For me, a person who’s already predisposed to overthinking, marijuana, no matter what the form, would typically put my mind into overdrive and result in a common yet dreaded side effect: Paranoia. But, let’s back up a bit. What even is CBD?

What Is CBD?

CBD is short for cannabidiol, which comes from the Cannabid sativa plant (also known as marijuana). It’s a naturally occurring substance used in oils and edibles to help calm and relax.

What is CBD

A bit of online digging led me to realize that the active ingredient in Charlotte’s Web Everyday Plus Hemp Oil, the product I’d been offered to test, was the chemical compound CBD, which stands for cannabidiol. Unlike THC, the other crucial compound in hemp and marijuana plants, CBD (when derived from the hemp plant) does not produce the psychoactive effects that make you feel “high”; instead, emerging science has hinted that CBD may actually ease anxiety, and therefore, makes you less likely to freak out.  

For example, one study comparing the effects of THC and CBD found that, while THC increased anxiety by activating the neurotransmitters involved in the “fight or flight” response, CBD actually repressed autonomic arousal—or the nervous system response associated with sudden increases in heart rate or respiration.   In other words, CBD may be ideal for people looking to relax and unwind.

While the science behind CBD’s effectiveness for treating anxiety, pain, and insomnia is still in its infancy,   Charlotte Figi’s inspiring story sounds promising. Figi, a 6-year-old girl diagnosed with a rare and resistant form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, was placed on hospice care and given a “do not resuscitate” order when her parents, desperate and frustrated with pharmaceutical medication, considered medical marijuana; specifically, a strain low in THC and high in CBD. Charlotte is now nearly seizure-free since she began supplementing with Charlotte Web’s CBD oil, which the brand named after Figi.

Legal and Safety Things To Know About CBD

The current CBD industry is like the internet’s early years. the Wild West. Legally, speaking, a Harvard Medical School blog post reads, “All 50 states have laws legalizing CBD with varying degrees of restriction, and while the federal government still considers CBD in the same class as marijuana, it doesn’t habitually enforce against it.”   With heightened interest around CBD, it’s important to note that because CBD is currently unregulated, it’s difficult to know what you’re getting (whether that’s a tincture—commonly referred to as CBD oil, which is often combined with a carrier oil like coconut oil—topical products like creams and balms, sprays, or capsules), despite product labels and brand promises, the blog post further reads. It’s also important to note that people experience CBD differently. For the most part, the National Institute of Medicine says that while most people can tolerate CBD, side effects do exist. They might include dry mouth, drowsiness, and reduced appetite, among others.  

That said, those interested in exploring the potential benefits of CBD should consult with their doctor (especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or currently taking medication) and be mindful of your dosage, writes Consumer Reports. And before you buy, Megan Villa, co-founder of the hemp-focused website and shop Svn Space, told Shape magazine to seek out a certificate of analysis. “Ask for a COA for the batch number of the product you have, since these products are made in batches,” she said. “You need to match the batch number to the COA that pertains to it.” Then, scan the report for potency (i.e. does the number of milligrams of CBD that the product label touts match the lab report?), contaminants and pesticides, and mold (which should live under the “Microbiological Testing” part of the report). Go a step further and note whether the testing lab is GMP (Good Manufacturing Principles) certified, and whether the lab is registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Shape magazine also suggests purchasing CBD products made from domestically-grown hemp, and reading up on the difference between full- and broad-spectrum and CBD isolate.

With that, I threw caution to the wind and asked for a sample. Here’s what happened—including what it feels like—when I took one full dropper of Charlotte’s Web’s Everyday Plus Hemp Oil in the mint chocolate flavor every morning for seven days.

My First Impression

It was actually a bad bout of jet lag after a trip to California that inspired me to finally test out the CBD oil (I’ll admit that my weed-based reservations kept me from trying it for the first few months). Knowing that the oil had also helped people with sleep issues, I squeezed one full dropper of the Everyday Plus oil onto my tongue, per the instructions, and waited.

Thirty minutes later, I was surprised by how subtle the effect was. While I expected a hazy nodding-off effect similar to melatonin’s, the oil simply relaxed my body ever so slightly—my heart stopped pounding against my chest, my legs stopped kicking beneath my sheets, my mind stopped racing. I wasn’t sure if it was the oil or the late hour, but eventually, physical relaxation gave way to mental relaxation, and I drifted off to sleep.

