A pounding heart, sweaty palms, racing thoughts: For those living with an anxiety disorder, these unwelcome symptoms can make everyday life feel debilitating.
One in thirteen people around the world live with an anxiety disorder, making them the most common mental health disorder worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). For those living with anxiety, finding a safe method for managing symptoms is a critical concern.
Quick-acting anti-anxiety medication, such as Xanax and Valium, may offer instant relief but can become addictive. Long-range anxiety medications, such as Prozac, may help reduce symptoms over time, but don’t work for everyone.
Enter cannabidiol, better known as CBD. CBD has recently captured the spotlight as an alternative or complementary treatment for anxiety.
CBD: Snake oil or powerful anxiety treatment?
Clinical research on CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders has proliferated in recent years with accumulating evidence pointing to its therapeutic potential.
Although most studies on CBD are preclinical and use animal models, clinical studies using human participants are now emerging.
In a double-blind study from 2019, 37 Japanese teenagers with social anxiety disorder (SAD) received 300 mg of CBD oil or a placebo every day for four weeks. The teens were assessed with surveys used to diagnose and measure SAD symptoms. The anti-anxiety properties of CBD reduced symptoms aligned with the disorder, providing relief comparable to Paroxetine, a drug commonly used to treat the condition.
Interestingly, in the follow-up, nine of the seventeen teenagers who received the CBD intervention also declared that they had decided to seek some form of treatment. Teenagers with SAD rarely seek help due to the stigma surrounding the condition and for fear of interacting with therapists.
A 2019 retrospective case study reviewed outpatients at a mental health clinic in Fort Collins, Colorado. Forty-seven of the patients sampled had expressed concerns about anxiety. Over three months, the majority of patients were given 25 mg of CBD daily in addition to treatment.
After the first monthly assessment, 79.2% of patients experienced an improvement in anxiety. After two months, 78.1% of patients reported a further improvement compared with the previous month.
However, there were also patients who reported that the symptoms of their anxiety worsened after taking CBD—15.3% felt their anxiety had become exacerbated after the first month and 19.5% felt their anxiety had worsened further after the second month.
Another study, done in 2018, also suggests that CBD may heighten anxiety. It included a small sample of individuals with paranoid traits and found that CBD exacerbated anxiety among some of the participants. Anxiety was measured through symptoms such as cortisol concentration, heart rate, and systolic blood pressure.