Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a type of cannabinoid. It’s found naturally in cannabis and promoted as a natural treatment for a variety of ailments.
If you’ve searched online for natural treatments for anxiety, you’ve likely seen recommendations on Facebook, in blogs and on discussion boards for products containing CBD, such as CBD oil, gummies or supplements.
Right now, research into the effects of CBD is still in its early stages. However, a few small-scale studies do suggest that it may offer potential benefits for certain types of anxiety.
Below, we’ve looked at the most recent research on CBD and anxiety to determine if it works, if it’s safe and how it can be used to manage anxiety.
We’ve also listed other effective treatments for anxiety, from FDA-approved medications to healthy habits, lifestyle changes and more.
CBD is a naturally occurring chemical that’s found in the Cannabis sativa plant (also referred to as hemp or marijuana). It’s one of 80 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
Unlike delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is an active ingredient in the marijuana plant, CBD doesn’t have psychoactive effects, meaning it won’t cause you to feel the “high” that’s often associated with cannabis use.
CBD is typically produced from the hemp plant, a type of cannabis with low THC content. This allows CBD products to be marketed as food products and supplements, provided they have a THC content of less than 0.3 percent.
CBD functions by binding to receptors inside your body called cannabinoid receptors, which are part of your endocannabinoid system.
Research also suggests that CBD can act on the serotonin 5-HT1A and opioid receptors, which are involved in regulating pain activity.
Currently, the way in which CBD binds to these receptors and affects things like mood isn’t fully understood.
Research is still ongoing, with many studies exploring the effects of CBD on certain neurotransmitters, hormones and other chemicals used within your body.
Thanks to its recent legal status as a food product and dietary supplement, interest in CBD as a treatment for anxiety has grown tremendously over the last few years.
Anecdotal evidence of its effects and purported benefits are easy to find on blogs, forums and YouTube.
Although the FDA hasn’t approved CBD as an anxiety treatment, several peer-reviewed studies have shown that it may help treat certain types of anxiety.
In a review published in the journal Neurotherapeutics in 2015, researchers looked at studies of cannabidiol in anxiety, fear, stress and related health issues, such as specific anxiety disorders to determine whether or not treatment yielded any therapeutic effects.
Based on the findings of several studies, the researchers concluded that CBD appears to lower anxious behaviors in people with certain anxiety disorders, such as:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Panic disorder (PD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
However, they also noted a need for further study into the effectiveness of CBD as a long-term treatment for anxiety disorders and anxiety.
More recent research has looked into the specific effects of CBD for certain forms of anxiety, as well as anxiety-related disorders and issues.
In a relatively small 2019 study published in The Permanente Journal, researchers tested the effects of CBD in a group of 72 adults with concerns of anxiety or poor sleep.
Over the course of three months, the study participants were given CBD capsules containing a dose of between 25 and 75mg.
Patients with anxiety were instructed to use CBD after finishing breakfast, while patients with sleep issues were told to take the CBD capsules after dinner.
After the first month of treatment, 79.2 percent of the study participants reported improvements in anxiety and 66.7 percent reported improvements in sleep.
By the end of the study, the participants showed significant improvements in anxiety and sleep quality based on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale and Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.
More recently, a study involving 400 patients carried out in New Zealand found that CBD might have analgesic (pain reducing) and anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects for people with anxiety disorders.
Overall, the science on CBD and anxiety certainly shows something. Many people with anxiety or sleep issues who use CBD seem to experience benefits, although the results don’t appear to be as consistent as those offered by recognized anxiety treatments.
In general, it seems best to think of CBD as a potential option for treating anxiety, not one that’s fully proven quite yet.
Because CBD hasn’t been approved as a medication by the FDA, there’s no suggested dosage of CBD for treating or managing anxiety.
Most people who take CBD for anxiety use CBD oils, e-liquids, supplements and other products to relieve their symptoms. These products can vary dramatically in strength, quality and ease of use.
If you’re thinking of using CBD to relieve anxiety or promote better sleep, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider first.
They’ll be able to help you work out a CBD dosage that’s right for your symptoms and personal needs.
It’s especially important to consult your healthcare provider before using CBD if you’re currently prescribed medication for anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions.
