CBD for Anxiety: The Facts

Katelyn Hagerty

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 04/21/2022

Updated 08/17/2023

No longer the exclusive domain of stoners, CBD is having a moment. People claim this compound can treat pain, depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and — we’re guessing — just about everything under the sun. Can it help with anxiety, though?

Here are the facts: Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of more than 100 naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. In recent years, it’s grown in popularity, transforming from a niche natural health product into a widely promoted natural treatment for, well…just about everything.

One of the common uses for CBD is as a natural remedy for anxiety — something to take the edge off, relax the nerves and instill a sense of calm. But these are hardly medical claims. 

Sure, some CBD users state that it makes them feel less anxious without any of the side effects that can occur with other anti-anxiety medications — but are these claims backed by any real evidence?

We’ll try to answer that question to the best of our current knowledge. This article will examine several of the most common anxiety-related claims about CBD and how they stack up next to the evidence.

We’ll also look at what CBD is and how it works, as well as the current scientific evidence to support its use as a natural treatment for certain forms of anxiety.

Science is still evolving on the CBD and anxiety question, so let’s start with what we know.

CBD is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in the cannabis plant — also known as marijuana or (if you’re a 70-year-old stoner) Mary Jane.

It’s referred to as a cannabinoid — a type of chemical compound that acts on the cannabinoid receptors found throughout your body’s endocannabinoid system. 

Though researchers aren’t completely sure about how CBD works in the body, research shows that CBD interacts with the body’s cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) and type 2 (CB2) receptors — which may alter the neurotransmitter signals released by your nervous system.

Right now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved CBD as a medicine for treating anxiety. In fact, the only FDA-approved medicinal use of CBD is as a treatment for several epilepsy syndromes under the brand name Epidiolex®.

Despite this, CBD is widely sold and used as a supplement, with many users claiming it can help treat and manage the symptoms of anxiety.

Several animal studies have explored the connections between CBD and anxiety, but there have been significantly fewer studies involving humans.

  • In a 2010 study, researchers examined the effects of CBD on human pathological anxiety and its underlying brain mechanisms in 10 people with generalized social anxiety disorder. They found that, relative to placebo, CBD was linked to a “significantly decreased” level of subjective anxiety. The study concluded that CBD reduces anxiety in people with social anxiety disorder and that this reduction is related to its activity in the limbic and paralimbic areas of the brain.

  • A 2011 study involving 24 patients with social anxiety disorder and CBD produced similar results. The researchers found that pretreatment using CBD “significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in … speech performance” in people with SAD subjected to a public speaking experiment.

  • Another study from 2019 looked at the relationship between CBD and improvements in sleep and anxiety. Adults with concerns of anxiety or poor sleep received treatment with CBD for four weeks, and almost all participants (79 percent) reported an improvement in anxiety, with 67 percent reporting improvements in sleep.

  • In a 2013 study, researchers found that CBD can improve extinction learning — a behavioral phenomenon in which a non-reinforced conditioned response, such as fear related to a specific event or experience, fades away over time.

  • In a study from 2019, researchers associated CBD with a reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, including relief from nightmares caused by PTSD.

On the whole, the scientific evidence in favor of CBD as a treatment for anxiety is promising, with some research pointing to its potential to improve a variety of anxiety symptoms.

However, it’s important to remember that there isn’t yet any comprehensive evidence showing CBD can effectively treat anxiety or that it’s an effective option for everyone.

As such, it’s best to view CBD as a “maybe” — at least when it comes to anxiety. 

While the current data certainly demonstrates its potential, we need more data from the experts before moving CBD to the “definitely” category as a treatment for anxiety.

Also, we have to talk about dosage.

If CBD has one major problem, it’s that the science behind dosage is really in its early stages.

Like other common supplements and medications, the effects of CBD can vary based on dosage. And since CBD isn’t regulated by the FDA, there’s no specific dosage recommended for people with anxiety. 

Most people who use CBD work out their dosage using body weight and previous use of CBD to tweak their own dosage to the severity of their symptoms.

