CBD Oil for Anxiety: Does it Really Work? 

By  Dr. Mike Hansen

The oldest documented medicinal use of Cannabis is in The Vedas, the Hindu texts of ancient India that date back to 2,000 B.C. In those texts, cannabis is regarded as a sacred plant in whose leaves live a guardian angel. Interestingly, the sages who compiled The Vedas believed the plant had the power to release its users from anxiety and thereby open the gates to happiness. 

CBD Oil for Anxiety

Modern science has allowed us to focus more narrowly on the different properties of the cannabis plant. In isolating Cannabidiol, or CBD, the plant’s psychologically therapeutic qualities have been separated from the sometimes anxiety-producing effects of it the other major cannabinoid, THC, whose more psychoactive profile creates a greater range of impact among users.

If there is one single benefit of CBD that is most agreed upon today, it’s the same as it was 4,000 years ago —  its effectiveness of CBD oil for anxiety. The difference is that now anxiety is a rampant condition, with 40 million Americans suffering from some form of anxiety disorder.  This in part helps explain CBD’s huge growth in popularity: CBD oil alleviates anxiety, and does so without the many side effects that users of anti-anxiety medications such as Select Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) as Zoloft and Prozac sometimes experience, including dizziness, dry mouth, drowsiness, sexual appetite problems, and restlessness.

CBD is commonly known as the form of cannabis that doesn’t get you “high” in the sense of being intoxicated. It is also part of the plant that most reliably provides a sense of calm without any negative side effects. An emerging body of scientific literature backs this up.

A 2010 study examined brain scans of people taking CBD and found that cannabidiol could reduce symptoms of people with social anxiety disorder (SAD). The scans showed changes in blood flow to the regions of the brain linked to feelings of anxiety. CBD not only made participants feel better in an immediate sense, but also showed a systematic change in the way their brains responded to anxiety. 

Multiple studies for CBD oil for anxiety have used a tried and true source of anxiety among many people, public speaking, and found that CBD greatly reduced the social anxiety associated with it.

One study in 2011 used stimulated models of public speaking, while another in 2018 gave varyingly large doses of CBD—150 mg to 600 mg—to speakers engaged in actual public speaking events.  “Confirming several preclinical and clinical studies, our results indicate that acute doses of CBD can decrease anxiety,” researchers in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry wrote.

A more overarching analysis of several studies completed in 2015 concluded that CBD oil is an effective treatment for several forms of anxiety, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A 2016 case study found that CBD reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and relieved anxiety-provoked sleep disorder in a child with a history of trauma.

In the most comprehensive studies so far undertaken, in the Journal of Neurotherapeutics, researchers several different preclinical trials, epidemiological studies, and other experiments using human subjects. The researchers arrived at a consensus: in virtually every study conducted, it was found that CBD was able to act as a stand-in for other anti-anxiety medication but without out a single side effect.

Some of the studies didn’t dig into the mechanics of how CBD achieved such effects, but it was uniformly found that CBD taken in substantial doses—300 to 600 mg—was able to help mitigate issues arising from anxiety. CBD worked as well as or better than all existing anti-anxiety medication, making it a useful option to consider for those that struggle with chronic anxiety. It was close to a definitive statement regarding CBD and its use for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

“We found that existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely,” the study concluded. “Overall, current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders.”

It’s worth noting that studies so far have mainly focused on the short-term immediate impacts of CBD use. Since CBD’s use and study are still so relatively new, the impact of its long-term use is not yet known. Still, most CBD research points strongly in a very positive direction: the underlying brain science behind these studies show not just how CBD is effective, but why. 

Similar to SSRIs, but more inexpensively and without side effects, CBD appears to increase the brain’s levels of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function. Additionally, CBD increases the presence of anandamide, the so-called “bliss molecule” known to promote feelings of well-being and happiness.

A very promising area of research seems to indicate that CBD encourages something called “hippocampal neurogenesis” —  literally, regrowth in the area of the brain that plays a key role in memory formation and cognition.

All signs show a strong likelihood that CBD has the potential to more safely, cheaply, and effectively address anxiety. Modern research thus seems to reaffirm the ancient knowledge of The Vedas. According to legend, Lord Shiva wandered off into the fields after an argument with his family. Exhausted from the anxiety of the conflict, he is said to have laid down under a leafy plant. He awoke hungrily, and ate some of those cannabis leaves and was instantly lifted from his worries. Thereafter he became known as the Lord of Bhang.

Doctor Mike Hansen, MD
Internal Medicine | Pulmonary Disease | Critical Care Medicine

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