CBD oil has become popular to treat anxiety & depression, but does it work? Learn about the pros & cons of this alternative treatment. Posted June 2019 Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a natural compound that has gained popularity in recent years. Here are some frequently asked questions about CBD answered by two mental health professionals who are working in this area: 1. What exactly is CBD? Is it the same as Cannabis? Hemp? Marijuana plant? Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabis compound that has generated interest for the relief of symptoms of depression. Learn how it's used and if it works.
CBD Oil for Anxiety & Depression: The Pros & Cons
Everyone’s talking about it, so we’re here to help you weigh up the pros and cons, without bias.
The pros & cons of taking CBD oil:
1. Depression & Anxiety
With symptoms like excessive worry, extreme self-consciousness, chest pain, and panic attacks, anxiety can be a debilitating condition. Depression can be equally destructive—feeling sad, with little interest in the activities you once enjoyed.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of options for treating anxiety and depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are popular, but they come with a host of side effects. Others have the risk of addiction.
Many people search for a safer, more natural way to treat anxiety and depression, so new options are being developed and researched all the time.
One emerging treatment is CBD oil. It’s becoming more popular with each passing day, but there are still major questions about how effective it is at treating anxiety and depression—and how exactly it helps.
As a fairly new and little-understood product, it’s important to learn as much as you can about CBD oil for anxiety and depression—and speak to your mental health provider—before you decide to try it.
2. What Is CBD Oil?
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a type of cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are chemicals that occur naturally in the cannabis plant. Cannabidiol is extracted from the plant and made into an oil.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is another type of cannabinoid. It’s the chemical responsible for the “high” one feels after using marijuana. Because CBD is not THC, you cannot get high from using CBD oil.
CBD oil is suggested to have positive effects for people with:
- and other mental health disorders
- in addition to depression and anxiety
- Studies have shown inconclusive results for most of these uses, with the exceptions of epilepsy, anxiety, and depression
3. How Does CBD Oil Work?
CBD oil for depression and anxiety is still being studied and doesn’t have as much research to back it up as many other treatments do. Make sure you talk to your doctor about whether it’s a good fit for you and how to incorporate it into your treatment plan.
4. CBD for anxiety
It isn’t known exactly how CBD oil combats anxiety, but it’s thought to work with a receptor in your brain called CB1. Researchers believe the interactions between CBD oil and CB1 alter serotonin signals.
The core problem at the heart of anxiety disorders is low serotonin—a neurotransmitter related to mood and well-being. SSRIs, for instance, work by blocking the absorption of serotonin in your brain, meaning you get more serotonin. CBD oil may do something similar.
Studies have shown that CBD oil can be effective in treating various types of anxiety, including:
- Social anxiety disorder (PTSD)
Behavioral symptoms of anxiety and physiological symptoms of anxiety, like rapid heartbeat, were reduced in some studies. It’s also been shown to be effective against anxiety-related insomnia.
5. CBD for Depression
CBD oil works similarly for people suffering from depression because depression happens when serotonin levels are low. Increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain has a positive effect on your emotions and motor skills.
CBD oil may also affect the hippocampus, which plays a large role in regulating your emotions. When you have depression, your hippocampus doesn’t function as well. CBD oil may help promote neurogenesis or the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus.
6. How to use CBD
You take CBD oil by either putting a few drops under your tongue with a dropper or mixing it with food. CBD gummies are also becoming popular.
7.Disadvantages of CBD Oil
While CBD oil for anxiety and depression holds promise, there are significant disadvantages to its use.
First, it isn’t widely available. You can only buy CBD oil in states where medical marijuana is legal.
Second, no CBD oil products are approved by the FDA for the treatment of anxiety or depressive disorders. Only one CBD oil product is FDA-approved, and that is for the treatment of epilepsy.
Without the oversight and regulation of the FDA, CBD oils vary widely in quality. Manufacturers can more or less put whatever they want on labels.
According to Marcel Bonn-Miller, adjunct assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 43% of CBD oil products contain too little CBD, while about 26% contain too much.
Due to its lack of regulation, approximately one in five CBD products contain THC, meaning they could give you a high. THC can increase anxiety instead of reducing it. The additional risk in taking CBD oil is that even if the product contains trace amounts of THC, you could still test positive for marijuana on a drug test.
Quality CBD oil is considered safe, but it does come with a few side effects.
- Dry mouth
- Sleeping problems
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
More concerning than these side effects is the potential harm CBD oil can inflict on your liver. About 10% of people taking CBD in studies showed increases in liver enzymes. This increase could indicate potential liver damage. These concerns were severe enough for 2% to 3% of participants in the study to drop out due to concerns from the people running the study.
