Can CBD Help With Mental Health?

  • Researchers have found that CBD has anti-anxiety, antiepileptic, and antipsychotic properties that might help reduce depression[1].
  • In a clinical trial, 79% of the participants who used CBD experienced a reduction in anxiety[2]
  • CBD may affect how the brain reacts to serotonin[3]. An imbalance of serotonin levels may lead to mood disorders, like anxiety and depression[4].
  • CBD may help maintain anandamide (the “bliss molecule”) levels to reduce mood swings and emotional outbursts[5].
  • However, more studies are needed to support the current evidence for CBD’s potential to treat mental health conditions.

Why People Are Turning to CBD for Mental Health

CBD has shown promise in initial studies as a treatment for symptoms of both anxiety and depression. As more people turn to natural alternative treatments for mental health, the interest in CBD also grows. 

Mental health includes an individual’s emotional, social, and psychological well-being. It affects how one thinks, feels, and acts. 

Moreover, mental health helps determine how an individual handles stress, relates to others, and makes choices. Sometimes, people also use the term mental health to mean the absence of mental illnesses.

Mental illness can be defined as a health condition that changes a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, causing the person distress and difficulty in functioning[6]. Mental illness can be mild or severe.

There are many different mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, psychiatric disorders, substance use disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders

According to a 2017 study, approximately 792 million people were living with a mental health disorder[7]. The number was slightly more than one in ten people globally (10.7%). 

In a 2020 survey on public health, increased levels of mental distress were found due to the COVID-19 pandemic[8].

The most prevalent mental illnesses people suffer from are anxiety and depression. 

Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear, and they may cause interference with daily activities. The symptoms include heart palpitations, high blood pressure, feelings of insecurity, panic attacks, and sleep problems[9].

Depression is one of the main affective disorders characterized by extreme sadness and hopelessness. It may sometimes develop as a secondary condition to an underlying health problem, including chronic pain syndrome, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease[10]

CBD (cannabidiol) is a natural compound derived from the cannabis plant. Unlike marijuana, most CBD oils contain only trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). 

Trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%) do not produce any psychoactive effects.

A clinical trial showed that 79% of participants who used CBD experienced a reduction in anxiety than those who used other over-the-counter drugs[11].

A 2015 study suggested that CBD may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety for several conditions. These include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)[12].

Additionally, a study published in 2018 demonstrated CBD as a potential remedy to depression[13]

Researchers examined the experimental and clinical use of CBD. They found that it showed antiepileptic and antipsychotic properties that might help reduce depression linked to stress.

Recent studies have also looked at CBD as a standalone treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and supplement to traditional treatments, such as medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

These findings showed that CBD might help with PTSD symptoms, including replaying negative memories and having nightmares[14]

Furthermore, several types of research have been conducted to understand the effects and potential benefits of CBD on mental health

In a 2011 study, participants with social anxiety were given an oral dose of 400 milligrams (mg) of CBD or a placebo. After ingesting CBD, participants experienced overall reduced levels of stress and anxiety[15].

A study in 2016 also reported that CBD helped with the psychotic symptoms of people with schizophrenia[16]

Researchers noted that CBD did not cause significant debilitating side effects associated with some antipsychotic drugs.

While multiple studies suggest CBD’s positive effects on mental health, further investigation is still needed to substantiate CBD’s purported benefits[17]

How CBD Oil Works to Help with Mental Health

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for the state of balance or homeostasis in the body. 

The ECS has two central cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. These receptors are found in different parts of the body and play a specific function. 

CB1 receptors are located in the brain and are associated with cognitive actions related to thinking, coordination, memory processing, mood, and appetite. 

The therapeutic benefits of CBD are realized by their interaction with the body’s ECS and its specialized cannabinoid receptors. 

The exact way CBD affects CB1 receptors in the brain is not clearly understood. However, it is believed to alter serotonin signals.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter with an essential role in mental health

People with depression have low serotonin levels. Not having enough serotonin may cause anxiety[18]

A study reported that CBD’s antidepressant effects do not appear to increase serotonin levels. Instead, it affects how the brain responds to serotonin that is already present in the body[19].  

