CBD oil for anxiety relief — does it really work?

woman who has reduced her anxiety with CBD oil relaxing on the beach

By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD

It’s always exciting when a compound from the world of natural medicine suddenly makes a breakthrough into mainstream acceptance and use. And right now, that moment has arrived for CBD, a substance found naturally in hemp.

CBD oil — technically known as Cannabidiol — is a hot topic at the moment. Lots of health claims are made for it, and studies by the score are underway to substantiate them. But the earliest claims were that CBD oil helped relieve anxiety — and without side effects.

I actually first learned about CBD oil from patients of mine. They were convinced it had helped them dial back stress and anxiety. So I’ve spent time reviewing the most recent studies. And their experiences are corroborated by a growing body of scientific research.

What is CBD? Let’s clear things up.

CBD is a type of cannabinoid, a plant chemical found in hemp.

I know what you’re thinking! So let me clear this up right away: yes, CBD is derived from hemp, but no, it does NOT make you “high.” It’s true that hemp is the cousin of marijuana, and marijuana contains THC, which is psychoactive. But hemp is the poor cousin: it has nearly zero THC; that’s why its main prior use was to make rope.

Naturally, CBD that is derived from hemp also has nearly zero THC. Some manufacturers even certify their CBD oil has no THC whatsoever...more on that later.

Professional woman raising her hand to ask a question

CBD was first identified and extracted in 1940. It wasn’t until decades later, however, that researchers discovered the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a series of signaling receptors that help regulate mood, immune-system responses (very important in the inflammatory cascade), sleep, pain and more. CBD and other cannabinoids interact with ECS receptors, influencing messages sent to the nervous system, organs and cells. 

How CBD works for anxiety and stress relief

We have a lot to learn about how CBD acts in the body, particularly how it may work to reduce stress and anxiety. But from what is known, the CBD molecule works in a number of different ways to restore calm:

  • CBD helps regulate and balance brain activity in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex — two parts of the brain involved in anxiety.
  • CBD interacts with receptors that regulate serotonin, helping to make more of the mood-regulating chemical available for the body to use — naturally!
  • Bottle of cannabis oil

  • CBD stimulates the renewal and growth of brain cells (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with emotions, motivation and memory. Chronic stress and severe depression can cause the hippocampus to shrink. As research has shown, CBD and other cannabinoid activity may protect the hippocampus from the damaging effects of prolonged depression and stress — and possibly reverse them.
  • CBD seems to provide specific help for people dealing with social anxiety. A Brazilian study of adults with social anxiety found that after consuming CBD, participants reported feeling less anxious — often significantly so. This was backed up by brain scans that showed cerebral blood flow patterns consistent with an anti-anxiety effect.

Another study corroborated this finding that CBD helps with social anxiety. CBD helped sufferers deal with a simulated public speaking test. Those who took CBD before getting up to speak reported feeling less anxious and more comfortable. In addition to these self-reported benefits, objective indicators of anxiety — like heart rate and blood pressure — also responded favorably to CBD use.

Obviously we can’t say that CBD oil is a panacea for anxiety – there’s no such thing. There are many forms of anxiety, some very serious, and the CBD studies are early-stage. But the initial results are encouraging, especially given the apparent safety and relative lack of side effects.

Yes, so far the adverse side effects appear minimal

Some studies have reported mild side effects when using CBD, such as diarrhea. The rates of such side effects are low and they seem to readily resolve once CBD usage is stopped. Of course, we always recommend that anyone regularly using any over the counter supplement or medication keep their doctor informed, and stop using it immediately if side effects develop.

Be forewarned — how you choose your CBD may be the critical factor

You’ve probably seen CBD show up at your health food store as a CBD oil supplement or in CBD oil-infused chocolates and other edibles. But not all CBD oils are the same — far from it! There’s a lot you need to know before you jump in and get started.

bar of chocolate that contains CBD oil

The most important issues are how the CBD is sourced and extracted. Look for CBD that comes from organic hemp and uses a CO2 extraction process. (Some makers use butane or solvents, which are cheaper extraction agents — but not something you want in your body!)

Some forms of CBD may contain trace amounts of THC — well under 1% — but that may be a concern, especially if you have a job that requires drug testing. The best manufacturers use an extraction process that leaves even those trace amounts behind. Look for CBD labeled THC-free with certified test results available to back up this claim. Keep in mind that reputable brands are extremely transparent about how their CBD product is made —and what it contains.

As I’ve seen, and maybe as you’ve heard from your friends or experienced for yourself, CBD’s ability to relieve stress and anxiety can sometimes feel like nothing short of a miracle.

I like to think of it this way — in our stressed-out world where it often feels like anti-anxiety prescription medications are the only answer, it’s nice to know that nature has given us a way to access blissful calm.

If you’re suffering from everyday anxiety, read our article on three steps to calm anxiety and feel more peaceful.
References

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817535/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604171/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1253627/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23298518

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20829306

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21307846