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CBD & Anxiety: Does It Work?

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

CBD & Your Mental Health

America has a mental health problem. In 2018, Barnes & Noble reported a 25% increase over a year in book sales related to anxiety. Throw in a pandemic, economic depression, and riots, and you get a recipe for a full-blown mental health crisis.

If you're feeling more anxious than usual lately or if the stress and anxiety are putting you over the edge, you're not alone. There are ways to find peace again without spending hundreds of dollars a month on therapy sessions and prescription medications that may or may not work.

CBD is an all-natural way to ease anxious feelings and reduce stress. It can also help you sleep better at night and soothe sore muscles after an intense workout. Together, these steps can improve your overall wellness and help your body and mind fight anxiety, depression, and reduce stress.

What is Hemp-Derived CBD?

CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is one of at least 545 plant chemicals found in the hemp and cannabis plants. Although your first thought of hemp may be the fibers used in place of cotton for environmentally friendly clothing, the plant offers much more. Originating in Central Asia, civilizations have been cultivating hemp for over 12,000 years. In North America, people have been growing the plant since the early 1600s.

Everything from the roots to the flowers can be used. CBD and the other compounds are separated from the stalk, stems, leaves, and flowers to create the popular and potent oil. After harvesting the plants, crafters use a safe and effective supercritical C02 extraction process to remove the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other natural chemicals. This isn't a new concept. It's a common solution brands use to extract plant compounds for essential oils and some cooking ingredients. The method is completely safe and leaves behind no residual solvents.

CBD is fat-soluble. The compounds are combined with a carrier oil, such as hempseed, grapeseed, olive, and MCT oil to deliver the CBD to your bloodstream, which carries the hemp-based products to the areas of the body with cannabinoid receptors.

CBD & The Endocannabinoid System

CBD isn't a new concept. It was originally isolated in 1940, over 20 years before the other well-known compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC.) Researchers couldn't put these two together until the early 1990s when they confirmed the existence of the endocannabinoid system or ECS.

The ECS is a complex cell-signaling system in humans and all mammals that maintain balance throughout the body. It's composed of endocannabinoids (internal cannabinoids as opposed to plant-based ones), cannabinoid receptors (that interact with internal and external cannabinoids), and the enzymes that break down the cannabinoids after they've completed their tasks.

Research about the ECS verifies that the system regulates many vital body functions, including how you respond to stress. It also helps manage the areas of the brain that control mood regulation, which is helping researchers understand more about how it may assist psychosis patients.

A 2018 study in the journal Psychological Medicine, fMRI scans were used to review the brains of 13 people with a psychosis diagnosis after taking either a single dose of CBD or a placebo. The study's senior author, Sagnik Bhattacharyya, a professor from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, & Neuroscience at Kings College London, explained to Psych Central,

"Our study provides important insight into which areas of the brain CBD targets . . . "It is the first time research has scanned the brains of people with a diagnosis of psychosis who have taken CBD and, although the sample is small, the results are compelling in that they demonstrate that CBD influences those very areas of the brain that have been shown to have unusual activity in people with psychosis."

CBD for Anxiety

Anxiety is the mind and body's response to stress. Few people are completely stress-free. Chronic stress has increasingly been connected to negative health effects. It also leaves you more vulnerable to health issues by decreasing the strength of your immune system.

When looking at the clinical results of studies about the hemp-derived oils and anxiety, you must watch for what cannabinoids the studies are discussing. The majority focus on THC and only mention CBD in the passing. However, that doesn't mean that the claims that CBD reduces anxious feelings and lowers stress levels are exaggerated. Medical News Today, a well-respected online news source for health data writes,

"People interested in managing their anxiety with CBD oil should look exclusively at research on cannabidiol, not generalized studies of medical marijuana. Although there are fewer studies on cannabidiol, specifically, the preliminary research is promising."

The publication goes on to name several small studies, mostly involving social anxiety , which is a common mental health issue that will most likely increase in prevalence as more public spaces open back up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One journal article took it a bit further than the other studies. After an exhaustive review of over 120 peer-reviewed papers, it concluded there was preclinical evidence to support CBD's positive results for patients with a wide range of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

  • Panic disorder (PD)

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

The study also noted that CBD helped these patients with fewer sedative effects than other treatments.

Depression & CBD

There is ample research showing how CBD can reduce anxiety stress. What about CBD and depression? Just as anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand, so does CBD. Research tends to combine studies involving both. This is mostly because heightened levels of anxiety cause depression, and prolonged depressive periods can increase anxiety. Additionally, stress can worsen both.

A 2018 study in the journal Molecular Neurobiology found impressive results using mice. Just 30 minutes after a single dose was administered, the researchers saw acute antidepressant effects. They also found during that time an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Referred to as BDNF in the paper.). This protein, also found in humans, plays a huge role in mood regulation.


CBD and THC are two of the 545 plant chemicals found in hemp. While many people know that THC causes the "high" that recreational users seek, CBD is the opposite. It has very little psychoactive properties, but they don't react with the body the same way as THC. Instead, in large quantities, CBD can completely negate the effects of THC.

The bottom line is that research is available for both compounds showing their healing abilities and potential to boost moods and reduce pain however they are still separate compounds with many different purposes.

Is CBD Legal?

Yes! In 2018, the U.S. Congress updated and reauthorized the Farm Bill, which legalized hemp cultivation throughout the country. This change added a legal status to all hemp-derived compounds, apart from THC. The mind-altering cannabinoid is still illegal on a federal level, and hemp products must contain less than 3% of THC.

Hemp extracts with less than 3% THC won't produce a "high." However, they may lead to a positive drug screening for some consumers. To avoid this problem, consider choosing broad-spectrum CBD products, rather than full-spectrum ones that include all 545 compounds, including the 3% THC. Broad-spectrum oils go through a second manufacturing process that removes all traces of the notorious THC. Additionally, many brands offer a CBD isolate, which is 99.9% pure.

