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CBD Oil for Anxiety and Depression: Does it Work?

CBD oil for anxiety and depression

Ever since its relatively recent explosion into the American market, people have been intrigued by the medical properties of cannabidiol, better known as CBD — a chemical compound found within marijuana that shows promise in a variety of areas. One area that has drawn interest has been CBD's ability to alleviate symptoms related to anxiety and depression.

What is CBD oil?

Before delving deeper into the potential of CBD oil for treating anxiety and depression, it helps to have a greater understanding of what exactly CBD oil is, and why interest in the treatment has grown so much lately. CBD is actually just one of more than 80 chemicals that have been discovered in the Cannabis sativa, or marijuana, plant.

The most famous of those is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. That's the chemical within marijuana that will get you high. CBD seems to have medicinal properties just like THC, but without the intoxicating side effects.

People have actually been studying the potential medical benefits of CBD for quite some time. It wasn't on most people’s radar, though, because it was illegal. That all changed in 2018 with the passage of the Farm Bill, which legalized the sale of hemp products. This event is largely credited with kicking off the explosion of CBD products seen today.

How does it work for anxiety and depression?

There's certainly a lot of excitement around the promise of CBD oil, not only for anxiety and depression but a whole host of medical conditions. However, the reality is that there's not a lot of science to back up those claims at the moment. Other than seizures related to certain diseases, CBD’s true effectiveness is unknown in almost all other instances.

However, the initial results of CBD research look promising in a number of areas. Two of the conditions for which it shows the greatest potential are anxiety and depression. Here’s what the research has to say.

CBD oil for anxiety and sleep

A retrospective case series published in 2019 in the Permanente Journal examined the impact of CBD oil on people with either anxiety or sleep problems. In this case series nearly all 47 patients were given a capsule with 25 milligrams of CBD oil each morning for at least one month and up to three months, along with their other psychiatric medications and treatments. Among the study participants, anxiety scores decreased 79.2 percent after one month and remained low after three months.

In the same series, a group of 25 patients with sleep problems took the same dosage of CBD oil before bed. Over the first month of the study, sleep scores improved in this group by 66.7 percent, although these scores tended to fluctuate as time went on.

In 2015, a review article was published in the journal Neurotherapeutics that examined several of the studies performed on the impact of CBD oil on anxiety disorders. Their review included studies on generalized anxiety, stress-induced anxiety, compulsive behavior and other anxiety-related conditions. The researchers concluded that the preclinical evidence for an impact of CBD oil on anxiety symptoms was substantial and that the treatment was effective for anxiety disorders ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, seasonal affective disorder was substantial. They noted that some studies showed that CBD oil directly affected certain regions within the brain, as well as the release of chemicals within them, which may explain how CBD works for anxiety.

CBD oil for depression

When it comes to depression, the condition can actually share some similarities with anxiety and can even include anxiety as a symptom. Studies on the topic of CBD oil and depression are not as extensive as those for anxiety, but several done in animal models have shown promising results.

One study in particular — conducted on animals — was published in the March 2019 issue of the journal Physiology & Behavior. For that study, researchers gave 30 milligrams of CBD oil each day to rats with depressive symptoms. The treatment caused significant improvements in the rats’ behavior, including more willingness to seek out pleasure and improved mobility in a forced swim test. Overall, the researchers were intrigued by the potential of the treatment for its ability to improve feelings of helplessness or withdrawal from pleasurable activities.

In 2016, researchers performed a similar study in rats that was published in the journal Neuropsychobiology. This study ran the rats through several tests after CBD oil was administered, including a saccharin preference test and a maze test. Here again, CBD oil showed promise as a depression treatment in this animal study .

How to take CBD oil for anxiety and depression

If you think CBD oil might be worth a try for anxiety or depression, it’s best to discuss it with your doctor first. He or she can offer guidance on the different types of CBD oil that may be effective for you. Also, CBD oil may have interactions with other medications, so your doctor can advise you on any potential conflicts. CBD oil is typically not a substitute for other medications.

When it comes to the right type of CBD oil for you, there are a lot of options, including capsules, tinctures, liquids and more. Because these treatments are not as heavily regulated as medications, it’s important to do your research and choose a high-quality product. Your doctor can help you in this effort. It’s also important to note that some forms of CBD oil, such as the type that is inhaled by vaping, are not recommended due to the risks for lung infection and inflammation that they pose.

The Arthritis Foundation offers some insights to help you find a high-quality CBD oil product. They recommend choosing products that follow FDA-approved practices for manufacturing pharmaceuticals and supplements, use American-grown ingredients and are manufactured within the United States. They also recommend avoiding products that make claims their particular product can prevent or treat specific diseases. It’s best to look for a CBD oil product with a certificate of analysis from an organization such as the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC), American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) or the US Pharmacopeia (USP).

How much CBD oil should you take?

There is no specific rule for how much CBD oil you should take for managing the symptoms of anxiety or depression. Depending on the preparation of CBD oil that you try, the dosage information may be a little confusing, as well. This is especially true for CBD oil that comes in liquid form, as you may need to know both the amount of liquid that you need to take as well as the specific amount of CBD present in each dose of the medication.

The best approach to taking CBD oil is to start with a very small dose (a few milligrams) twice a day. After a week, reassess how the treatment is helping to manage your symptoms. If it’s not providing the relief that you need, you can gradually increase the dosage a little bit each week in search of an effective dosage. If you do find a dosage that is effective for you, maintain that amount as you move forward. If several weeks pass and CBD oil is not providing the relief that you were hoping for, it might not be the right treatment for you. Of course, stay in close consultation with your doctor during this time to make sure the amount of CBD oil that you are taking is considered safe.

The bottom line

When it comes to the side effects for CBD oil, the good news is that they are fairly mild. According to the Mayo Clinic, they may include drowsiness, fatigue, dry mouth, diarrhea and reduced appetite. So if you’re looking for a potential treatment to manage the symptoms of anxiety and depression with possibly few side effects, CBD oil may be worth a try.

Article references

  1. Cannabidiol (CBD), US National Library of Medicine, 2019.
  2. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series, The Permanente Journal, 2019.
  3. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders, Neurotherapeutics, 2015.
  4. Effects of cannabidiol in males and females in two different rat models of depression, Physiology & Behavior, 2019.
  5. Prohedonic Effect of Cannabidiol in a Rat Model of Depression, Neuropsychobiology, 2016.
  6. Arthritis Foundation CBD Guidance for Adults with Arthritis, Arthritis Foundation, 2019.
  7. What are the benefits of CBD – and is it safe to use? Mayo Clinic, 2019.