It is also found that CBD helps keep anandamide at the right level, reducing emotional outbursts, psychotic symptoms, and mood swings[20]

Anandamide is known as “the bliss molecule,” as it stabilizes emotions, controls feelings of happiness, and euphoria. 

The Pros and Cons of CBD for Mental Health

The Pros

  • CBD shows potential in reducing stress and anxiety levels[21].
  • Studies suggest that CBD is a potential remedy for depression[22]
  • Researchers have found that CBD reduced symptoms of psychosis for people with schizophrenia[23]
  • CBD may help with symptoms of post-traumatic stress. CBD may also help with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)[24].
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), CBD is generally safe for human use[25]

The Cons

  • There is inadequate evidence to prove that CBD is an effective treatment for mental health issues. 
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved CBD oil as a treatment for mental disorders.
  • Side effects of CBD may include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, drowsiness, and changes in appetite[26].
  • CBD may interact with medications or supplements[27]
  • How CBD Oil Compares to Alternative Treatments for Mental Health

    There is no standardized approach to mental health treatments. They vary greatly depending on the individual, the type of mental illness, and its severity. 

    Aside from prescription medications and therapies, one may also try alternative and holistic treatments for mental health.

    Meditation is a relaxation technique that ranges from mindfulness-based meditation, guided meditation, to simple breathing exercises. 

    A Johns Hopkins study found that meditation may improve psychological stresses, such as anxiety and depression[28]

    Yoga is another relaxation technique that helps with anxiety and depression. Studies concluded that practicing yoga modulates the body’s response to stress and has a long-term effect on anxiety reduction[29]

    Another way to help ease stress and anxiety is through aromatherapy. A 2012 study suggested that using essential oils, like lavender, may significantly reduce blood pressure and heart rate and improve sleep quality in the long-term[30]

    Similarly, CBD has been found to have antidepressant and anxiety-reducing effects[31]. Several CBD products infused with essential oils, like lavender, help promote calm and relaxation. 

    How to Choose the Right CBD for Mental Health 

    There are three types of CBD oil to choose from:

    Full-Spectrum CBD oil contains different plant-based compounds, including phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and other phytonutrients. These compounds work together to create an “entourage effect.”

    Broad-Spectrum CBD contains multiple cannabinoids found in the hemp plant but does not contain THC

    CBD Isolate contains pure CBD with no other cannabinoids

    If one wants to know how to choose the best CBD oil for anxiety, there are different factors to consider.

    Source of Hemp – The hemp extract may come from Colorado or some parts of Europe, for instance. One should look for CBD products derived from non-GMO, organic hemp to ensure that it is free from pesticides, or harmful contaminants. 

    Extraction Method – The extraction process involves the separation of the CBD extract from the hemp plant. It may be through CO2 extraction or ethanol extraction. 

    Carrier Oil – Carrier oils help increase the bioavailability or absorption rate of CBD in the body. The most common carrier oils used in CBD products are hemp seed oil and MCT oil. 

    Lab Testing – Reliable CBD brands get their products tested by a third-party lab to ensure the highest quality, potency, and safety. They must also post the lab results of their CBD products on their website. 

    Taste – CBD hemp oil may be unflavored or come in various flavors, such as peppermint or chocolate, to help mask the strong taste of hemp.

    Company Policies – Some CBD brands, like CBDistillery and NuLeaf Naturals, provide some of the best CBD oils for anxiety. Check if they offer a money-back guarantee and research on their policies on shipping, returns, and refund. 

    Legality – The use of medical marijuana is illegal on the federal level but is legal under some state laws. 

    Hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC are legal under federal laws but are still illegal under some state laws.

    In the United States, the use of cannabis is allowed for specific medical conditions, such as epilepsy. 

    Epidiolex is the first and only CBD treatment for seizures approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)[32]

    CBD Dosage for Mental Health 

    CBD dosage varies from person to person and depends on different factors, including age, weight, and genetics. It is advisable to consult health professionals to find a suitable starting dosage. 

