It’s normal and healthy to feel anxiety about some things in life.
But if anxiety prevents you from doing what you need to do and makes your life unmanageable, you may want to find a way of relieving that anxiety. Overwhelming anxiety may happen because of an extreme circumstance, such as giving a speech to a large crowd, or you may have an anxiety disorder.
There are four common types of anxiety disorders:
- Panic Disorder: symptoms include “panic attacks” which are random instances of terror that may cause chest pain, excessive sweating, and heart palpitations.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: symptoms include excessive exaggerated worry and tension with no obvious or realistic cause of worry.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: symptoms include an overwhelming sense of self-consciousness and discomfort in social scenarios. SAD patients often feel judged or ostracized by others even when there is no cause for that belief.
- Specific Phobias: symptoms include intense irrational fear of a specific object or circumstance (ie clowns or flying)
CBD vs Prescription Drugs for Anxiety
Only about 30% of patients with these diagnoses put their anxiety into remission with currently available prescriptions drugs. (1) These drugs are also addictive and some of them can cause life threatening withdrawals if patients suddenly stop taking them.
An anxiolytic substance is one that decreases anxiety. These are not always prescription narcotics, there are many natural ways to soothe your nerves safely and effectively.
CBD is one of the most effective natural anxiolytic substances we know of and there are numerous studies to support its efficacy and safety.
Preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely. More studies are needed to investigate chronic CBD dosing.
My personal favorite brand of CBD is Immortal Tortoise because they offer a truly full spectrum hemp extract. Full spectrum means it contains all of the cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis, including trace amounts of THC.
You can find Immortal Tortoise CBD at immortaltortoise.com or at retailers in the Pittsburgh area. I first encountered it at my favorite tea shop – Dobra Tea in Squirrel Hill.
CBD for Panic Disorder
Panic disorder affects approximately 5% of the world population. Currently, long-term selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the main treatment for panic disorder. These drugs have numerous side effects, are not always well tolerated, and aren’t always effective.
A variety of both human and animal studies have found CBD to be a promising intervention for panic disorder. (3) More studies need to be performed on healthy volunteers with panic disorder to determine an ideal therapeutic dose of CBD.
In a 2011 animal study on panic, performed at the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil, scientists found that mice pretreated with CBD showed a significant and robust reduction of panic symptoms when exposed to predators. (2)
Interestingly the mice in these studies still exhibited “risk assessment and defensive attention” in response to the threat. Meaning that they did what they needed to do to protect themselves, but didn’t freeze still with panic or suddenly run away. In other words the CBD helped mice overcome panic without dulling their senses or decision making processes.
The study concluded that CBD could “constitute a novel pharmacological target for anti-panic therapy.” (2)
CBD for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Nearly 3 million Americanslive with overwhelming continuous anxiety known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD.) GAD can develop at any age and shares symptoms with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, PTSD, and Panic Disorder. Symptoms include difficulty concentrating, excessive worrying, and restlessness.
Several studies have shown that CBD is a viable treatment for generalized anxiety. CBD is safe and effective. Taking CBD does not cause any psychoactive effects such as brain fog or disorientation.
Two recent tests from the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine showed a correlation between CBD and a reduction in personal anxiety. These results suggest that CBD helps people living with generalized anxiety handle stress-provoking situations. (4)
CBD for Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is characterized by avoidance of social situations and discomfort with social attention. Even non-threatening social interactions produce a fear response in people living with social phobia. Ordinary interactions can lead to dysfunction, overactive stress responses, and a marked decrease in quality of life. (5)
CBD can lower your overall anxiety level which can make social interactions easier if you have a social phobia. Ultimately, even with CBD as an intervention you will need to practice social interaction and get better acclimated to it.
CBD for Phobias
Phobias are defined as an intense irrational fear of specific objects or circumstances.
One of the most common phobias is a fear of public speaking. A 2001 double-blind randomized study compared the effects of a simulated public speaking test on healthy control patients and patients with Social Anxiety Disorder and a fear of public speaking. (6) Participants took either a 600mg dose of CBD or a placebo. Pretreatment with CBD was shown to significantly reduce anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort during patients’ speech performance. The placebo group demonstrated higher anxiety, discomfort, and cognitive impairment.
