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CBD relieves anxiety without the risks that come with THC

A team of scientists led by the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) has found that cannabis products rich in CBD, a non-intoxicating compound, are more effective at alleviating anxiety compared to those dominated by THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana), without the associated side effects. 

This study, involving 300 participants, is the first randomized trial to explore the impact of legal, commercially available cannabis on anxiety symptoms.

Relief from anxiety with CBD

The investigation is timely, as anxiety disorders affect one in five U.S. adults, making it the nation’s most prevalent mental illness. Due to this, anti-anxiety medication prescriptions have seen an uptick.

“We need more data before we can say conclusively that there are long-term, beneficial effects, but the short-term effects were very clear: CBD was associated with tension and anxiety relief with limited harm,” said senior author Cinnamon Bidwell, an associate professor in both the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and the Institute of Cognitive Science at CU Boulder.

Many adults cite anxiety as a primary reason for using cannabis, seeking relief for this condition as well as sleep and pain issues. However, research on cannabis’s effectiveness for anxiety has yielded mixed results. 

Some studies point out that high-frequency use or potent THC products may exacerbate anxiety over time. Conversely, evidence suggests that incorporating CBD into THC-heavy products could mitigate some adverse effects, such as the immediate impairment and paranoia.

Focus of the research

To dissect the distinct short-term and long-term impacts of CBD and THC – the two main active ingredients in cannabis – the researchers enlisted 300 individuals with anxiety, including 42 non-cannabis users and 258 who had previously used it. 

Participants were assigned one of three cannabis products: THC-dominant (24% THC, 1% CBD), CBD-dominant (1% THC, 24% CBD), or a balanced mix (12% CBD, 12% THC).

Due to federal restrictions on cannabis in educational settings, the participants procured their assigned products from specified dispensaries for off-campus use. Throughout the four-week study, usage frequency averaged three times weekly, with researchers assessing participants before and after cannabis consumption in their homes using a mobile lab.

Substantial improvements 

All groups reported reduced anxiety by the study’s conclusion, but the CBD-dominant group showed the most substantial improvements.

Although those in the CBD-dominant group did not feel impaired, they did feel less tense immediately after smoking. Moreover, they were less likely to experience paranoia immediately after use than those in the two other cannabis groups.

“Our findings suggest that THC did not increase anxiety long-term and that CBD-dominant forms of cannabis were associated with acute tension reduction that may translate to longer-term reductions in anxiety symptoms,” said study co-author Gregory Giordano, a professional research assistant at the CU Center for Health and Neuroscience, Genes, and Environment.

Promising news about anxiety and CBD

Bidwell highlighted CBD‘s anti-inflammatory properties as a potential explanation for its anxiety-reducing effects, contrasting it with THC’s immediate mood-altering capabilities.

Despite the availability of prescription anxiety treatments, concerns over side effects and dependency persist, along with risks associated with early and frequent THC use.

“Our study suggests that CBD products may be able to relieve anxiety in the moment for adults who use them, and possibly longer-term, in a way that is meaningful and doesn’t necessarily produce the same risks or harms of THC or prescription medications,” Bidwell concluded. “We need more data before we can make conclusive recommendations, but this is promising news.”

The study is published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.


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