Everyone experiences some level of anxiety. However, experiencing too much anxiety can impair people’s ability to cope and work through challenges in day-to-day life. Treatment for anxiety can include the use of certain medications and counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy.
A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that cannabidiol might be a safe anxiety treatment for young people who have not responded well to other types of therapy.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses.
The National Institute of Mental Health notes, “For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.”
Dr. Lewis Jassey, medical director at Leafwell, who was not involved in the study, elaborated on the impact of anxiety.
“Anxiety can lead to both mental and physical problems. Anxiety is often comorbid with depression, with more than 70% of patients with lifetime generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) also having major depressive disorder (MDD). [F]urthermore, being under constant stress and anxiety can lead to a dampened immune system, which can increase the likelihood of suffering from an infection,” he told Medical News Today.
“Panic attacks, irritability, headaches, muscle aches, increased heart rate, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, breathing problems, upset stomach, insomnia, and chronic fatigue are all common effects of anxiety.”
— Dr. Lewis Jassey
Treatment for anxiety will often involve approaching the problem from multiple angles.
For example, a doctor might prescribe certain medications to help improve symptoms. Treatment may also involve psychotherapy, which involves evaluating and changing thinking patterns to help reduce anxiety. People with anxiety may also benefit from support groups or stress management techniques.
Sometimes, people do not respond well to these treatments and still experience high anxiety levels. Hence, experts are examining additional and alternative treatment methods that may be effective.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the portion of cannabis that doesn’t have mind-altering effects. The study was an open-label trial that included 31 people between the ages of 12 and 25. All participants met the criteria for a DSM-5 anxiety disorder and had not experienced an improvement in anxiety from previous interventions.
For twelve weeks, participants received the add-on treatment of CBD, with doses increased up to 800 mg/d as needed.
Overall, participants experienced over 40% reduction in anxiety severity based on the Overall Anxiety Severity and Impairment Scale (OASIS). Participants also experienced an improvement in social and occupational functioning and a decrease in depressive symptoms.
The study’s results indicate a potential treatment option for anxiety in people who have not responded well to other treatment types.
While discussing the study’s findings, study author Professor Paul Amminger explained:
“There’s a lot of hope that a novel compound which is benign, like cannabidiol, could ease mental health problems. I think that the most exciting finding of the study was that the anxiety severity, which was on average severe to very severe, dropped by 50% at the end of the trial.”
Study author Emily Li further noted:
“A lot of people reported [a] decrease in tension. They have reported just feeling generally more relaxed. They reported[ fewer] panic symptoms. They also reported a feeling of calmness.”
“Others have reported that because of the effect of the CBD, they no longer needed to, perhaps, use illicit substances to self-medicate,” she added,
This study opens the door for further research into cannabidiol as a treatment option for individuals with severe anxiety.
However, the study had a limited sample size and lasted only twelve weeks. This indicates the need for studies involving more participants and a longer follow-up time.
Participants also reported some side effects from using CBD, including low mood, fatigue, cold chills, and hot flashes, yet, there were no major adverse events. Further long-term research could also monitor participants for any additional side effects of CBD use.
The authors also noted that a placebo effect was possible, so further research should include a randomized control trial.
“Our trial was open-label and uncontrolled therefore casual inferences about the efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) relative to other influences (e.g., placebo effect) cannot be made with certainty,” said Prof. Amminger.
However, he also noted the data that supported it wasn’t a placebo effect:
“However, given that the patients included in this trial were some of the most severe treatment-resistant with significant functional impairment who had multiple failed treatment attempts prior their participation in our trial, the observed reduction in anxiety severity suggests that cannabidiol has clinically meaningful anxiolytic effects. Nevertheless, randomized controlled clinical trials are needed to confirm the efficacy and longer-term safety of CBD.”
As research continues, researchers will hopefully discover more effective anxiety treatments. Dr. Jassey was optimistic about the findings of this current study and believes pursuing cannabidiol as a treatment option holds promise.
“This study shows that young people reduced anxiety by up to 50%, including feeling more relaxed and less consuming illicit substances for self-medication,” he said.
“Cannabidiol (CBD) treatment holds plenty of promise. For 50% of people, antidepressant medications do not work, on top of taking several weeks of regular intake to find out if they actually work or not. Young people, in particular, may benefit, as CBD is far more tolerable and less impactful on the body than antidepressants, especially the harsher ones prescribed for treatment-resistant anxiety.”
— Dr. Lewis Jassey