Although this study only represents a sample of 36 individuals it provides promising evidence for the anxiolytic efficacy of CBD. More research needs to be done before we can positively conclude that pretreatment with CBD can help people face phobias. However, since it is safe and available over the counter without a prescription there is no reason not to try it if you or a loved one are suffering the effects of a phobia.
CBD for PTSD
Perhaps the most exciting mental health breakthrough to come from studying CBD is the research on CBD for PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can develop in the wake of a traumatic event and causes symptoms such as nightmares, disturbing thoughts, an increase in fight or flight responses, increased startle reflexes, and attempts to avoid trauma related triggers. About 10% of people suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives.
PTSD is common in those returning from war and who have experienced a sexual assault. PTSD can also result from any number of traumatic incidents from living through a car accident or natural disaster to child birth.
CBD has the potential to be a truly remarkable intervention for those suffering from PTSD.
CBD soothes stress responses, relieves anxiety, and improves sleep. Relieving these symptoms can help those living with PTSD function in day to day life. However, CBD also offers a variety of interventions that are specifically beneficial to trauma survivors.
Studies have shown that supplementation with CBD may help disrupt memories of stressful life experiences, such as those underlying posttraumatic stress disorder. (7) (8) (9) This promising research shows that CBD enhances what is known as “the extinction process” of memory. In both animal and human studies CBD reduced the expression of contextual fear conditioning.
CBD also proved to be effective in reducing responses to aversive memories by blocking the process of memory reconsolidation. (10)
Through these mechanisms, and others, CBD can help prevent the formation of new traumatic memories as well as help change the way we remember trauma so that we no longer experience physiological fear and stress responses when recalling those memories.
I have cited a few studies for this article, but there is a wealth of research demonstrating the benefits of CBD for PTSD. CBD is nontoxic, has few side effects, is generally well tolerated, and available over the counter without a prescription. If you or someone you love is suffering from PTSD – maybe CBD can help!!!
- Blanco C, Antia SX, Liebowitz MR. Pharmacotherapy of social anxiety disorder. Biol Psychiatry. 2002;51:109–120.
- Andres Uribe-Marino, Audrey Francisco, et al., Anti-Aversive Effects of Cannabidiol on Innate Fear-Induced Behaviors Evoked by an Ethological Model of Panic Attacks Based on a Prey vsthe Wild Snake Epicrates cenchria crassus Confrontation Paradigm. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Jan; 37(2): 412–421.
- Soares VP, Campos AC, Evidences for the Anti-panic Actions of Cannabidiol. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2017;15(2):291-299
- Frank J. Farach. Pharmacological treatment of anxiety disorders: Current treatments and future directions. J. Anxiety Disord. 2012 Aug 15.
- Merikangas KR, He J, et al., Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: Results from the National Comorbidity Study. Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;49(10):980-989.
- Bergamaschi M., Queiroz R., Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 May; 36(6): 1219–1226
- Stern C., Gazarini L., et al., On Disruption of Fear Memory by Reconsolidation Blockade: Evidence from Cannabidiol Treatment. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Aug; 37(9): 2132–2142.
- Bitencourt R., Takahashi R., Cannabidiol as a Therapeutic Alternative for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: From Bench Research to Confirmation in Human Trials. Front Neurosci. 2018; 12: 502.
- Gazarini L., Stern C., et al., PTSD-like memory generated through enhanced noradrenergic activity is mitigated by a dual step pharmacological intervention targeting its reconsolidation. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol.2014 Oct 31;18(1). pii: pyu026. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyu026.
- Stern C. A. J., Gazarini L., Takahashi R. N., Guimarães F. S., Bertoglio L. J. (2012). On disruption of fear memory by reconsolidation blockade: evidence from cannabidiol treatment. Neuropsychopharmacology37 2132–2142. 10.1038/npp.2012.63