How Cannabidiol (CBD) Works for Treating Anxiety

While we don’t normally think of anxiety as desirable, it’s actually a critical adaptive response that can help us cope with threats to our (or a loved one’s) safety and welfare. These responses help us recognize and avert potential threats; they can also help motivate us to take action to better our situation (work harder, pay bills, improve relationships, etc.). However, when we don’t manage these natural responses effectively, they can become maladaptive and impact our work and relationships. This can lead to clinically diagnosable anxiety-related disorders. We’ve all heard the saying, “stress kills.” It’s true!
     
Anxiety-related disorders affect a huge segment of our population — 40 million adults (18%) in the United States age 18 and older. In response, Big Pharma has developed numerous drugs to treat anxiety-related disorders, from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft to tranquilizers (the most popular class being benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax).
   
While these drugs can be effective for many patients, some don’t respond favorably. Certain patients don’t see much improvement, or they can’t tolerate the side effects. Moreover, tranquilizers like Valium and Xanax can be highly addictive. Clearly, alternative treatments are warranted. Could cannabidiol (CBD), the most prominent non-psychoactive constituent in cannabis, provide a viable alternative for currently available anxiety medications? Quite possibly!
    
In recent years, CBD has generated a tremendous amount of interest among consumers, clinicians, and scientists. Why? Not only does evidence suggest CBD counteracts many of THC’s adverse effects, but numerous animal studies and accumulating evidence from human experimental, clinical, and epidemiological studies suggest CBD has powerful anti-anxiety properties. Administered acutely (“as needed”), it appears safe, well-tolerated, and may be beneficial to treat a number of anxiety-related disorders, including:
     
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Social phobia
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Mild to moderate depression
How Can CBD Help Anxiety?
    Building on the foundation of animal studies, human studies are starting to provide evidence to demonstrate that CBD can improve many commonly reported anxiety-disorder symptoms, including acute stress and anxiety.
       
    Human Studies Show How CBD Reduces Anxiety
        
    Brazilian researchers conducted a small double-blind study of patients afflicted with generalized social anxiety. After consuming CBD, participants reported a significant decrease in anxiety. Researchers validated patients’ subjective reports by performing brain scans showing cerebral blood flow patterns consistent with an anti-anxiety effect.
       
    In another small study, researchers had patients suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder perform a simulated public speaking test. Participants reported significantly less anxiety, findings supported by objective anxiety indicators like heart rate and blood pressure.
        
    Researchers concluded, “[CBD] significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort in their speech performance,” whereas the placebo group experienced “higher anxiety, cognitive impairment, [and] discomfort.”
         
         
    Final Thoughts
         
    Evidence from animal studies have begun to characterize the details of how CBD acts in the brain, and human studies of patients with and without anxiety disorders are starting to validate CBD’s efficacy as an anti-anxiety treatment. Given the huge social and financial costs of anxiety disorders in the U.S., CBD has the potential to play a significant role in treating a myriad of anxiety-related disorders.
        
    While more research, including large randomized-control trials (RCTs), is clearly warranted to examine the long-term effects and potential for CBD, its demonstrated efficacy and highly favorable safety profile (particularly when compared to currently available drugs) make it a viable alternative or adjunct to currently available pharmaceuticals.