CBD oil for anxiety relief — does it really work?
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
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.
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
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
- 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.
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.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1253627/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23298518