BY KIMBERLY TRUONG
There’s been lots of talk (and increasing evidence to support it) about how cannabis can be a helpful tool in treating anxiety, depending on the dosage and timing. But CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid compound found within cannabis itself, is also getting quite the reputation for soothing anxiousness. From gummies to oils, plenty of CBD-based products claim to be a solution for your nerves. But is CBDreallythe anxiety panacea that it seems to be?
Michele Ross, Ph.D., a neuroscientist based in Los Angeles, says that we know there are components of CBD that theoretically give it a relaxing quality that can aid in quelling anxiety. The scientific research on CBD’s effects still needs more work, but Dr. Ross says CBD is thought to bind to serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that impacts mood and anxiety. CBD, she explains, binds to a serotonin receptor called the 5-HT1A and activates that receptor in order to add to the availability of serotonin in the brain to make you feel good—and not nervous or panicky. Plus, she says, there’s some evidence to suggest that CBD also works by activating GABA-A receptors, chemical messengers which are thought to have a calming, relaxing effect on the brain. “Physiologically, we know that CBD shouldwork [for anxiety], we just haven’t really seen this play out in terms of clinical trials,” Dr. Ross says.
According to a 2019 study published in the journal Pain, CBD’s effects on 5-HT1A transmission in rats helped to lessen “anxiety-like behavior.” As far as humans go, a 2015 analysis that reviewed 49 existing studies found that CBD could be a way to reduce anxiety, panic disorder, and maybe even post-traumatic stress. And a 2011 study looking at people with public speaking anxiety and found that CBD could soothe their fears. The problem with that study, however, is that the participants were given 600 milligram doses of CBD, which Dr. Ross says isn’t as likely to happen for the average person who buys CBD gummies hoping to aid their anxiety.
“Studies of humans looking at the effects of CBD have rarely been all that great,” she says. “So there is clinical evidence that really high doses of CBD help reduce specific forms of anxiety, like social anxiety, but those aren’t the kind of products that are on the market—no one’s taking really 600 milligrams of CBD at a time, that could be a really excessive pill.” Instead, you’re more likely to find products that typically have lower doses, like 150 milligrams of CBD. “The reason why some of these studies that have looked at CBD have used such high dosages is that they’re just using CBD by itself, and they have to use a high amount for it to be absorbed by the body,” Dr. Ross says. “So it’s sort of hard to extrapolate from a study with 600 milligrams by itself to being like, ‘am I going to take a 5 milligram gummy and have it make me feel good?’”
So, in that sense, the evidence that we have is more anecdotal than anything when you buy, say, a CBD latte at a cafe, the CBD content has likely been diluted, and any effects of the compound will therefore be reduced. “No one has really tested these kinds of things, such as whether CBD helps with anxiety if you’re just taking 5-10 milligrams of a CBD tincture that’s [added] with some other terpenes that make it more available for sale,” Dr. Ross says.
Not to mention, anxiety is extremely complex. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults. Not only are there different forms of anxiety, like social anxiety, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety, people can experience anxiety in different ways. Even if CBD was clinically proven to relieve anxiety, it may not be an effective treatment for everyone.
Regardless, if you’re experiencing a major anxiety disorder, CBD shouldn’t be the only treatment you’re turning to — talk to a doctor who can advise you on taking medication, or seeing a therapist.
That said, if you’re interested in experimenting with CBD along with other anxiety treatments, Dr. Ross recommends getting products that come from a dispensary, because they’re more likely to have been lab-tested. She also advises starting with a lower dose, which can help you figure out how much CBD works for you. But in the end, she says, managing anxiety is a bit like managing chronic pain: You have to manage your expectations over a long period of time, and remember that treatment is a marathon, not a race.
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