There is also the potential for dangerous drug interactions when taking CBD oil with another medication. If you are taking an antidepressant or any other medications, be sure to consult with your doctor before taking CBD oil.
8. Other Alternative Anxiety & Depression Treatments
Although CBD oil as a treatment for anxiety disorders and depression is a potentially viable option, there are alternative treatments—besides medication—that are safe and effective.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is one such treatment. It offers hope for patients with anxiety disorders by restoring the neurons in the amygdala—the part of your brain involved in the fight-or-flight response—to a normal level of functioning. In those with depression, TMS stimulates the thalamus and hippocampus, which work to control the brain’s emotional responses.
TMS does this by stimulating your brain using electromagnetic pulses. It has very few side effects, and results can be felt in just two weeks.
Explore TMS side effects
Many people are searching for natural treatments for anxiety and depression, and it isn’t hard to see why.
It’s always a good idea to be open-minded to new treatments, especially when there is clinical evidence to back them up. The most important things to do are conduct thorough research and discuss any options you’re considering with your doctor.
Can CBD Help with My Anxiety and Depression?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a natural compound that has gained popularity in recent years. Here are some frequently asked questions about CBD answered by two mental health professionals who are working in this area:
1. What exactly is CBD? Is it the same as Cannabis? Hemp? Marijuana plant?
CBD is cannabidiol. It is one of almost 200 cannabinoids that can be found in marijuana plants. Unlike many other cannabinoids, CBD is not psychoactive and has a different pharmacologic profile than other psychoactive cannabinoids. CBD can be extracted from both marijuana plants and from hemp.
2. Is CBD (and CBD products) safe to use?
If there are adequate safety studies of a product, it would be considered safe. However, the CBD products flooding the market are not likely to have undergone any safety testing. In fact, the FDA has issued several warning letters to firms that market unapproved new drugs that allegedly contain cannabidiol. As part of these actions, the FDA has tested the chemical content of cannabinoid compounds in some of the products, and many were found to not contain the levels of CBD they claimed to contain. It is important to note that these products are not approved by FDA for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease. Consumers should beware purchasing and using any such products.
3. It seems like CBD is now being used in lots of products (shampoos, cosmetics, oils, bath salts, etc.). Does it really help when it is part of a product?
There is no evidence that CBD has beneficial effects as part of various products. Furthermore, the amount of CBD in any of these products is unclear.
4. Does CBD based medication really help with anxiety and depression and has it been scientifically proven to help with anxiety and depression?
- There is evidence that CBD may be a useful treatment for a number of medical conditions. However, this research is considerably less advanced than for treatment of epilepsy. For most indications, there is only pre-clinical evidence, while for some there is a combination of pre-clinical and limited clinical evidence. The range of conditions for which CBD has been assessed is diverse, consistent with its neuroprotective, antiepileptic, hypoxia-ischemia, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic, and antitumor properties.
- There is insufficient scientific evidence to support the claim that CBD is an effective treatment for depression or anxiety. That does not mean it would not help, but there simply haven’t been properly controlled clinical trials to support an indication of CBD for treating anxiety or depression. Considerably more research is required to evaluate CBD as a potential treatment for anxiety and depression.
5. Is there current research in the US for CBD? Are other countries using CBD?
- There are dozens of current clinical trials that are evaluating the potential benefits of CBD for a variety of disorders, e.g., alcohol use disorder, pain, anxiety, PTSD, etc. Most of these studies are being conducted in the US, but some are being conducted in other countries.
- CBD is also being studied in combination with THC (THC is the main psychoactive compound in Cannabis). The CBD+THC combination product is known as Sativex, which is approved for cancer pain and spasticity in Europe and Asia.
6. Is CBD FDA approved and can doctors prescribe it?
Purified CBD extract (GW Pharmaceuticals) was approved by the FDA in 2018 as a treatment for 2 rare forms of epilepsy – Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome – as a Schedule 5 compound. The brand name is Epidiolex.
7. Are there pricing regulations for CBD?
Only for the FDA approved product.
8. How can I be sure that what I am reading about CBD (articles, etc.) is providing truthful information?
Look for scientific evidence to support any claims – controlled trials, evidence that the product under discussion has been assayed by some legitimate source to verify chemical constituents. Engage in a conversation with a medical professional.
ADAA offers a free online search tool to find mental health professionals from the ADAA member community. Click here to learn more.
