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The Effects of Cannabidiol (CBD) on Anxiety & Mood

By Sherry Christiansen

Medically reviewed by Dr. George Gavrilos, Dr. Steven Salzman

Key Takeaways

  1. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the most prevalent active ingredient derived from the hemp plant; it is used for health and wellness, including the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders.
  2. There is a growing body of evidence to back the claims that CBD is effective in alleviating anxiety and depression.
  3. Several small clinical studies show that CBD is effective in treating various types of anxiety.
  4. Studies show that CBD works to ease depression by interacting with receptors other than endocannabinoid receptors, such as serotonin receptors.

The Effects of Cannabidiol (CBD) on Anxiety & Mood

Cannabinoids have been used to treat everything from certain types of epilepsy and chronic pain to weight loss linked with HIV/AIDS. 1 Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid which is considered the most prevalent active ingredient in the Cannabis sativa/hemp plant; it is commonly used for wellness and prevention, as well as to treat many health conditions.  Learn more about the hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) here. The clinical research, backing the claims of the safety and efficacy of products such as CBD, are beginning to gain momentum. A growing body of evidence shows that CBD may even be very effective in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders such as depression. 2

Mood Disorders and Anxiety

Mood disorders, such as dysthymia, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder are common mental health conditions. These conditions involve more than just a fluctuation in the way a person feels, but rather, symptoms of mood disorders impact all aspects of a person’s work and social life, overall health, and wellbeing.3 

Although anxiety can affect a person’s mood, it is not officially classified as a mood disorder. This is because while anxiety often leads to the development of emotions, such as fear and hopelessness, it is not directly linked with depression or other mood disorders.

Medications are often prescribed for mood disorders, but many of these psychotropic medications cause troublesome side effects such as:

  • Sleep problems
  • An increase or decrease in appetite
  • Anxiety 
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Mood swings
  • Sexual dysfunction

Preliminary results from recent research indicates that components in CBD may effectively and safely treat mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, without many of the side-effects that occur with psychotropic medications. 2 Studies have shown that CBD helps ease symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety; a 2018 study found that CBD users reported a significant reduction in symptoms of depression.4

Cannabidiol (CBD) for Mood Disorders

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive, plant-based compound. Although CBD is a promising treatment modality for mood disorders, such as dysthymia and depression, the exact mechanism of action is not very well known. 9 A 2021 preclinical review found that a summary of animal-based studies supports the use of CBD as an anti-anxiety and antidepressant like compound. The study also found that CBD has a “clear anti-stress effect after short- or long-term use.” 5 Some studies found that CBD exhibited antidepressant effects without directly activating the endocannabinoid receptors directly, but rather by activating other receptors, such as serotonin receptors. 2

Serotonin, Cannabinoids and Depression 

CBD has been studied for its potential in treating anxiety and mood disorders, because CBD interacts with such a wide range of targets in the brain; there is a growing body of research showing its antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. 6

A common link between depression and cannabinoids—such as CBD—is serotonin. Normal levels of serotonin impact a person’s emotional state and engender feelings of well-being. 10 People with depression often take antidepressants called serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which help to maintain normal levels of serotonin in the brain, normalizing mood and combating depression. But many of these medications are known to have major side effects. 

CBD is thought to interact with multiple receptors, in addition to endocannabinoid receptors, one such interaction involves serotonin receptors. This unique way that CBD interacts with multiple receptors may help reduce depression and anxiety among other health promoting properties.7 

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Cannabidiol (CBD) shows a low affinity for cannabinoid receptors; CBD lends itself to facilitating endocannabinoid signaling by interfering with the hydrolysis of anandamide and stimulating receptors, such as serotonin type 1A receptors. 6 CBD is thought to produce analgesic and anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) effects by interacting with the serotonin (5-HT)1A receptor. 11 Learn more about endocannabinoids such as anandamide here

Cannabidiol (CBD) and Anxiety 

Many anti-anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) medications are habit forming or addictive and have side effects such as sleepiness, severe fatigue and slowing of mental functioning. 13 Some anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines lose their therapeutic effect in a s little as 4 to 6 months of regular use. 13  

There have been several small clinical trials on the effect of CBD on various types of anxiety, including standard (i.e., low stress) and stress inducing (e.g., anxiety from public speaking) situations. A 2020 narrative review of studies was conducted by Dr. Danielle McCartney at The University of Sydney, Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, to examine the results of CBD on several types of anxiety, including: 12 

  • Subjective anxiety in healthy people
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  • High trait paranoia  

The narrative review reported several conclusions on the efficacy of CBD on anxiety, including: 12

  • CBD has little influence in low stress conditions in healthy people.
  • CBD demonstrated anxiolytic effects at doses of 300 mg in stress inducing conditions in healthy study participants as well as those with SAD.
  • That 300 mg of CBD was comparable in efficacy to the anxiolytic/antidepressant drug, ipsapirone (5 mg) during a public speaking test.

