How can CBD relieve anxiety disorders? How to properly consume CBD to avoid panic attacks and anxiety attacks? Yes, full-spectrum CBD products can cause or worsen anxiety in some people. Here’s why it affects anxiety differently and what you can do about it.
Panic attacks and anxiety attacks: does CBD work?
Panic attacks and anxiety attacks occur because of stress and anxiety. According to WHO (World Health Organization) figures, anxiety disorders affect nearly 260 million people worldwide. Anxiety disorders manifest themselves as a feeling of insecurity that, over time, can become permanent. On a daily basis, people with anxiety suffer from panic attacks or anxiety attacks, intense episodes where they feel vulnerable and unsafe, gripped by a sudden and irrational fear.
For the past few years, CBD (cannabidiol) has been well known for reducing anxiety and inhibiting fear. Many people have embraced CBD to reduce their stress and anxiety levels on a daily basis, as it is a natural solution and far more effective than most drug treatments.
So, if you too are looking for a natural alternative to end your panic attacks, you might be interested in the soothing properties of medical cannabis. From the very first time you take it, it can help you release tension, lighten your mind, and banish anxiety from your thoughts. How do anxiety disorders manifest themselves? How can CBD reduce the symptoms of anxiety, and how to consume it properly to enjoy its benefits quickly? All the information about CBD and anxiety can be found below.
What is anxiety?
Panic attacks, also known as anxiety attacks, manifest as a sudden, intense feeling of fear. In the body, the fear can develop in milliseconds. That’s enough time to alarm your brain and trigger an attack. When it comes to anxiety, there are 3 types of disorders to differentiate:
- Panic Attacks: From an outside perspective, a panic attack may look very impressive, but in reality, it is not dangerous to your health. People who suffer from panic attacks may start crying, shaking, breathing harder, and feel completely frightened. Sometimes a trigger is the cause of the attack: an argument, a noisy place, an increase in stress, etc. But other times, they can happen for no apparent reason: at work, in class, or even at the movies. Shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, dizziness. These are the main symptoms of an anxiety attack. If you see someone starting an attack, you need to reassure and comfort them, without smothering them.
- Phobias: Anxiety disorders can also result in phobias. For example, a claustrophobic person is highly likely to have an anxiety attack if you lock him or her up for hours in an enclosed space, whether it’s a concert hall or a plane. Some people also suffer from social phobia and have great difficulty fitting in with groups. When fear and anxiety take over, they may experience nausea, headaches, and stomach aches.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Generalized anxiety is when the feeling of anxiety becomes constant. Every day, people suffering from this generalized disorder are afraid of everything and are very nervous. This daily anxiety results in headaches, muscle tension, sleep disturbances and lack of concentration.
Why take CBD to combat anxiety?
To begin with, it is essential to remember that CBD is one of the many cannabinoids in hemp that, unlike THC, does not provide any psychoactive effects. Thus, people suffering from anxiety can consume CBD without the risk of aggravating their case. Cannabis with THC could actually promote anxiety in some consumers.
For scientific researchers, CBD interacts with our endocannabinoid system, specifically with the 5-HT1A, GPR55, CB1 and CB2 receptors. Thus, CBD helps regulate the production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, meaning it promotes pleasure and good mood, while alleviating stress and anxiety.
Thanks to CBD, many people suffering from anxiety have been able to regain a sense of calm and relaxation on a daily basis. Used wisely, CBD allows to evacuate irrational fears and to limit the appearance of anxiety attacks.
What do scientists think about CBD for treating anxiety?
In 2011, a clinical study conducted at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil highlighted the positive effect of CBD on the limbic and paralimbic parts of the brain. The researchers tested CBD on several participants suffering from anxiety. One group received CBD, while the other received a placebo. Only the participants who received CBD noticed a significant improvement and thus, an anxiety-reducing effect.
In 2015 in New York, another scientific study was conducted to prove the effectiveness of CBD on all types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety, social anxiety and panic attacks. Their conclusion is simple: the positive effects of CBD are quick, and they are long lasting.
More recently, in 2016, Spanish researchers conducted some animal experiments to show that CBD could improve the release of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Once again, the results reveal the huge potential of therapeutic cannabis to relieve anxiety disorders.
How to take CBD to avoid panic attacks?
