How Cannabidiol (CBD) Can Work for Treating Anxiety


Most people don’t consider anxiety as a desirable condition; however, the feeling is a critical adaptive response which can help us to survive while we (or our relatives) are being threatened. With this critical response, we are able to recognize dangers and escape accordingly.  It can prompt us to act smartly to resolve a challenging situation such as improve a relationship, work more efficiently, or pay bills. Nevertheless, without appropriate management of these natural responses, it can be maladapted and consequently, affects our duties and relationships.  Sometimes, it can result in medically diagnosable anxiety-related diseases. As a matter of fact, the statement “stress kills” is real.

In the US, about 18% of the population above 18 years of age is affected by anxiety-related disorders – this equates to about 40 million people. As a result, Big Pharma has created several drugs to correct anxiety-related disorders. Some of these drugs include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Zoloft, Prozac as well as tranquilizers such as benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium.

Although these drugs have effectively treated many patients; their effectiveness has been less than expected in others. Some affected individuals do not experience significant improvement or find it difficult to withstand the side effects of these drugs. Furthermore, Valium and Xanax (both of which are tranquilizers) can be considerably addictive. Hence, there is a desire among some to find alternative treatments.

Fortunately, Cannabidiol (CBD), the non-intoxicating component of cannabis, has been found to be an alternative option to the available anxiety drugs. Over the past few years, Cannabidiol has gained attention from scientists, clinicians as well as end-users. The reason behind this cannot be farfetched; apart from the fact that Cannabidiol can counteract most of THC’s side effects, several pieces of evidence and reports from human experimental, epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that CBD contains potent anti-anxiety qualities. When used appropriately as needed, the results are safe, well-received and may be useful to cure several anxiety-related disorders, such as:

  • Social Phobia
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Mild to Moderate depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

How Cannabidiol (CBD) works?

CBD is known to influence the brain in several ways which explains the reason behind its effectiveness in treating anxiety. However, before we proceed, it is pertinent to mention that the majority of research that explains how Cannabidiol works are based on animal studies and preclinical checks. It is also worth noting that the outcomes of animal studies do not always apply effectively as human therapies; however, with the outcomes of preclinical studies, we can say that we are moving in the right direction:

5-HT1A agonist: this is considered a subset of serotonin receptors which is useful since, in some cases, anxiety and depression can be treated with drugs that focus on the serotonin system. For this reason, drug companies have created selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Zoloft and Prozac. SSRIs operate by inhibiting the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain, which enhances the availability of serotonin within the synaptic space. This inhibition will trigger brain cells to send more serotonin signals which reduce anxiety and improve mood in specific cases (however, a complete biological basis for this process is complex and yet to be completely understood). Similarly, CDB can enhance signaling via serotonin receptors.

According to the work of a Spanish researcher, CBD improves 5-HT1A transmission and may influence serotonin quicker than SSRIs.  This scientist disclosed that some of the major limitations of existing antidepressant therapies could be resolved by the fast onset of CBD’s antidepressant action as well as the simultaneous anxiolytic effect.

Hippocampal neurogenesis: the hippocampus, which is vital to several functions of the brain. The hippocampus is particularly known for its role in memory formation and cognition. Patients suffering from anxiety or depression usually show a smaller hippocampus in a brain scan while successful treatment of depression has shown the development of new neurons in the hippocampus.

According to a study done on mice, a repeated intake of CBD may assist in the regeneration of neurons within the hippocampus; and this could be beneficial for the treatment of anxiety or depression. Some studies have also disclosed that CBD and SSRIs can enhance neurogenesis (birth of new neurons). This is beneficial since there is growing evidence that significantly impaired neuronal plasticity can affect suicidal actions. However, a comparative study between CBD and SSRIs concerning their effect on neurogenesis in the future may help shed more light on how to understand depression as well as its treatment. 

How can Cannabidiol help Anxiety?

Building on the foundation of animal studies, human studies have started to offer proof that CBD can treat most anxiety-disorder symptoms, acute stress, and anxiety which are commonly reported.

Human Studies have revealed the effectiveness of CBD in reducing Anxiety

Scientists from Brazil have performed double-blind research study on people with generalized social anxiety. Participants declared a considerable decrease in anxiety after consuming CBD. The subjective reports from patients were validated by researchers through brain scans that showed cerebral blood flow patterns which were consistent with anxiolytic effects.

Another study was performed on patients having Social Anxiety Disorder. The patients were asked to undertake simulated public speaking test; the participants revealed that they feel less anxious afterward and also, findings backed up their claims with real anxiety signals such as heart rate and blood pressure.

The scientists involved in the study conclude that Cannabidiol reduces cognitive impairments, anxiety, and discomfort in speech action considerably while the placebo group witnessed greater anxiety, discomfort as well as cognitive impairment.



Results from animal studies have categorized the information of how Cannabidiol functions in the brain.  Likewise, human studies on patients affected with and without anxiety disorders have begun to support the efficacy of CBD in performing as an anti-anxiety drug. Considering the hefty financial and social costs of anxiety disorders in America, CBD possesses the qualities to perform in the treatment of several anxiety-related disorders.

Even so, additional studies, including heavy randomized-control trials (RCTs), are required to assess the effects and potential of CBD in the long term.  However, due to its revealed efficacy and top-quality safety profile, CBD is seen as a potential alternative to the treatments currently in use.



Jeremy Kossen: Jeremy is a contributing writer at Leafly. He is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur.

Blessing EM, Steenkamp MM, Manzanares J, Marmar CR. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12(4):825-36. 

Malberg JE, Eisch AJ, Nestler EJ, Duman RS. Chronic antidepressant treatment increases neurogenesis in adult rat hippocampus. J Neurosci. 2000;20(24):9104-10. 

Zlebnik NE, Cheer JF. Beyond the CB1 Receptor: Is Cannabidiol the Answer for Disorders of Motivation?. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2016;39:1-17.