Unfortunately, this leaves lots of room for error. The type of product you’re using — CBD oil, gummies, capsules, tea or something vaporized — can affect how the dosage you take actually works.

We could point to common dosages, which typically range between 5 and 20 milligrams. But depending on your anxiety symptoms, body weight and tolerance to CBD’s effects, it may take several days or weeks before you find the CBD dose that works best for you.

In general, the best approach is to follow the dosage instructions provided with the CBD oil or other CBD product you’ve purchased. The packaging will often specify a recommended dose or provide a suggested dosage range.

Those who smoked a huge bowl or experimented with a dab rig in their early years probably have a well-defined understanding of the relationship between weed and anxiety. The gist is that marijuana use can and often does cause anxiety.

THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, the cannabinoid that makes you feel high. It can lead some people to paranoia and other not-ideal side effects.

Although THC and CBD are nearly similar from a chemical structure perspective, they have totally different effects on the body.

THC binds to receptors in the brain that affect mood, thoughts and bodily processes. It’s the cannabinoid that triggers cannabis’s psychoactive effects and, sometimes, anxious spirals and munchies.

CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t cause you to feel high. Instead, it’s primarily linked to increased feelings of relaxation and improvements in sleep to reductions in certain forms of chronic pain. 

online mental health assessment

your mental health journey starts here

So, how safe is CBD? That depends. 

Most studies of CBD have shown that it’s safe to use and well-tolerated. However, several side effects associated with CBD have been recorded.

These include fatigue, diarrhea, changes in appetite and changes in weight. It also has the potential to interact with certain medications, including some antidepressants, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers. 

Since research on CBD is still in the early stages, there’s limited data on how common side effects are among CBD users. In a clinical review of CBD, researchers noted that the most commonly reported side effects were tiredness, diarrhea and changes of appetite and weight, though these symptoms were “generally mild and infrequent.”

As for CBD’s safety, several reviews have concluded that CBD generally has a favorable safety profile. In a 2011 review, researchers reported that CBD appeared to be well tolerated in one case of extremely high doses of up to 1,500 milligrams per day.

Further research from 2017 found that, based on the most recent data at the time, CBD had a better side effect profile than other drugs used to treat epilepsy and psychotic disorders.

That said, it’s important to remember CBD hasn’t yet undergone the extensive safety testing medications face before being approved by the FDA. 

There could be side effects to CBD use we don’t yet know about due to research limitations. 

At least for now, there’s no best CBD for anxiety — and there probably won’t be for many years to come.

Part of this has to do with the lack of FDA guidance, but the other part is about ongoing issues in CBD product safety.

There are so many products on the market — tinctures, CBD isolates, hemp plant extracts and edibles make up just a fraction of the options you’ll find on the shelves today.

Despite ostensibly being safe, many CBD products contain ingredients that aren’t listed on the label. The FDA recently warned consumers about this issue after testing CBD products and finding that many didn’t contain accurate levels of CBD. 

In some cases, this can have severe consequences. For example, in 2017, 52 people in Utah experienced vomiting, nausea, shaking, seizures and an altered mental state after ingesting a CBD product that contained the synthetic cannabinoid 4-cyano cumyl-butinaca (4-CCB) but no CBD.

With this in mind, if you’re considering CBD as a natural option for treating anxiety, it’s crucial to choose a reputable CBD product from a trustworthy company. 

It’s also important to talk to your doctor before using CBD — especially if you’re prescribed other medications — before deciding on an appropriate form, dose or schedule for CBD use.

If you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or another common form of anxiety, a dose of CBD or a dropper full of your favorite CBD tincture may be all you think you need when the stress bubbles up. 

We’re here to remind you that while self-medicating with some broad-spectrum CBD gummy may not have serious side effects, it’s still not the medically recommended (or most effective) way to deal with your problems. 

Instead, medical advice (you know, the kind given by healthcare professionals) generally recommends a three-pronged approach to anxiety treatment:

  • Medication. While we love the idea of cannabis supplements for anxiety, the fact is that a number of medications have been shown to treat anxiety disorders already, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Medication is not a natural remedy for anxiety, but it is a proven one.

