CBD Oil for Anxiety: Information, Treatment, Effectiveness & Studies

Girl Laying on Couch Stressed

What is Anxiety?

The APA defines Anxiety as an emotion characterized by feelings of nervousness, fear, apprehension, tension, and worrying. People who suffer from anxiety may experience physical symptoms depending on the severity of the condition. Changes include increased blood pressure, sweating, trembling, high heart rate and/or dizziness.

Understanding a Normal Anxiety Response

Experiencing anxiety is a normal part of the human range of emotions that are necessary for survival. These feelings arise when humans are faced with potential danger or other triggers that cause one to worry. This emotional response is noted by a rise in heart rate, sweating, and overall increased sensitivity to stimuli. Accompanied by a rush of adrenaline, this 'flight-or-fight' response is designed to alert a human to confront or run from a potential threat.

While these responses still play a large part in our physical safety, these responses are complicated by the advances in our society. Today, it is common for people to experience anxiety due to triggers that are not immediate threats to personal safety. Examples include work, relationships, health, and money.

What are Anxiety Disorders?

When someone experiences an anxiety response that is out of proportion to the original stressor or trigger, anxiety can be classified as an anxiety disorder. These disorders vary in severity and fall into various types covered below.

Anxiety disorders affect up to 40 million people in the United States of America. This group is the most common mental illness in the country. Despite its common occurrence less than half of people who experience anxiety receive treatment for the illness.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): GAD is a chronic disorder that is signified by long-lasting anxiety without specific triggers or causes. Those who suffer from this generalized disorder may not be able to directly identify the cause of their anxiety. Of the six types, GAD is the most common disorder.
  • Panic Disorder: This type is characterized by sudden, short bursts of anxiety. These bouts range from apprehension to intense terror. These panic attacks can lead to intense physical symptoms including nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing, shaking, and confusion. These experiences come on quick and the duration of these attacks ranges from minutes to hours long. Panic attacks are often triggered and re-triggered by highly stressful or scary experiences.
  • Phobia: A phobia is an irrational fear of a specific object or situation that causes avoidance. Those who suffer from phobias may be able to recognize that the fear is irrational, yet they are still unable to control the resulting anxiety response.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: This disorder is characterized by the fear of being judged negatively by other people. This could be in a one on one situation or general public embarrassment. Symptoms range from fear of intimacy, humiliation, judgment, and public performance. This disorder can result in difficulty or avoidance of social situations.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is identified by repetitive thoughts, actions, or compulsions that are known to be unreasonable by the sufferer. Despite this knowledge, these actions or thoughts serve to relieve the anxiety that the person experiences. Examples include obsessive cleaning, use of objects, and ordered actions.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a result of a previous trauma that may lead to flashbacks or stress brought on by varied triggers. Common causes for this disorder include military combat, sexual assault, or serious accident.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder: This disorder is characterized by an excessive or inappropriate anxiety response experienced when a person is separated from a person or place. Most commonly these feelings are brought on by a lack of feeling of safety or security that the person or place offers.

Causes of Anxiety

General causes for anxiety include:

  • Stress
  • Genetics
  • Emotional or physical trauma
  • Side effect or withdrawal from illicit drug use
  • Side effects of prescription medications
  • As a symptom of a serious medical illness

Treating Anxiety with CBD Oil

Cannabis has had a mixed review when it comes to anxiety due to lack of separation between the two primary compounds in the plant: THC & CBD. It is known that THC can actually be anxiety-causing and generalized studies of marijuana use have pointed to a high prevalence of anxiety disorders. Here we have considered a wide range of studies, focusing on CBD oil with low/no THC which has been observed to have anti-anxiety effects.

Traditional anti-anxiety medications often result in several adverse side effects. These negative effects have pushed researchers to find safer, naturally sourced medicines. There is a growing volume of CBD-specific supporting research pointing to cannabidiol's effective use as an anxiolytic (a drug used to reduce anxiety). The compound has been observed to treat a wide range of social anxiety disorders via administration of high doses of CBD.

Positive interaction between cannabidiol and the 5-HT1A neuro-receptor is often cited as the source for the anti-anxiety function. While many early results point to the positive impact of CBD on anxiety, some more recent studies have questioned the anxiolytic effects and require further investigation of the stressors required for CBD to function.

Despite these contradictions, anecdotal evidence gathered via an online survey pointed to CBD's widespread use to treat pain, anxiety & depression and that over 1/3rd of those surveyed said that CBD treats their condition 'very well by itself'.

In addition to CBD, it is also important to note that neighboring cannabinoid cannabigerol or CBG and other neighboring cannabinoids have been observed to hold potential in the treatment of anxiety. For this reason a full spectrum CBD product may be more effective in treating anxiety than an isolated CBD compound.

Notable Research Summary

  • Reduced anxiety in a double-blind public speaking test @ 600mg dose.
  • Reduced anxiety in sufferers of social anxiety disorder.
  • Good interaction between CBD and the 5-HT1A neuro-receptor.
  • A 2015 study stated: "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; however, few studies have investigated chronic CBD dosing."
  • Terpenes also displayed anxiolytic effects in animal models of anxiety.
  • A 2016 case report stated: "These symptoms [anxiety & sleep disorder] were present in our patient, a ten-year-old girl who was sexually abused and had minimal parental supervision as a young child under the age of five. Pharmaceutical medications provided partial relief, but results were not long-lasting, and there were major side effects. A trial of cannabidiol oil resulted in a maintained decrease in anxiety and a steady improvement in the quality and quantity of the patient's sleep."
  • 2016 report cites CBG and other neighboring cannabinoids as 'neglected' going on to suggest that they could provide effective non-psychoactive alternatives for treating anxiety and depression.
  • A 2017 study reported: "These findings indicate that CBD has minimal behavioral and subjective effects in healthy volunteers, even when they are presented with emotional stimuli. Further research into the behavioral and neural mechanisms of CBD and other phytocannabinoids is needed to ascertain the clinical function of this drug."
  • A 2017 report stated: "These results suggest the anxiolytic effects of CBDA and CBD may require the presence of a specific stressor."
  • A 2017 report stated that cannabidiol, the main non-psychotomimetic phytocannabinoid found in Cannabis sativa, reduces anxiety via 5-HT1A and (indirect) cannabinoid receptor activation in paradigms assessing innate responses to threat.
  • A 2018 cross-sectional study of cannabidiol users concluded: "Almost 62% of CBD users reported using CBD to treat a medical condition. The top three medical conditions were pain, anxiety, and depression. Almost 36% of respondents reported that CBD treats their medical condition(s) "very well by itself," while only 4.3% reported "not very well.""

Originally Published: January 7, 2019 | Last Updated: January 7, 2019

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