    The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) advises very few commercially available CBD products that replicate the therapeutic effects observed in clinical trials[33]

    In a randomized placebo-controlled study, an oral dose of 300 mg of CBD was received by male subjects 90 minutes before undergoing a simulated public speaking test[34]. The researchers found that the dose administered was enough to reduce the speakers’ anxiety significantly. 

    However, it was only a limited study. More research is needed to determine the appropriate dosage for people with anxiety symptoms

    How to Take CBD for Mental Health

    CBD oils may be taken as tinctures, gummies, topicals, or vapes

    CBD tincture is taken sublingually by using a dropper to place the oil under the tongue. It can also be added to food and drinks, but this may affect absorption. 

    CBD may also be consumed through edibles, such as CBD gummies or mints. In these forms, CBD may take up to two hours to kick in and only 20-30% of it gets absorbed[35]

    Topicals include CBD-infused lotions, creams, balms, salves, and transdermal patches, which are applied directly to the skin. This method is a suitable choice for treating skin conditions or localized pain. 

    Sometimes CBD oil is mixed with massage oil to provide calm and relaxation during massages and aromatherapy.

    Vaping or smoking allows for better absorption of CBD into the body[36]. In this method, CBD goes directly into the bloodstream, and the effects are felt much faster[37]

    However, vape use poses serious health hazards. A study showed that several lung diseases, such as collapsed lung and lipoid pneumonia, are associated with vaping[38].

    Conclusion

    There are many mental health illnesses and safe established treatments for bipolar disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, psychiatric disorders, substance use disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. 

    Many people also turn to CBD for these mental conditions because of its potential health benefits in reducing stress, anxiety, and managing depression. 

    Multiple studies have demonstrated CBD’s anxiolytic, antiepileptic, and antipsychotic properties. 

    Research also shows that CBD helps maintain the right levels of anandamide in the body to stabilize emotions, reduce mood swings, and emotional outbursts. 

    While CBD does not increase serotonin levels directly, it affects how the brain responds to the serotonin in the body.

    Still, there is not enough scientific evidence to recommend CBD as an effective treatment for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

    Before buying CBD, it is still best to consult a medical professional for guidance on proper usage and dosage. Mental health emergencies should be treated by a qualified professional right away, and not with CBD.

    Cannabis users should note that the use of medical cannabis is not legal in all 50 states. However, Cannabis sativa hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC are legal under federal laws. 


