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CBD Helps Treat Exhaustion in Healthcare Workers, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Aug 19, 2021   
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Few professions can be as demanding and exhausting as being a healthcare worker, even outside of a pandemic. So it’s no surprise that 18 months on from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals report feeling extremely stressed and anxious.

Across the world, many remedies to this burnout problem have been suggested, from fairer salaries to paid retreats. But one less discussed solution is CBD.

Famed for its calming effects, the cannabis chemical has shot to the top of the high street wellness sector in recent years. And in high, medical-grade quantities, the compound has become the basis of several drugs designed to calm and treat patients with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

So could the cannabinoid help reinvigorate burnt-out healthcare professionals? One research group from the Ribeirão Preto Medical School University Hospital in Brazil seems to think so.

Does CBD help anxiety?

To see if CBD could really help exhausted healthcare staff, the research team recruited 120 doctors, nurses, and physical therapists from the university hospital for a randomized controlled trial.

Around half of the participants were asked to take 300mg of CBD every day for four weeks in conjunction with a standard recovery care program, which involved motivational videos about low-impact physical exercise and weekly consultations with psychiatrists. The other recruits were only offered the care program package.

All participants were assessed via self-rating questionnaires to check for any changes in wellbeing. Just two recruits left the trial prematurely, partly due to some adverse effects of the CBD, leaving 118 participants in the final analysis.

Published in JAMA Network Open, the study found that, compared with the healthcare workers who only received standard care, the participants who were also given CBD showed significant reductions in their emotional exhaustion, depression, and anxiety scores. The same CBD group also displayed decreased levels of PTSD and burnout syndrome compared to the other group, but these differences weren’t deemed significant.

After these results were further analyzed, the researchers concluded that the combined CBD and care plan was superior to the standard care plan when it came to reducing feelings of emotional exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.

“The results of the present study could have a relevant impact on the mental health of health care staff worldwide,” the authors wrote in their conclusion.

“Cannabidiol has been found to have anxiolytic [anti-anxiety] effects in humans at doses similar to those used in the present clinical trial. Our results are also consistent with preclinical evidence suggesting that CBD has antidepressant properties.”

However, the authors of the study do caution any grand implications made from the study. As the participants receiving CBD knew what they were taking (the trial wasn’t blinded), a placebo effect could have improved their scores.

Additionally, given that 5 of the 120 initial participants incurred adverse reactions from the treatments, including a critical elevation of liver enzymes, the researchers recommend that anyone taking high doses of CBD should be closely monitored.

“Cannabidiol must be prescribed by a doctor who will be able to monitor the side effects through an interview and laboratory tests,” José Alexandre Crippa, a professor at the Ribeirão Preto Medical School (FMRP) and leader of the research, said in a statement.

Does CBD help with depression?

Several previous studies have also found CBD to be a viable treatment for anxiety and depression.

A study published last year in the British Journal of General Practice Open issued CBD oil to 400 patients in New Zealand who were experiencing pain and mental health issues. Most patients reported improvements to both their pain levels and their feelings of anxiety and depression.

Another study from 2019 detailed how CBD can help moderate any anxiety caused by THC, the intoxicating cannabis compound found in marijuana products like edibles and pre rolled cones. Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the study monitored the brain activity of participants after they consumed different strengths of cannabis. The researchers found that, unlike the high-THC strain, the high-CBD variety only caused a minimal disruption to the brain, suggesting that the CBD counteracted some of THC’s more harmful effects.


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