Unlike traditional drug treatments, CBD does not need to be taken daily to be effective. In fact, people suffering from panic attacks can be content to take CBD only when the need arises. For those who suffer from generalized anxiety, daily or at least more frequent use may be helpful. Depending on your type of anxiety and the intensity of your attacks, it is up to you to know when you need it. You can take it every day, or once a month. It doesn’t matter, as long as the CBD is doing you good.
At what dosage?
As for the dosage, it is up to you to find the one that suits you best, depending on how you feel and the intensity of your anxiety. Whatever happens, always start with the lowest dose, and if necessary, you can increase it little by little. Starting with a small amount and a low level of CBD is the best way to obtain optimal soothing effects.
In what form?
Generally, anxious people need a quick action to relieve their crises, which is why they prefer CBD oil. It allows a precise and fast dosage, thanks to the pipette which allows to pour a few drops under the tongue. The relaxing effects appear in a few minutes and can last several hours.
Otherwise, you can also spray flowers or CBD resin if you prefer inhalation. And finally, you can make herbal teas with CBD. The most important thing is to find a form of CBD that is not a strain for you.
Can CBD cause anxiety?
Some people think that CBD can cause anxiety, as they are referring to cannabis in general. It is true that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is a psychoactive molecule that can cause palpitations and anxiety. But rest assured, CBD-based products are completely THC-free, as they meet European standards.
Can CBD cure anxiety disorders?
No, CBD does not cure any disease. On the other hand, it relieves, it helps, and it accompanies the patients towards a soft and natural healing process. CBD is not a medicine, but it can significantly improve your daily life by reducing many symptoms of anxiety.
Can Full-Spectrum CBD Cause Anxiety?
In short: yes, full-spectrum CBD can cause anxiety in some susceptible individuals. Although research has shown that pure cannabidiol (CBD) can relieve anxiety, this isn’t necessarily true for full-spectrum CBD.
If you’re sensitive to THC due to certain risk factors, you can get more anxiety or even a panic attack from taking a large enough dose of a full-spectrum CBD product.
Read on to learn how full-spectrum CBD can cause anxiety and what you can do about it.
Table of Contents
Research on CBD and Anxiety
Unlike its cousin THC, CBD can’t cause anxiety or any other mind-altering effects. On the contrary, multiple human studies have demonstrated that pure CBD can relieve various types of anxiety:
- In a 2011 Brazilian study, CBD capsules improved anxiety caused by public speaking in people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) (1)
- In a similar 2019 Japanese study, pure CBD oil improved anxiety in teenagers with SAD and avoidant personality disorder (2)
- In another 2019 study done in Colorado, CBD capsules improved anxiety scores in almost 80% of the study participants (3)
- The researchers of a 2020 review paper concluded that “CBD has a promising role as alternative therapy in the management of anxiety disorders” which include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), SAD, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (4)
Why Full-Spectrum CBD Can Cause Anxiety
If pure CBD has been shown to relieve anxiety, then why is full-spectrum CBD different?
It’s because full-spectrum CBD is a whole-plant hemp extract. Since hemp is a variety of cannabis that contains small amounts (0.3% or less) of THC, this means full-spectrum CBD can have THC.
THC is the main compound responsible for the cannabis high. Its potential side effects include increased anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks.
There’s some evidence that THC has a biphasic effect on anxiety, meaning that low doses can reduce anxiety, while higher ones can make it worse (5). On top of that, multiple factors can influence how you respond to THC.
According to research, some people have a higher chance of getting anxiety from THC due to: (6)
- Personality traits
- Infrequent use
- History of previous anxiety reactions
- Presence of anxiety disorders or symptoms
- Basal anxiety levels
- Being female
- The environment and the context in which the THC is consumed
This means that for a minority of people, ingesting even small amounts of THC — such as the kind found in full-spectrum CBD products — can actually cause anxiety, panic attacks, and related side effects.
How Much THC is in Full-Spectrum CBD Products?
Full-spectrum CBD products can legally contain up to 0.3% THC, so roughly speaking, a full-spectrum CBD oil can contain as much as 3 milligrams (mg) of THC per one milliliter (ml) of liquid.
