Does CBD Oil For Anxiety Work?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety is the most common mental disorder in the United States. An average of 40 million adults in the United States are living with anxiety—almost 20% of the population. Yet, only 36.9% of those who struggle with anxiety receive treatment.

One reason that people may choose not to seek treatment may be due to a stigma associated with mental illness. Although the stigma surrounding seeking mental health treatment may be dissipating, many people still may not feel comfortable admitting to others, or to themselves, that they are having difficulties. Others may fear being prescribed daily prescription medications and worry about the side effects of anxiety medications.

Today, more and more people are seeking natural remedies to help them cope with anxiety. CBD oil has become a "hot" new treatment, touted for its ability to help people manage their anxiety in a "natural" way. But does CBD oil for anxiety work?

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What is CBD?

Cannabidiol referred to as CBD, is a compound found in the cannabis plant, which makes marijuana. Cannabis compounds are also referred to as cannabinoids. Though there are hundreds of compounds within the cannabis plant, the two that are best understood and most widely known are CBD and THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). The human body also produces some of its own cannabinoids.

THC is the compound that most people associated with marijuana; it is what causes the "high" that marijuana users experience. CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive, meaning that it does not have mind-altering effects for the user.

While CBD does not cause a high or alter the mind, it does appear to cause changes in the body. These bodily changes are believed to help people manage a variety of ailments, including anxiety.

How does CBD work in the body?

CBD, like all cannabinoids, can affect the body by attaching to certain receptors in the body. The brain has two receptors for cannabinoids- CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors affect movement and coordination, emotions and mood, appetite, memory and cognitive functioning, and more. THC attaches to CB1 receptors. CB2 receptors are more closely tied to the immune system and influence inflammation and pain. In the past, researchers believed that CBD was attached to CB2 receptors. Now, the more common theory is the CBD stimulates the body to produce more of its own cannabinoids, which may attach to the CB2 receptor to help people cope with pain and other ailments. However, much more research needs to be done before the medical community fully understands how CBD functions in the body.

Does CBD oil work for anxiety?

Many people provide anecdotal evidence that CBD oil helps them with their anxiety. CBD users report that the substance helps them feel calmer and more relaxed, in control of their emotions, and better able to fall asleep at night.

Still, more research needs to be done for the scientific and medical communities to understand whether CBD oil works for anxiety, and if so, how it works. Most of the currently available scientific research looking at how marijuana can affect conditions like depression, and anxiety focuses on marijuana as a whole, or specifically THC, rather than looking at CBD or CBD oil.

Nevertheless, the studies that have been conducted thus far look promising. A 2010 study found that CBD could reduce symptoms for those living with social anxiety disorder. Researchers conducted brain scans of study participants and found changes in blood flow to regions of the brain that are associated with anxiety when participants used CBD oil. However, this was a very small study with a sample of only 10 participants.

A 2015 analysis of previous research into CBD and anxiety confirmed that CBD oil appears to be a promising treatment for many types of anxiety, including social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While the report concluded the CBD seems to be an effective treatment for short-term anxiety, it cautioned that more research needs to be done on the long-term effects of CBD and whether it can be used as an effective treatment for anxiety over a long period. 

If you are considering using CBD oil to help manage anxiety, it may be important to remember that all treatments, even natural ones like CBD, affect people differently. Just because it worked for someone you know does not mean it will have the same effect on you. It is always a good idea to work with a therapist or counselor in addition to any other treatment you are using to manage your anxiety.

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CBD oil for depression and anxiety

In addition to anxiety, some people use CBD to help manage depression. Like anxiety, much more research needs to be done into how CBD interacts with the brain to help reduce symptoms of depression. One theory is that CBD can impact the serotonin receptor in the brain and may have a similar effect to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a medication commonly used to treat depression.

Additionally, a 2014 study using animal models found that CBD oil had anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. But a study conducted with human participants needs to produce similar results before this conclusion can be applied to people struggling with depression.

