How good is CBD for stress and anxiety? What the science says so far

There are plenty of anecdotal reports that cannabidiol (CBD) has therapeutic effects that can help relieve anxiety and stress. But do such reports hold when scrutinized by science?

What’s CBD anyway?

Image credits: Elsa Olofsson.

CBD is a supplement derived from the cannabis plant. Like its cousin THC, it has a variety of touted health and wellness benefits that make it popular among millions of consumers. However, unlike THC, it has no psychoactive properties. In other words, CBD can’t make you high.

CBD is sold in a variety of forms, including oils, incense, bath bombs, vapor rubs, vape juice, candles, and even CBD gummies. CBD dispensaries are located all over the United States but are most commonly found in states where marijuana is legal for medicinal and recreational use. CBD may or may not be legal in your state or country, which is it’s in your best interest to verify the supplement’s legal status before making an online purchase.

Is CBD good for anxiety?

Cannabinoids trigger effects in the body by mimicking the effect of endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the body), which play a crucial role in both brain and bodily functions. These substances attach themselves to cannabinoid receptors that are present throughout the body and are associated with detecting pain, appetite, immune function, mood, and more.

The human body has two types of receptors for cannabinoids, called the CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. Whether it’s an annoying itch or a prick of pain, these two receptors on your skin cells will immediately start firing signals to dampen these unpleasant sensations.

CBD oils and lotions seem to bypass CB1 and CB2 receptors and directly stimulate the production of anandamide and 2-AG, neurotransmitters that block signals for pain and itch.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise to find that studies on mice suggest that CBD can help with pain and inflammation, with other avenues of therapy still in exploration. There is even evidence that CBD can boost productivity. But what about anxiety and stress?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), research shows that CBD can reduce stress in rats, which would make the cannabinoid appropriate for treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Accumulating evidence now also suggests that CBD is beneficial in the cardiovascular system, where it affects white blood cell migration and platelet aggregation, both linked to the stress response. During a double-blind randomized controlled study, healthy male volunteers who were given CBD had lower resting blood pressure as well as lower than expected blood pressure increases in response to stress.

Concerning other types of anxiety, in a 2011 study researchers have a group of people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) an oral dose of 400 milligrams of CBD, while a second group that acted as the control received a placebo. Those that received CBD experienced overall reduced anxiety compared to the control when speaking in public.

More recently, CBD has been shown effective at reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects approximately 10% of people at some point in life. The efficacy of CBD for PTSD has been shown in both animals and humans.

“Human and animal studies suggest that CBD may offer therapeutic benefits for disorders related to inappropriate responses to traumatic memories. The effects of CBD on the different stages of aversive memory processing make this compound a candidate pharmacological adjunct to psychological therapies for PTSD. CBD also shows an action profile with fewer side effects than the pharmacological therapy currently used to treat this type of disorder,” researchers wrote in a study published in the Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Finally, another study published in 2019 investigated the therapeutic effects of CBD for participants who came into a psychiatric clinic complaining of both anxiety and sleep problems. Anxiety scores decreased within the first month in about 80% of patients while sleep scores improved in 66% of patients.

 The bottom line is that there is some evidence that CBD can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress, and perhaps can help with other disorders. However, many of the studies that we reviewed were limited, in that they either only included animal models or used a rather small sample size when assessing human patients.

Given the scale and scope of CBD use, with millions of new users buying CBD products yearly, more research is warranted so that we might have a more accurate picture of the cannabinoid’s influence on the human body.

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