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CBD Can Help Treat Anxiety Disorders in Young People, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Aug 03, 2022   
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CBD can help treat anxiety disorders, according to a new study.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the study involved 31 people aged between 12 and 25 who had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. All were given CBD capsules to take daily over twelve weeks.

At the end of the study, the average anxiety scores of the participants had fallen by 42.6% and the proportion of participants considered severely ill had dropped from 56.7% to 16.7%.

An end to anxiety?

Anxiety disorders affect between 15% and 20% of children and adolescents. Standard treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), but these only help around 55% of sufferers.

To help treat the remaining 45% or so of cases, the researchers – who were from the universities of Melbourne and Sydney – decided to test the anti-anxiety effects of CBD.

Thirty-one participants, with an average age of 21, were recruited for the trial. All had an anxiety disorder, the most common being social anxiety disorder, and all had tried at least one standard anti-depressant SSRI in the past to no avail.

The young participants were then given different doses of CBD to take daily over twelve weeks.

The CBD capsules were supplied by the pharmaceutical company Trigal Pharma Gmbh and the trial was sponsored by the mental health research organization Orygen.

Nineteen participants were eased into a maximum CBD dose of 800 milligrams per day (mg/d). Nine were eased into a maximum dose of 600 mg/d, while one participant ended up on 400 mg/d by the end of the trial. Two participants who withdrew prior to end of the trial received a lower maximum dose of 200 mg/d.

By the end of the trial, the participants’ average anxiety scores, taken from a standard anxiety questionnaire, had fallen by 42.6%. Twelve (40%) of 30 participants that made it to the end of the trial had an anxiety reduction of at least 50%. The number of participants rated as markedly or severely ill also decreased from 17 (56.7%) to five (16.7%).

Interestingly, the participants’ differing maximum CBD concentrations weren’t significantly associated with any mean reduction in anxiety.

“The young people had fewer panic attacks and could do things which they were previously unable to do like leave the house, go to school, participate in social situations, eat at restaurants, take public transport or attend appointments by themselves,” Paul Amminger, a researcher at Orygen and a professor of youth mental health at the University of Melbourne, said in a statement.

“That’s an amazing change in the group which has had treatment-resistant, long-standing severe to very severe anxiety,” Amminger, who led the study, continued.

The mental benefits of CBD, however, may be short lived. Amminger and his colleagues noted that, during a follow-up assessment with 13 of the participants six months after the trial, the witnessed improvements in anxiety had not been sustained.

Several unwanted side effects were also recorded during the trial. Nineteen (61.3%) of the 31 participants experienced symptoms such as fatigue, low mood, increased or decreased appetite, drowsiness, nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, insomnia, and hot flushes. One request for withdrawal was due to a skin rash that may have been related to the CBD. The researchers highlight, however, that these adverse events were more common in participants who were concurrently taking antidepressants.

“Our pilot study found that cannabidiol not only helped to reduce anxiety symptoms but it was also very well tolerated – the most common side-effects were mild sedation and mild fatigue but that was at the time when doses were increased and usually went away after a couple of days,” Professor Amminger added.

“We did not see side-effects like suicidal thoughts, irritability or sleep problems, which are not uncommon in people taking SSRIs.”

CBD and anxiety

Many previous studies have also found evidence that CBD can help treat anxiety.

A study published last year in JAMA Network Open found that exhausted healthcare workers who took 300 mg doses of CBD every day showed significant reductions in their emotional exhaustion, depression, and anxiety scores.

The researchers concluded that, when it came to reducing feelings of emotional exhaustion and anxiety, a combination of CBD capsules and weekly consultations with psychiatrists was superior to a consultation care plan without CBD.

What could be behind this anxiety relief? The Australian researchers involved in the Orygen study posit that the cannabis compound’s effects on the body’s CB1 and 5-HT1A receptors, as well as its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, all contribute to a calming feeling.

“With a mechanism of action that is apparently different from that of SSRIs commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, CBD may represent a new class of drug for anxiety disorders,” the researchers write in their paper.

But while CBD may offer hope for the future of anxiety treatments, the Australian researchers say more robust studies (the Orygen study lacked a placebo group, for instance) will need to be carried out before they can be sure.

“Future studies should further explore the mechanism of action of CBD, its interactions with psychotropic medication, and potential synergistic effects with psychological therapies.”


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