Research into CBD suggests that it’s generally safe for most people. However, like other dietary supplements and health products, CBD has the potential to cause side effects, drug interactions and complications that you should be aware of before using it to treat anxiety.
Potential side effects of CBD include:
Changes in alertness, such as somnolence (drowsiness or sleepiness)
Changes in mood, such as irritability and/or agitation
Gastrointestinal issues, such as a reduced appetite and/or diarrhea
These side effects may not be noticeable while you’re using CBD. Most of the time, side effects from CBD will improve if you reduce your dosage or stop using products that contain CBD.
According to the FDA, some CBD products may cause liver injury. Animal studies also suggest that CBD may also have reproductive side effects, including damage to fertility or male offspring of women who have been exposed to products containing CBD.
Like many other supplements and natural health products, CBD has the potential to interact with other medications and substances.
Using CBD with alcohol or other medications that affect your brain, such as anti-anxiety or sleep medications, may lead to severe drowsiness and sedation. While sedated, you may be more at risk of injuring yourself.
CBD products may affect your ability to absorb and/or metabolize other medications, potentially increasing or decreasing their effects. This may affect your risk of experiencing side effects from other medications used at the same time as CBD.
Finally, it’s important to be aware that CBD isn’t as thoroughly researched as medications and other supplements for anxiety. This means that it may have long-term side effects and issues that we aren’t yet aware of.
Because of these potential side effects and safety risks, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before using any products that contain CBD or other cannabinoids, especially if you’re currently prescribed medication to treat an existing medical condition.
CBD is an interesting phytocannabinoid that shows lots of promise as a potential treatment for anxiety, sleep issues, pain and other medical conditions.
However, it’s far from the only option available for treating anxiety. From medications to therapy, relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes, a wide range of other options are available to treat anxiety and improve your quality of life.
We’ve listed these below, along with more information on how each treatment works to control and reduce anxiety.
Most anxiety disorders can be treated with medication. Anxiety medications reduce the severity of your symptoms, allowing you to function normally without anxiety having a negative effect on your life.
Common medications for anxiety include:
Benzodiazepines. These medications work by slowing down activity in certain parts of your brain by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter GABA. They provide short-term, immediate relief from anxiety, but have a significant risk of causing dependence. Benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety include diazepam (sold as Valium®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), lorazepam (Ativan®) and alprazolam (Xanax®).
Antidepressants. These medications work by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. They usually take several weeks to start working. Antidepressants used to treat anxiety include fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®), citalopram (Celexa®), sertraline (Zoloft®), escitalopram (Lexapro) and others.
Buspirone. This medication is used to treat chronic anxiety, typically as a second option if antidepressants aren’t effective. It takes several weeks to start working and needs to be used consistently to control anxiety symptoms.
Beta-blockers. These medications treat the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat or trembling. They’re often used to treat phobias, such as anxiety before public speaking or performing.
Because these medications require a prescription, you’ll need to talk to your healthcare provider before you can purchase and use them.
If you have anxiety and want to seek treatment, you can connect with a psychiatric provider for an online evaluation using our online psychiatry service.
Anxiety usually improves with therapy. You may benefit from taking part in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy or other forms of psychotherapy, either on its own or with the use of anti-anxiety medication.
Our guide to therapy for anxiety goes into more detail about how therapy works, as well as the different types of therapy that are used to treat anxiety disorders.
Sometimes, making small changes to your habits and lifestyle can improve anxiety. These may include exercising often, spending time with friends and family and using techniques to manage stress.
We’ve listed simple techniques and solutions that you can use to manage anxiety in our guide to natural remedies for anxiety.
CBD has grown hugely in popularity as a natural treatment for pain, anxiety and sleep issues. At the moment, scientific research on its efficacy for anxiety is limited, although a few studies show promising results.
You can buy CBD products online, from health food stores and elsewhere, making it easy to use CBD oils, edibles, supplements and other forms of CBD for anxiety.
Although CBD products produced using hemp with less than 0.3% THC are legal at the federal level, state laws can vary.
Make sure to check your state’s laws before purchasing or using any products that contain CBD.
If your anxiety doesn’t improve with CBD, it’s best to reach out to a licensed healthcare provider for assistance.
Our online psychiatry service makes it easy to connect with a licensed psychiatry provider online for a personalized evaluation and treatment plan.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.