For example, here’s a third-party lab report of a high-quality full-spectrum CBD oil showing that the THC content is about 1.6 mg/ml of oil or about 0.17% (a bit below the 0.3% legal cutoff for hemp).
With this in mind, we can estimate that 1 ml (one full dropper in most cases) of your average full-spectrum CBD oil will contain 1-3 mg of THC. Even if you were to take two full droppers, this would only add up to 2-6 mg. This doesn’t seem like much, and for most people, it isn’t.
But for individuals who are highly sensitive to THC due to the risk factors we discussed earlier, this can be enough to cause or worsen anxiety.
My Experience With Anxiety From Full-Spectrum CBD
I’ve personally experienced an uncomfortable high and anxiety that lasted for 3 hours after taking roughly 80 mg of full-spectrum CBD oil. If I had to estimate, it contained about 3-4 mg of THC.
At first, I was surprised because full-spectrum CBD products had always relieved anxiety for me.
But after doing some research, it made total sense. I’ve smoked cannabis in the past and stopped using it after I began to get anxiety even from a few puffs. I also found many other reports of people who experienced anxiety and even panic attacks from full-spectrum CBD products.
Like other susceptible individuals, I’m so sensitive to THC that even the small amount present in full-spectrum CBD can make me feel anxious.
Using Full-Spectrum CBD for the First Time? Start Low
If you plan on using a full-spectrum CBD product and think it might make you anxious (especially if you have existing anxiety issues), be sure to follow the “start low and go slow” approach to cannabinoids recommended by clinical researchers (7).
Start with a small 5-10 mg dose of CBD and wait for two hours to see the effects. If you don’t notice anything, you can try a higher dose, again stopping for two hours to see if you notice any difference.
Use this method to find the full-spectrum CBD dose that provides you with anxiety relief or whichever benefit you’re looking for.
Alternatives to Full-Spectrum CBD
If you’ve already experienced anxiety from full-spectrum CBD products, you have four options.
First, you can simply lower your dose. In my case, I found that as long as I kept my full-spectrum CBD oil doses below about 70 mg, I still got the calming effects and none of the anxiety.
Another option is to switch to a different brand. After trying various full-spectrum CBD oils I’ve noticed more pronounced THC-related effects from certain brands.
These two choices are ideal because full-spectrum CBD provides the greatest benefits thanks to the “entourage effect” produced by all of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active compounds working in synergy (8). So even though THC is the issue, it’s nice to have a little bit for that extra boost to the entourage effect.
But if you want to play things safe, you can also go with broad-spectrum CBD products. This type of extract contains the same ingredients as full-spectrum CBD but removes THC (undetectable traces might remain). This way, you can maximize the entourage effect while avoiding THC.
The last option is to use CBD isolate products, which contain only pure CBD and nothing else. But this isn’t ideal since you won’t be getting the synergistic benefits of all the other cannabinoids and terpenes found in full and broad-spectrum CBD.
Pure CBD can’t cause anxiety because it’s a non-intoxicating compound that has anxiety-relieving effects. However, full-spectrum CBD can potentially cause or worsen anxiety symptoms, depending on your sensitivity to THC.
While most people will be fine, some are so sensitive to THC that even a small amount is enough to trigger anxiety.
That’s why you should always check the third-party lab test reports (called Certificates of Analysis) to see the precise levels of THC in your product.
Keep in mind that although THC comes in two forms, delta-9 and delta-8, we’re mostly concerned about delta-9 because delta-8 is less psychoactive and naturally found in much smaller quantities (unless you’re using delta-8 products).
An example of a third-party Certificate of Analysis (CoA) showing that a full-spectrum CBD oil contains 1.6 mg of THC per ml.
There’s little regulation in the CBD industry, so it’s common for products to contain more or less CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids than advertised on the label.
You should never buy CBD from companies that fail to provide third-party test reports since they help you confirm that the CBD and THC levels are accurate and you’re getting your money’s worth.
Besides, these tests can also verify that there are no contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.
Gleb is a freelance writer from Vancouver, Canada specializing in CBD and cannabis. He’s read thousands of studies on CBD and other supplements, helping him translate complex science into plain language. Gleb has tried and reviewed dozens of CBD brands and products, written third-party testing reports, and knows the CBD industry inside and out. When not writing, he likes to kickbox, travel, and tell everyone how awesome intermittent fasting is.