Dr Sarah Brewer December 06, 2018

Dr Sarah Brewer looks at the newest supplement on the market – CBD – and its potential benefits for those suffering from anxiety. 

What is CBD?

CBD is in the limelight after extensive scientific research in America on its potential health benefits. It stands for cannabidiol (can·na·bid·ee·ol) and is sourced from the hemp plant. While marijuana and hemp are both from the cannabis family, hemp is bred specifically to contain only trace amounts of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that has psychoactive effects. As a result, there’s not enough THC in CBD oil to cause any kind of ‘high’, making CBD nutritional supplements completely legal and safe to take. As CBD is oil soluble, it’s often mixed with hemp, coconut or olive oil to enhance its absorption. This CBD plus oil mixture is known as CBD oil.

Confused about the difference between CBD oil and hemp oil? They come from different parts of the hemp plant – CBD is extracted from the leaves, stems and flowers, but hemp oil is extracted from the seeds. While CBD is predominantly used as a mood and wellbeing booster, hemp oil is high in healthy monounsaturated and omega 3 fatty acids which offer different benefits. Find out more here.

CBD for anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is one of the most common forms of anxiety in the UK.1 Fear of social situations and worry about meeting new people or being judged are symptoms of SAD that studies show could be improved with CBD oil. One study focused on public speaking anxiety split its participants into two groups: the placebo group and the CBD medication group. Sure enough, when taking a public speaking test, the placebo group experienced higher anxiety, cognitive impairment, discomfort, and alert levels compared with those taking CBD oil.2 Another study on CBD as a potential medicine found the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of CBD that improve epilepsy may also be involved in reducing anxiety and schizophrenia.3

Lastly, a 2015 review from the journal of Neurotherapeutics underlined the benefits of CBD for anxiety, saying ‘evidence from human studies strongly supports the potential for CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders’. The review outlined the benefits of CBD oil not just for SAD, but for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder (PD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), too. It should be noted that PTSD and OCD are no longer classified as anxiety disorders, even though anxiety is a key symptom of both conditions.4

How does CBD work for anxiety?

According to researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, the amygdala – a part of the brain located in the temporal lobe – is involved in processing emotions and the degree of anxiety experienced in day-to-day life.5 While a small amount of anxiety is a normal part of everyday life, sustained anxiety can lead to the excessive worry associated with conditions such as SAD or PTSD. It seems that one of the ways in which CBD reduces anxiety is by lowering activity in the amygdala, reducing feelings of anxiety as a result.6

Some evidence also suggests the CBD helps to activate the regeneration of cells (neurons) in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. These neurons have a positive impact on levels of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which also helps to suppress anxiety.

CBD side effects and how to overcome them

Multiple small studies of CBD safety in humans suggest it’s well tolerated across a wide dosage range. A review of clinical and preclinical studies concluded that the most commonly reported side effects are tiredness, diarrhoea and reduced appetite or weight loss. These effects are usually seen at much higher doses than are used in nutritional supplements, however.7 I advise starting with a low dose and slowly increasing to find the amount that suits you best. If you develop what you think is a side effect, then - depending on its severity - either reduce the dose or stop taking CBD. It’s important not to use CBD during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

If you’re taking any prescribed medicines, check with a doctor or pharmacist for interactions – these are especially likely if your medicine is known to interact with grapefruit juice. If your doctor is unable to help, drugs.com have a useful Drug Interactions Checker – while it doesn’t specifically include cannabidiol (CBD), it does include cannabis which contains CBD.

You can find more informaiton about CBD here.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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