At this point, most of the evidence of CBD oil helping people manage depression is anecdotal. If you plan on experimenting with CBD to treat depression, definitely discuss it with a doctor and continue to work with a therapist or counselor.

Possible side effects of CBD oil for anxiety

While CBD is generally considered safe, there is always a risk of side effects when taking any medication or supplement, regardless of it being a "natural substance." Most people can use CBD oil for anxiety without experiencing side effects. However, there is a risk of mild side effects, including:

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Emotional changes or mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances

While none of these side effects might be life-threatening, they can be uncomfortable and problematic if you use CBD oil regularly. If you experience any side effects from CBD oil, discuss it with a medical professional. You may be better suited for another form of anxiety treatment or you might need to adjust your CBD oil dosage for anxiety.

Other anxiety treatment options

Many people find CBD oil an effective treatment for anxiety. But it may not be for everyone. Each person is different and will likely find different treatments that are the most helpful for them. If you are having difficulties with anxiety, it can be important to consider and experiment with a variety of treatment options to see what works best for you. Some other treatment options for anxiety may include:

Therapy and counseling help millions of people cope with conditions like anxiety and depression. You can choose to engage in therapy both in-person or online, as well as in an individual or group setting. Online therapy may be an effective choice for those with anxiety, as it can reduce the pressure and stress that scheduling, commuting to, and even attending in-person sessions might cause.

Recent research has found that online therapy is effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety in a wide range of people and producing comparable long-term improvements to in-person treatment. For those struggling with anxiety, it can be a good idea to include therapy in your treatment plan in addition to any medications or supplements you use, including CBD.

There are multiple prescription medications for anxiety available, including SSRIs and benzodiazepines. While prescription medication is not the right choice for everyone, it can be an effective treatment for many people who have symptoms of anxiety. If you think you may benefit from medication, talk to your doctor. Remember that this article is for informational purposes, and appropriate, individual, diagnosis and prescription regarding any type of medication for anxiety can only come from a medical professional. 

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If you would prefer to manage your anxiety without prescription medications, you can try natural strategies like meditation. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and excessive stress in practitioners and can be implemented anytime, anywhere. If you have never meditated before, start with short, guided meditations, and you can build from there if you find that meditation is helping you feel more relaxed. A recent study showed that meditation may be as effective as Lexapro, a popular anti-anxiety medication, in reducing anxiety. 

Another natural way to cope with anxiety, depression, and stress can be with exercise. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which can help you feel happier and calmer. Exercising can also be a good way to take your mind off things that are causing you anxiety and release some tension. Studies show that there is a close tie between exercise and mental health.

There are many other ways that you can relieve symptoms of anxiety. If you are searching for a better way to cope with your anxiety, work with your therapist or doctor to develop ideas for ways that you can manage your symptoms.

Other uses for CBD

Anxiety is not the only condition for which CBD oil can help. While much more research needs to be completed to understand and confirm the effects of CBD oil on these conditions, many people have reported that CBD oil can help them cope with a variety of conditions. Along with anxiety, other potential uses for CBD include:

  • Treating epilepsy
  • Pain relief
  • Acne
  • Neuroprotective properties
  • Heart health
  • Diabetes prevention
  • Sleep disorders/insomnia

It can be important to always discuss with your doctor before using CBD or any other medication or supplement. And, if you are struggling with anxiety, remember that while CBD may be an effective treatment, it is not the only option. Talk to your therapist or another trusted medical professional about anxiety treatment methods that may help you.

We recommend reaching out to an online therapist to talk about your anxiety symptoms. Various studies have shown that online CBT is as effective, and sometimes even more effective, than in-person CBT when it comes to treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Online therapy also comes with other added benefits like its convenience and flexibility. 

Takeaway

While the current scientific evidence supporting CBD oil for anxiety and other conditions is lacking, the potential is promising. And if you are dealing with symptoms of anxiety, note that online cognitive behavioral therapy has proven effective in treating those symptoms.

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The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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