Nonetheless, before jumping to the broad-spectrum or isolate, there are a few benefits of full-spectrum oil. Many cannabinoid experts theorize that all the compounds in hemp serve a purpose. Also known as the entourage theory, it hypothesizes that they work better together to provide improved results with fewer side effects.

As mentioned, hemp has over 500 plant chemicals, and at least 200 are terpenes. These compounds aren't unique to hemp. There are over 20,000 known terpenes found throughout nature. Other molecules in the plant include flavonoids, additional cannabinoids, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.

Dr. Ethan Russo, a cannabinoid specialist, writes in one of his most referred to papers in the British Journal of Pharmacology:

"Terpenoids are quite potent and affect animal and even human behavior when inhaled from ambient air at serum levels in the single digits ng·mL−1. They display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts."

How to Take CBD

There are multiple ways to use CBD, which may be why it's so confusing to understand. All products start off as an oil. A sublingual tincture is the simplest way to take hemp-derived items. These come with a dosing dropper, and you take each

serving under your tongue. The oil absorbs into your bloodstream through the membranes and gets to work quickly. Most people experience a reduction in symptoms in as little as 10 to 15 minutes.

A tincture has a duration of four to six hours, depending on the strength and dose.

Keep in mind that plant extracts aren't very tasty and may be difficult for some people to hold under their tongue for three to five minutes until it fully absorbs. In these cases, you should consider a flavored oil. These are available in natural flavors, such as orange, lemon, and mint.

Edibles, such as candies, honey sticks, and even some drinks, are infused with oil. As you may have guessed, these taste much better than a standard tincture. However, don't expect quick relief with these. Edibles must go through digestion and vary between 45 minutes to 90 minutes to work, depending on the user's metabolism. Although they won't start as fast as the oil, they have the same duration, lasting from four to six hours, depending on the dose and strength.

Another option that's popular for immediate relief for anxiety and stress is vaping. To vape oil, make sure you only use products made for vaporization. You'll also need special tools to use this method. Choose either a handheld vaping device that uses pre-filled CBD cartridges or an instrument with a tank that you add CBD e-liquid or vape juice to.

You can also smoke or vape hemp flowers in some states. Also referred to as buds, they are growing in popularity for their low cost and quick response. Additionally, they're considered by many a safer alternative to smoking tobacco products. To avoid the dangers associated with smoking, consider using a dry flower vaporizer instead of rolling it or placing it in a pipe.

Vaporizing or smoking CBD is growing in popularity. These products will work nearly instantly or within a minute or two of your first puff. However, there is a downside, vaping and smoking CBD won't last as long as tinctures or edibles do. Instead, it fades away after 60 to 90 minutes of your last puff.

Most consumers enjoy this method because it's excellent for situational anxiety. For example, when you get nervous before entering a store or heading into a work meeting. Just take a few puffs of your vape pen and feel better before you even walk in the door.

Some users combine the two methods by taking a dose of oil or an edible for the long duration but starting off with a few puffs of a vape pen to reduce stress, anxiety, and feelings of depression quickly. At the same time, they wait for the edible or the oil to kick in.

Finding the Right CBD Dose

CBD isn't like traditional treatments, and it doesn't have a standard dose for each ailment. Also, how you use it can change the amount taken. For all methods of delivery, medical professionals advise people to "start low and go slow”.

Of course always take the proper precautions and consult your physician and any other health care professionals before using any CBD products. Especially if you are taking any other prescriptions or are pregnant.

Follow the dosage recommendations on the product. If you aren’t sure then for oils, tinctures, and edibles, a good starting dose for adults 18 and older dose is between 5MG and 15MG per dose. These serving sizes are also based on weight. Slowly increase the dose from 1MG to 5MG per dosage until it reduces your symptoms with the least amount of adverse reactions.

Peter Buongiorno, a naturopathic physician, and licensed acupuncturist, in an article for Psychology Today, explains:

"I usually recommend that patients start with 15mg of CBD once or twice a day. This oil is best taken with food. Instead of self-prescribing, I strongly recommend you work with a practitioner knowledgeable in natural medicine who is experienced with CBD, especially if you are taking other medications and/or if you have mental health symptoms that could be severe."

Side Effects of CBD

Very few things that you ingest are free from side effects. What impresses medical professionals about CBD is the mild nature of its adverse reactions. Unlike some pharmaceuticals for reducing anxiety and depression, the negative things about CBD won't kill you, damage organs, and it's not addictive. Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a contributor for Harvard Health Publishing and proponent of cannabinoid-based medicine, states:

"Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue, and irritability. CBD can increase the level in your blood of the blood thinner coumadin, and it can raise levels of certain other medications in your blood by the exact same mechanism that grapefruit juice does."

If you do take too much, it's possible that these adverse reactions could worsen. For most users, the only danger of an extra dose or two is a longer nights' rest than they anticipated. To avoid excess side effects from CBD, try to use products with a higher potency. The more potent the products are, such as a 1200MG tincture instead of a 600MG one, the fewer adverse responses your body will incur.

Most CBD items only have a duration of four to six hours, so any discomfort or excess sleepiness will pass.

Cannabinoids show great promise for naturally relieving anxiety, reducing stress, boosting mood, and improving your overall health.

To get the full benefit of the popular and exciting plant-based supplement, add it to a comprehensive wellness routine. Eat healthy and nutritious foods that won't increase anxious feelings. Get regular exercise, including vigorous aerobics or running to give the heart a full workout. Stay hydrated. And sleep seven to nine hours nightly to let your mind and body rest.

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