The information in this post was graciously provided by Kathleen T. Brady, MD, PhD, Vice President for Research, Medical University of South Carolina, and Christopher D. Verrico, PhD, Assistant Professor, Psychiatry Research, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
Can CBD Help With Depression?
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Interest in the potential mental health uses of cannabidiol (CBD) has grown tremendously in recent years, including the use of CBD for depression. CBD is a chemical compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant, also known as marijuana or hemp.
Cannabis contains more than 80 compounds, known as cannabinoids. The main cannabinoid that most people are more familiar with is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive substance that produces the “high” characteristic of marijuana.
CBD, on the other hand, is purported to have a wide range of health benefits without these psychoactive effects. Some research suggests that CBD has antidepressant-like effects, which means it may hold promise in alleviating symptoms of depression.
Despite claims about CBD’s purported mental health benefits, it is important to understand that the research on its use is still limited. There have been studies done, but many of these have limitations and further research is needed in order to fully understand CBD’s therapeutic potential.
Research suggests that CBD has antidepressant effects, although it is important to note that many of these are animal studies.
Other studies suggest that CBD may help alleviate symptoms of depression by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in a range of functions in the body including the regulation of mood. It may help contribute to feelings of happiness and well-being. It is also often implicated in the onset of depression and many types of antidepressant drugs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.
One study published in 2018 suggested that cannabidiol does not increase serotonin levels; rather, it appears to work by influencing how the brain responds to serotonin that is already there.
Another study found that CBD had a “clear anti-stress effect,” which might play a role in reducing stress levels that contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
How It’s Taken
Cannabidiol is available in several different forms, although only those that are ingested are likely to produce any antidepressant-like effects or other mental health benefits. It may be taken orally as an oil, spray, or capsule. CBD may also be added to edible products including beverages, candies, or chewable gummies.
CBD can also be used topically in creams, salves, lotions, and balms, although it is likely to only produce localized effects in this form. E-liquids that are inhaled via vaping are also available, though vaping comes with its own risks.
It is also important to note that CBD is available in isolate (only CBD), broad-spectrum (contains other cannabinoids but not THC), and full-spectrum (contains other cannabinoids, including THC).
Possible Side Effects
Most of the available research suggests that CBD is generally well-tolerated and produces few side effects. However, this does not mean that people may not experience any unwanted side effects, which may include:
- Appetite changes
- Mood changes
- Elevated liver enzymes
According to the World Health Organization, the available evidence suggests that CBD is relatively safe. However, the long-term effects are not entirely clear.
One of the biggest concerns that consumers face when purchasing CBD products is the lack of FDA regulation.
CBD products are not subject to regulation because they are marketed as supplements, which means that you don’t know if you are really getting what is described on the label. Because these products are not regulated, you have no way of knowing for sure what you are getting in terms of purity, safety, and dosage.
- One study found that a whopping 70% of CBD products sold online were mislabeled, with many containing much more THC than the packaging claimed. So while many CBD products are labeled as not containing THC, many do contain significant amounts. This could potentially result in a positive result on a drug test. This is a major concern, particularly if you want to avoid the psychoactive effects of THC.
- Another study found that CBD products may also contain potentially dangerous chemicals and medications, including synthetic cannabinoids and cough medicine. Such contamination could lead to health problems including allergic reactions or drug interactions.
CBD vs. Antidepressants
So how does CBD compare to traditional antidepressants? True comparisons of the effects are not yet possible simply because there is not enough research on CBD’s effects.
However, one animal study suggests that CBD might have some possible benefits by comparison:
- A 2018 study published in Molecular Neurobiology concluded that CBD had promise as a fast-acting antidepressant drug. While traditional antidepressant drugs typically take some time to begin working, research on rodents found that CBD showed rapid and sustained antidepressant-like effects.
- CBD also appears to have relatively few side effects. Antidepressant drugs may sometimes cause things such as appetite changes and sexual side effects.
CBD holds promise, but that does not mean that you should turn to cannabidiol products over traditional treatments for depression.
A Word From Verywell
The bottom line when it comes to CBD’s potential as a treatment for depression is that more research is needed. Most of the evidence supporting CBD’s antidepressant effects comes from animal studies or small trials, and one of the largest reviews of the research found that the available evidence is not strong enough to recommend CBD as a treatment for depression.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it is important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. Depression may worsen over time if left untreated, but there are effective treatments available including psychotherapy and medications.
If you are interested in using CBD to alleviate symptoms of depression in conjunction with other treatments, always talk to your doctor first about how to use it and about any possible medication interactions.
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.