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Can CBD help anxiety? What the research shows so far

CBD research is promising for anxiety -- but there's a lot more to know.

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CBD is extracted from hemp plants and the oil is found in a variety of products.

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Anxiety is the leading mental health disorder in the United States, with at least 40 million Americans affected every year. Anxiety is a treatable condition and one recent popular supplement that is touted to potentially aid in stress reduction and relaxation is CBD (cannabidiol, extracted from hemp plants). Marketing agency Bigeye conducted a 2020 survey with approximately 750 people who use CBD products, and 38% reported using them specifically for anxiety.

CBD products are marketed and sold in a plethora of different types of product from gummies, chocolates and oils to creams and beyond. But given that the products are still a relatively new area, they don't have that much solid science behind them (even though claims and anecdotal evidence are readily available).

CBD research is ever-growing and promising, but using it to treat a mental health disorder seems iffy at best, and at worst, dangerous. It's important to understand that stress and anxiety are not the same thing -- everyone experiences stress. But anxiety is a reaction to stress and a diagnosable mental health condition that should be addressed by appropriate mental health professionals. 

A lot of claims surrounding CBD and anxiety are purely anecdotal (word of mouth, customer reviews or social media testimonials). So what should you do if you're interested in trying CBD to help with anxiety? Does it really work? I consulted with psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Ditzell who specializes in medical marijuana treatment for mental health disorders. 

Disclaimer: CBD is still considered an unproven supplement or treatment. If you are experiencing mental health issues you should always seek the help of a professional first before trying supplements like CBD.

How CBD might help with anxiety 

"CBD is the over-the-counter, homeopathic equivalent to medical marijuana and has been touted by many to help with sleep, anxiety and depression," says Ditzell, who compares using CBD to using melatonin instead of a prescription sleep aid like Ambien. 

"I have had many patients relate that they use CBD products and that generally they have experienced help with sleep, anxiety and in aiding in overall recovery (such as from physical training)," says Ditzell, which are, again, only anecdotally based claims.

With the sheer number of CBD products on the market and the lack of regulation in general, there's no way to make a fair blanket statement about all CBD products since they vary so widely in dosage, potency and form. In general, some research like this case series shows the potential of CBD for helping with anxiety, but also points out the lack of clinical studies on CBD in psychiatric science literature, and the need for more clinical research on the topic. 

Research has pointed to evidence that CBD can interact with receptors in the brain that regulate fear and anxiety, which may explain its potential anti-anxiety effects.

How CBD works for different types of anxiety disorders

There are several different types of diagnosable anxiety including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and anxiety related to PTSD. The current research shows that CBD has the potential to help with different types of anxiety disorders. For this reason, it's best to consult with a qualified medical professional to determine whether CBD could be right for you.

Warning for some types of mental health disorders

It's important to note that CBD can make some disorders worse. "Marijuana derivatives [like CBD] can also exacerbate mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia. Again, the best bet is consultation with a trusted mental health professional," says Ditzell.

The bottom line is that CBD research has a long way to go before we really know how it works and how safe it truly is. The CBD industry is still highly unregulated so you are essentially taking a gamble when you purchase products containing this substance. (CBD is not classified as a dietary supplement by the FDA, so it's not screened for the same things as other dietary supplements.) Again, mental health disorders like anxiety should be treated by medical professionals and you should not replace proper treatment with a supplement like CBD.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.