  • Therapy. Therapy is a great way to talk through the things that cause stress and (with the help of a professional) seek out patterns and changes that can be made. If you’re busy and always on the go, online therapy and online psychiatry are convenient ways to talk to someone today.

  • Lifestyle changes. It may take surprisingly little to reduce your anxiety with lifestyle changes. In fact, controlling anxiety may be as simple as cutting down on your caffeine, getting more exercise or prioritizing your sleep every night. 

psych meds online

psychiatrist-backed care, all from your couch

Today, CBD is available in a large variety of forms like CBD oil, capsules, teas and other products. But will it help you with anxiety? Maybe.

Research into the relationship between CBD and anxiety symptoms is still in its early stages. But there’s some evidence that CBD might be helpful in managing certain symptoms of anxiety.

Here’s our tl;dr take:

  • So far, so good. Although research is still in its early stages, clinical trials appear to show that CBD has the potential to reduce the symptoms of certain forms of anxiety. There’s also some evidence that CBD may improve sleep quality in people who have difficulty sleeping.

  • But these are only early results. These studies are by no means conclusive, and CBD isn’t approved by the FDA as a treatment for any form of anxiety. Since research is still ongoing, we can’t yet say that CBD is definitely an effective treatment for anxiety.

  • Too many questions are left. The lack of FDA guidance means the health benefits of CBD terpenes, topical products, vaping and consumption in general still lack dosage and other necessary guidance.

  • There’s a smarter way to deal with anxiety. If you have anxiety, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider about the best treatment options. Depending on your symptoms, your provider may recommend a range of treatment options that could potentially include CBD. 

  • It might be illegal. Laws regarding CBD products can vary among states, meaning you’ll need to check your local laws before purchasing anything containing CBD.

If you’re looking for help with your anxiety (or depression, for that matter), we can help. Check out our mental health services for more information — and save the CBD for recreational use. 

10 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(2), 93–107.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, May 24). Notes from the field: Acute poisonings from a synthetic cannabinoid sold as Cannabidiol - Utah, 2017–2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  3. Commissioner, O. of the. (n.d.-b). Warning letters and test results for cannabidiol-related products. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  4. Iffland, K., & Grotenhermen, F. (2017). An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 2(1), 139–154.
  5. Bergamaschi, M. M., Queiroz, R. H., Zuardi, A. W., & Crippa, J. A. (2011). Safety and side effects of cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa constituent. Current drug safety, 6(4), 237–249.
  6. Lafaye, G., Karila, L., Blecha, L., & Benyamina, A. (2017). Cannabis, cannabinoids, and health. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(3), 309–316.
  7. Shannon, S., Lewis, N., Lee, H., & Hughes, S. (2019). Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. The Permanente journal, 23, 18–041.
  8. Bergamaschi, M. M., Queiroz, R. H., Chagas, M. H., de Oliveira, D. C., De Martinis, B. S., Kapczinski, F., Quevedo, J., Roesler, R., Schröder, N., Nardi, A. E., Martín-Santos, R., Hallak, J. E., Zuardi, A. W., & Crippa, J. A. (2011). Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(6), 1219–1226.
  9. S Crippa, J. A., Derenusson, G. N., Ferrari, T. B., Wichert-Ana, L., Duran, F. L., Martin-Santos, R., Simões, M. V., Bhattacharyya, S., Fusar-Poli, P., Atakan, Z., Filho, A. S., Freitas-Ferrari, M. C., McGuire, P. K., Zuardi, A. W., Busatto, G. F., & Cecílio Hallak, J. E. (2010). Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: A preliminary report. Journal of Psychopharmacology.
  10. Balachandran P, Elsohly M, Hill KP. (2021). Cannabidiol Interactions with Medications, Illicit Substances, and Alcohol: a Comprehensive Review. J Gen Intern Med.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.

She received her undergraduate degree in nursing from the University of Delaware and her master's degree from Thomas Jefferson University. You can find Katelyn on Doximity for more information.

Read more

Care for your mind,
care for your self

Start your mental wellness journey today.