Reflecting the next morning, I was most surprised by the fact that I never felt “high” in any way—there was never a moment of It’s kicking in; I can feel it now like with pain medications or even anti-anxiety drugs. Considering it takes time, consistency, and the right dosage to experience the full effect, I continued taking the oil once a day for the next six days. Here’s what went down.

It Made Me Less Anxious and Edgy

Rather than overthinking a sternly worded email or analyzing a social interaction, I found it easier to recognize the irrationality of these thoughts and actually let them go.

While normally I’d be slightly tripped up by little things like an overly crowded subway car or a full inbox at work, the CBD oil seems to have taken the edge off of my anxiety a bit. Rather than overthinking a sternly worded email or analyzing a social interaction, I found it easier to recognize the irrationality of these thoughts and actually let them go. In some ways, I feel more like myself. With that said, I’ve still experienced some social anxiety when meeting new groups of people—I’d be interested to see what taking the full recommended dose would do.

I’m More Focused At Work

I work well under pressure, but being extremely busy at work has almost made me less productive—I’m constantly distracted by email, Slack, and the people around me, to the point where getting my work done becomes difficult. This week, however, I’ve found it easier to put my blinders on, block out all distractions (especially social distractions), and focus on one task at a time. I think this is partly related to the lessened anxiety—I feel more frazzled and off task when my anxiety is running high. It almost feels like a newfound sense of clarity and calm that enables me to focus.

I’m Falling Asleep Faster

I assume this is also a side effect of feeling less anxious, but I seem to fall asleep faster; within the 20-30-minute range rather than my normal 45 minutes to one hour (or longer). Not only do I seem to be skipping or at least shortening the whole tossing-and-turning phase of my sleep cycle, but I’m able to snap out of the overthinking that often keeps me up at night. Of course, there’s no telling whether a big life event would disrupt this newfound bliss, but I’d like to think it’s helped on a day-to-day basis.

The Verdict

Would I say that CBD oil has fundamentally changed my life? No. But per the Charlotte’s Web website, this is the typical first experience. “Anyone who has ever started a new vitamin or supplement routine knows the short answer to how long it takes to kick in is—’it depends.’ For many newcomers, they’re not sure what to imagine, or some anticipate a huge change right away. For most of us, though, dietary supplements take time.”

With that said, I’m definitely intrigued enough by the subtle effects to continue taking the oil and to possibly up the dosage to the recommended two full droppers of the 30mL bottle per day. Plus, I take comfort in knowing that it’s an all-natural product that’s responsibly grown on family farms in Colorado. Something that’s safe, legal, requires no prescription, and makes me less anxious, less scatterbrained, and more focused? I’m definitely on board.

Explore the World of CBD

Go deep on the subject of CBD with this book that includes case studies, interviews with doctors, an overview of the latest cannabis research, and how scientists are exploring cannabis for various medical uses. There is also an explainer about the difference between CBD products made from industrial hemp versus in a lab, and products made from the whole marijuana plant.

Charlotte’s Web inaugural CBD oil product comes in two flavors; Olive Oil and Mint Chocolate. It’s also its most potent. According to its website, its Original Formula Hemp Extract Oil comes with “the most hemp extract and cannabidiol (CBD) content per serving.”

Gretchen Lidicker puts a lifestyle spin on the world of CBD as the author draws on the “knowledge of leaders in the health and wellness world” to explain why CBD has become a top beauty and wellness trend for top athletes and celebrities. The book also includes recipes and recommendations for how to choose a top-quality CBD product.

This travel-friendly roll-on is packed with CBD and fragrant essential oils, including lavender, bergamot, and chamomile, for an easy de-stress quick fix. The result? “That elusive feeling of wakeful calm,” reads the Sagely Naturals website.

With this book, CBD is explained from A to Z and breaks down the good, bad, and ugly of a fledgling industry that is poised for rapid growth. CBD: 101 Things You Need to Know About CBD Oil covers what it is, why people take it, who it’s for (and who it isn’t for), its myriad forms, and more.

Charlotte’s Web’s body cream combines aloe, coconut oil, and shea butter with 300 mg of CBD per ounce. It’s also available in an unscented version, and both are made with GMO-free and sustainably grown ingredients.

Sagely Naturals’s Relief and Recovery Capsules includes 10 mg of CBD per capsule, with the addition of turmeric and vitamin E.

Charlotte’s Web’s Extra Strength Capsules feature 18 mg of CBD per capsule. The website offers capsules as a convenient and precise way to take CBD—on the go, stash them in your gym bag, pocket, etc.

One editor explains how she took CBD oil every day for a week to help her anxiety, plus the difference between CBD and weed.