It’s important to note that the concentration of CBD can vary greatly from one product to another due to the fact that CBD is not regulated by the FDA or any other governmental entity. Therefore, it is important to source a high quality CBD product.   

More Studies

A 2014 Study on Anxiety and Depression 

A 2014 study published in the journal CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets, found:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) to be an anxiolytic-like and antidepressant-like compound.
  • CBD to exhibit antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects in animal studies.

A 2018 Study on Mood & Sleep Disorders and Stress

A 2018 review published in Frontiers in Immunology, evaluated the primary advances in the clinical use of cannabidiol (CBD) in neuropsychiatry. CBD was shown to have many therapeutic properties including the potential for use in depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, and sleep disorders among other conditions.8

A 2019 Review Study on Cannabinoids & Mood Disorder Symptoms 

A review of studies on the efficacy of cannabidiol up to 2019 examined the effect of cannabidiol or cannabidiol mixed with other cannabinoids on symptoms of mood disorders. The study authors concluded that cannabidiol may have a role in the treatment of mood disorders, but more clinical research studies need to be conducted to conclusively back these claims. 9

Resources 

  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need to Know. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/cannabis-marijuana-and-cannabinoids-what-you-need-to-know 
  2. Melas PA, Scherma M, Fratta W, Cifani C, Fadda P. Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety and mood disorders: molecular targets and epigenetic insights from preclinical research. IJMS. 2021;22(4):1863. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22041863 
  3. Cramer V, Torgersen S, Kringlen E. Mood disorders and quality of life. A community study. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. 2010;64(1):58-62. https://doi.org/10.3109/08039480903287565
  4. Cuttler, C., Spradlin, A, and Mclaughlin, R. Journal of Affective Disorders. A natrualistic examinatoin of the perceived effects of cannabis on ngative affect. Volume 235, 1 August 2018, Pages 198-205 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2018.04.054 
  5. Melas PA, Scherma M, Fratta W, Cifani C, Fadda P. Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety and mood disorders: molecular targets and epigenetic insights from preclinical research. IJMS. 2021;22(4):1863. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22041863  
  6. Guina J, Merrill B. Benzodiazepines i: upping the care on downers: the evidence of risks, benefits and alternatives. JCM. 2018;7(2):17. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm7020017  Melas PA, Scherma M, Fratta W, Cifani C, Fadda P. Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety and mood disorders: molecular targets and epigenetic insights from preclinical research. IJMS. 2021;22(4):1863.https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22041863 
  7. de Mello, S.,  AR, de Oliveira, R., Coutinho DS,. et al. Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of Cannabis sativa. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. 2014;13(6):953-60. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24923339/ 
  8. Crippa JA, Guimarães FS, Campos AC, Zuardi AW. Translational investigation of the therapeutic potential of cannabidiol (Cbd): toward a new age. Front Immunol. 2018;9:2009. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2018.02009
  9. Pinto JV, Saraf G, Frysch C, et al. Cannabidiol as a Treatment for Mood Disorders: A Systematic Review: Le cannabidiol comme traitement des troubles de l’humeur: une revue systématique. Can J Psychiatry. 2020;65(4):213-227.https://doi.org/10.1177/0706743719895195
  10. Cowen PJ, Browning M. What has serotonin to do with depression? World Psychiatry. 2015;14(2):158-160. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20229 
  11. De Gregorio D, McLaughlin RJ, Posa L, et al. Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain. Pain. 2019;160(1):136-150 https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001386 
  12. McCartney D, Benson MJ, Desbrow B, Irwin C, Suraev A, McGregor IS. Cannabidiol and sports performance: a narrative review of relevant evidence and recommendations for future research. Sports Med – Open. 2020;6(1):27.https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-020-00251-0
  13. Guina J, Merrill B. Benzodiazepines i: upping the care on downers: the evidence of risks, benefits and alternatives. JCM. 2018;7(2):17.https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm7020017
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