CBD Oil for Anxiety: Research, Dosage, and Benefits

Last Updated: August 2020

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is commonly recommended as a natural alternative to medication for people with anxiety. 

However, because CBD is a relative newcomer to the market, the body of research to support its use is still small, but growing. Regardless, the current evidence we have does point to the effectiveness of CBD oil for relieving anxiety.

This article reviews CBD oil for anxiety, its potential benefits and downsides, how to choose a CBD oil product, and some other natural options for managing anxiety.

Anxiety defined

Anxiety, quite simply, is how your body responds to stress. It often includes feelings of fear or panic, and may even cause physical symptoms like sweating, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and flushing.

Anxiety is normal, and everyone feels it at one point or another. In fact, it would be concerning if you never felt anxious about anything. However, our modern environment and lifestyles are extremely and uniquely stressful, which leaves many people predisposed to frequent bouts of anxiety.

Some people may even suffer with anxiety to the extent that they are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders

Infrequent episodes of anxiety are normal and something that everyone experiences from time to time.

However, frequent anxious episodes over a long period of time may be indicative of an anxiety disorder. There are five different types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: This type of anxiety disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of worry and anxiety.
  • Panic disorder: This disorder has more extreme symptoms than anxiety disorder, including frequent panic attacks that are accompanied by fear, chest pain, dizziness, or other symptoms.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: This disorder is characterized by the presence of unwanted obsessions or repetitive behaviors.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: This condition may develop after you witness or are involved in a traumatic or life-threatening event. 
  • Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme levels of anxiety in social situations.

These disorders must be diagnosed by a mental health specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. They may require more specialized care than infrequent bouts of anxiety. Although CBD oil may be a helpful part of treatment for these disorders, you should also follow the advice and recommendations of qualified mental healthcare providers if you have one of these conditions.

Short- and long-term effects of anxiety

Even if you don’t have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, feeling anxious, worried, and stressed can have a huge impact on your health and quality of life.

The short-term effects of anxiety include increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and even increased blood sugar levels. You may also have trouble sleeping.

When you are stressed, your body interprets this feeling by responding as if you are in imminent danger. These short-term changes are supposed to be protective, providing you bursts of energy and adrenaline to help you get out of a potentially life-threatening situation.

However, most anxiety we experience today is not due to life-threatening circumstances. Instead it’s likely to be related to work, financial problems, or family and interpersonal relationships. Because of this, the body’s primal stress response doesn’t really provide much benefit in our modern society.

Compounded over the long-term, unfortunately, these short-term changes can also cause devastating health consequences.

Consistently high blood sugar levels can lead to a condition called insulin resistance, which can predispose you to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

You will also have high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which signals your body to store fat in the abdominal area. 

You may also experience chronic inflammation as a result of these changes, which can have widespread effects on your health—increasing your risk of chronic disease and weakening your immune system so that you’re more likely to get sick.

Additionally, high levels of anxiety can lead to long-term sleep deprivation, which can be devastating to your overall health—leading to poor dietary choices, impaired brain function, weakened immunity and slow healing, and even further compounded stress and inflammation.

Luckily, there are many ways that you can reduce your anxiety or help to mitigate some of the more harmful effects of anxiety. CBD oil is one option. 

Benefits of CBD for anxiety

Although research is limited, most current evidence points towards the use of CBD and CBD oil as being helpful for people with anxiety.

It appears to decrease anxiety in two different ways, by working first through the endocannabinoid system and also by acting directly on 5-HT1A receptors in the brain.

The endocannabinoid system manages endogenous cannabinoids that are naturally produced by your body. However, exogenous cannabinoids—like CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the other major cannabinoid component of marijuana—can also act on this system. In addition to helping regulate metabolism and immunity, the endocannabinoid system also plays roles in brain function, emotional regulation, learning, and anxiety.

Specifically, CBD oil may activate a cannabinoid receptor called CB1R. This receptor helps manage the body’s fear response to perceived stressors. Increased activation of CB1R may also help mitigate some of the harmful effects of chronic stress.

The other way in which CBD may reduce anxiety is by acting on 5-HT1A receptors in the brain. These receptors are not part of the endocannabinoid system, but are instead a type of serotonin—the “happy hormone”—receptor. Although the exact mechanism isn’t yet clear, CBD can work on these receptors to decrease anxiety and reduce some of the negative effects of anxiety on the body.

In one animal study, CBD was able reduce anxious behaviors in healthy mice as well as those with a neurodevelopmental disorder called fragile X syndrome.

Additionally, an observational study of over 70 adult patients at a psychiatric clinic noted that taking CBD was associated with significantly decreased anxiety and improved sleep quality in a vast majority of patients. These effects were apparent after only one month of CBD use, and they were maintained throughout the duration of the study.

Regardless, it’s important to remember that CBD is a relatively new field of study that is still developing rapidly. While current evidence suggests that CBD oil is beneficial for anxiety, more high-quality trials are needed before a strong causal link between CBD oil and anxiety reduction can be established.