    1. Crippa, J. A., Guimarães, F. S., Campos, A. C., & Zuardi, A. W. (2018). Translational investigation of the therapeutic potential of cannabidiol (CBD): toward a new age. Frontiers in immunology, 9, 2009. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2018.02009/full 
    2. Shannon, S., Lewis, N., Lee, H., & Hughes, S. (2019). Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: a large case series. The Permanente Journal, 23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc6326553/
    3. Sales, A. J., Crestani, C. C., Guimarães, F. S., & Joca, S. R. (2018). Antidepressant-like effect induced by Cannabidiol is dependent on brain serotonin levels. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 86, 255-261.
    4. Baldwin, D., & Rudge, S. (1995). The role of serotonin in depression and anxiety. International clinical psychopharmacology.
    5. Campos, A. C., Moreira, F. A., Gomes, F. V., Del Bel, E. A., & Guimaraes, F. S. (2012). Multiple mechanisms involved in the large-spectrum therapeutic potential of cannabidiol in psychiatric disorders. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367(1607), 3364-3378.
    6. Study, B. S. C., & National Institutes of Health. (2007). Information about Mental Illness and the Brain. In NIH Curriculum Supplement Series [Internet]. National Institutes of Health (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20369/ 
    7. Ritchie, H. & Roser, M. (2018). Mental Health. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health 
    8. Pierce, M., Hope, H., Ford, T., Hatch, S., Hotopf, M., John, A., … & Abel, K. M. (2020). Mental health before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal probability sample survey of the UK population. The Lancet Psychiatry.
    9. Wells, A., & Leahy, R. L. (1998). Cognitive therapy of anxiety disorders: A practice manual and conceptual guide.
    10.  Krishnan, K. R. R., Delong, M., Kraemer, H., Carney, R., Spiegel, D., Gordon, C., … & Cohen, P. D. (2002). Comorbidity of depression with other medical diseases in the elderly. Biological psychiatry, 52(6), 559-588.
    11. Ibid.
    12. Blessing, E. M., Steenkamp, M. M., Manzanares, J., & Marmar, C. R. (2015). Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4), 825-836.
    13. Ibid. 
    14. Black, N., Stockings, E., Campbell, G., Tran, L. T., Zagic, D., Hall, W. D., … & Degenhardt, L. (2019). Cannabinoids for the treatment of mental disorders and symptoms of mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry, 6(12), 995-1010.
    15. Ibid.
    16. Fakhoury, M. (2016). Could cannabidiol be used as an alternative to antipsychotics?. Journal of psychiatric research, 80, 14-21.
    17.  Bitencourt, R. M., & Takahashi, R. N. (2018). Cannabidiol as a therapeutic alternative for post-traumatic stress disorder: From bench research to confirmation in human trials. Frontiers in neuroscience, 12, 502.
    18. Cowen, P. J., & Browning, M. (2015). What has serotonin to do with depression?. World Psychiatry, 14(2), 158. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc4471964/
    19. Ibid. 
    20. Ibid.
    21. Crippa, J. A. S., Derenusson, G. N., Ferrari, T. B., Wichert-Ana, L., Duran, F. L., Martin-Santos, R., … & Filho, A. S. (2011). Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 25(1), 121-130. https://www.academia.edu/download/46711236/Neural_basis_of_anxiolytic_effects_of_ca20160622-8056-14aolkn.pdf
    22. Ibid.
    23. Ibid.
    24. Ibid.
    25. Ibid.
    26. World Health Organization (WHO). (2018). Cannabidiol (CBD) Critical Review Report. https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/CannabidiolCriticalReview.pdf
    27. Machado Bergamaschi, M., Helena Costa Queiroz, R., Waldo Zuardi, A., & Crippa, A. S. (2011). Safety and side effects of cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa constituent. Current drug safety, 6(4), 237-249.
    28. Brown, J. D., & Winterstein, A. G. (2019). Potential adverse drug events and drug–drug interactions with medical and consumer cannabidiol (CBD) use. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(7), 989.
    29. Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., … & Ranasinghe, P. D. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA internal medicine, 174(3), 357-368.
    30. Gururaja, D., Harano, K., Toyotake, I., & Kobayashi, H. (2011). Effect of yoga on mental health: Comparative study between young and senior subjects in Japan. International Journal of Yoga, 4(1), 7.
    31. Chien, L. W., Cheng, S. L., & Liu, C. F. (2012). The effect of lavender aromatherapy on autonomic nervous system in midlife women with insomnia. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine, 2012.
    32. Ibid.
    33. Rubin, R. (2018). The path to the first FDA-approved cannabis-derived treatment and what comes next. Jama, 320(12), 1227-1229.
    34. Armentano, P. (2006). The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (www. norml. org).
    35. Linares, I. M., Zuardi, A. W., Pereira, L. C., Queiroz, R. H., Mechoulam, R., Guimaraes, F. S., & Crippa, J. A. (2019). Cannabidiol presents an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve in a simulated public speaking test. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, 41(1), 9-14.
    36. Paudel, K. S., Hammell, D. C., Agu, R. U., Valiveti, S., & Stinchcomb, A. L. (2010). Cannabidiol bioavailability after nasal and transdermal application: effect of permeation enhancers. Drug development and industrial pharmacy, 36(9), 1088-1097. https://doi.org/10.3109/03639041003657295 
    37. Ibid.
    38.  Broderick, S. (2020). What Does Vaping Do to Your Lungs? Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/what-does-vaping-do-to-your-lungs
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