Potential downsides of CBD for anxiety

CBD appears to be mostly free of side effects. In one study of 72 individuals taking CBD, only 3 were unable to tolerate taking it. The most notable side effect is fatigue, as CBD may cause some people to feel sedated.

Unfortunately, the major downside of CBD is that it simply doesn’t appear to be as powerful as marijuana or THC, the component of marijuana that can get you high, for treating anxiety.

In part, this is due to something called the “entourage effect”—in which CBD and THC, along with the other components of marijuana, like terpenes—work synergistically to exert a stronger effect than either compound would have individually.

Additionally, some research shows that certain individuals may experience increased anxiety when CB1R receptors are activated by CBD. Luckily, though, this appears to be uncommon. However, a small subset of individuals may experience increased anxiety after taking CBD as a result of this.

Regardless, CBD may offer anxiety-reducing benefits for many people, with the added bonus of not getting you high.

How to use CBD for anxiety

Here is a brief review of how to choose a high-quality CBD oil product, and which formulations and dosages to use.

Choosing a high quality product

The most important step in choosing a high-quality CBD product is to check for third-party testing.

At the moment, CBD products are considered dietary supplements. Because of this, they are only minimally regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

Choosing a product that has undergone third-party testing helps to ensure that the label accurately represents what’s in the bottle. You may be surprised to learn that some so-called CBD products actually contain no CBD at all. Without third-party testing reports, it can be difficult to trust that a manufacturer is being honest in their labeling practices.

Some additional things you may want to look for include if the CBD is made from organic, U.S.-grown hemp. This helps ensure that the source of the CBD meets agricultural safety standards and is free of potentially harmful pesticides and herbicides.

High-quality CBD oils will also contain relatively few ingredients, such as CBD, a carrier oil, and natural flavor. Long ingredient lists full of additives and preservatives may be an indicator of a lesser quality product. Note, however, that CBD edibles such as gummies, candy, or cookies will contain longer ingredient lists out of necessity.

Dosages

CBD oil is offered in a wide variety of dosages, and choosing one can be intimidating—especially if you’re new to CBD.

The best advice is simply to start slowly. Start with the lowest dose of the highest quality CBD oil you can buy, take it for 2-4 weeks, and assess how it’s worked for you. 

From there, you can slowly increase the dose as needed, or continue at the current dose if it seems to be helpful for you.

A great starting point for CBD beginners is a 25 mg daily dose, which is small enough that it won’t seem overwhelming but large enough to potentially cause a marked improvement in anxiety for some people. You can get this dose from CBD oils, capsules, or edibles like gummies.

When to take

For the best results, you should take CBD oil daily to help manage anxiety. According to existing research, it can take up to a month to see results, but these changes will stick with you until you discontinue the CBD.

Although it may seem like a good idea to only take CBD oil when you’re actively experiencing anxiety, this actually may not be your best bet. CBD acts on the endocannabinoid system and serotonin receptors to help prevent the fear response to stressors, so only taking it after you’re already feeling anxious may not be of much help.

Regardless, more research is needed to help clarify the most effective timing and dosage for CBD oil and anxiety reduction.

Other ways to naturally reduce anxiety

In combination with CBD oil, there are some other lifestyle changes that may help better equip you to manage stress and anxiety. These include:

  • Getting regular exercise: Even light exercise can reduce stress and anxiety. Try including short, 30-minute walks, 5 days per week—outdoors if you can, as being outside in nature can also help to decrease anxiety.
  • Sleeping adequately: Although you may have trouble sleeping due to anxiety, be sure to practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed in a dark, cool room, staying off of your phone in the hour leading up to bed, and aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet: Excessive sugar intake has been linked to depression and poor mental health. However, increasing your intake of healthy, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can help decrease inflammation in your body and promote overall wellness.
  • Engaging in self-care activities: Setting time aside for activities you enjoy or find relaxing is also an important way to help manage your anxiety. Gentle yoga is an excellent way to encourage your body—and brain—to relax.

While none of these things—CBD included—can completely rid you of anxiety, they can go a long way in helping promote healthy brain function to potentially prevent anxious episodes. Additionally, each of these activities is part of an overall healthy and balanced lifestyle, which is naturally stress-relieving.

Summary

CBD oil is a promising option for managing anxiety, which can be harmful to your mental and physical health. Although more research is needed, it appears to work by acting on endocannabinoid and serotonin receptors in the brain to reduce anxiety and to help protect your body from the detrimental effects of prolonged stress.

CBD is also very safe, but if you’re new to CBD you should start slow with a small daily dose and be sure to choose a high-quality product that has been third-party tested.

In addition to CBD, lifestyle changes like exercise, better sleep habits, healthier food choices, and engaging in self-care may also help you manage your anxiety.

CBD oil for anxiety is a rapidly developing field of study, and current evidence suggests that CBD is a safe and effective way to help you manage your anxiety.

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