Can CBD Oil Help With Stress and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Stress is a feeling of physical or emotional tension. It can come from any thought or event that makes an individual feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.

Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps one avoid danger or meet a deadline. 

However, when the stress persists for an extended period, it may harm one’s health. For instance, negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, and loneliness, can lead to emotional eating. 

Emotional eating or stress eating can disrupt one’s weight-loss efforts and cause more stress, consequently leading to an unhealthy cycle (1).

Stress can also manifest on the skin in the form of rashes and hives, says The American Institute of Stress (AIS) (2). 

Stress is not the same as anxiety. While an existing stress-causing factor or stressor causes stress, anxiety is the stress that continues after the stressor is gone (3).

Meanwhile, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event that one has either experienced or witnessed.

PTSD symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

These symptoms can vary in intensity over time. An individual may have more PTSD symptoms when stressed in general, or when reminded of a traumatic experience. 

Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent or sexual personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat (4). 

In the military, soldiers on missions get exposed to frightening and life-threatening experiences. Events such as these can lead to PTSD.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 11% to 20% of the veterans who served in the Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Enduring Freedom (OEF) have PTSD in a given year (5).

Still, doctors are not sure why some individuals get PTSD. Like most mental health problems, PTSD is probably caused by a complex mix of: (6). 

  • Stressful experiences in one’s life
  • Inherited features of one’s personality, called temperament
  • Inherited mental health risks, like a family history of anxiety and depression
  • The way the brain regulates hormones and chemicals that the body releases in response to stress

The primary treatment for PTSD is psychotherapy. However, treatment can also include medication, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and prazosin (to reduce or suppress nightmares).

Combining these treatments can help improve symptoms.

CBD for Stress

Studies have shown that CBD can help reduce stress.

Researchers of a 2019 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry found that CBD’s anti-anxiety effect might help reduce the response to stressful environmental factors (7). 

A study published in the Frontiers in Immunology Journal demonstrated CBD as a potential remedy to depression linked to stress (8). 

Esther Blessing, Ph.D. of New York University, led a group of researchers in 2015 and investigated the benefits of CBD in helping with anxiety. Their review of 49 studies yielded promising results (9). 

Blessing noted that animal studies conclusively demonstrate CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviors linked to multiple disorders.

These disorders include panic disorder (PD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Blessing added that the results are supported by human experimental findings, which also suggest CBD’s minimal sedative effects and an excellent safety profile.

Still, the results could not confirm that treatment with CBD would have comparable effects for those with chronic anxiety. 

Further tests are needed to determine the impact of prolonged CBD use on individuals. 

CBD for PTSD

CBD has been shown to possess potential benefits to help with PTSD. 

A 2019 research published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine has suggested that CBD might have a beneficial effect on animal models of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (10).

The authors believe this effect is believed to be due to the action of CBD on the endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

The ECS plays a vital role in the regulation of emotional behavior and is essential for synaptic processes that determine learning and emotional responses, especially those related to potentially traumatic experiences (11).

The possibility of CBD enhancing endocannabinoid signaling provided a possible explanation for the therapeutic effects of CBD and, consequently, the potential to treat PTSD.

The researchers concluded that the administration of oral CBD in addition to routine psychiatric care was associated with PTSD symptom reduction in adults with PTSD. 

CBD also appeared to offer relief in others who reported frequent nightmares as a symptom of their PTSD. 

A 2016 case report in The Permanente Journal noted the effectiveness of CBD oil for anxiety and insomnia as part of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (12). 

The authors found that CBD oil reduced the feelings of anxiety and reduced the insomnia of one 10-year old girl.

The strength of this particular case is that the child was receiving no medications other than the nonprescription diphenhydramine. 

With only nutritional supplements and the CBD oil to control her symptoms, her scores on the sleep and anxiety scales consistently and steadily decreased over 5 months. 

Ultimately, she was able to sleep on most nights in her room, behave appropriately, and become less anxious at school and home. 

A 2018 study published in the Frontiers in Immunology Journal demonstrated CBD as a potential remedy to depression (13). 

In the study, researchers examined the experimental and clinical use of CBD and found that it showed anti-anxiety, antiepileptic, and antipsychotic properties that might help reduce depression linked to stress.

The ECS plays a vital role in the human body due to its ability to maintain homeostasis or state of balance, as explained in a 2018 research published in the Journal of Young Investigators (14). 

Anandamide, also called the bliss molecule, is a neurotransmitter that is part of the ECS. Increased production of anandamide in the brain can help guard against the effects of stress. 

Anandamide also reduces behavioral signs of anxiety and fear, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience (15). 

Conclusion

Research on CBD’s potential therapeutic effect on stress and PTSD seems promising.

Still, more longitudinal investigations are necessary to substantiate further the response to CBD that was observed in the studies discussed above.

CBD’s long-term effects are still unknown, and CBD dosing guidelines remain unclear.

Before using CBD as an adjunct therapy, or as a remedy for symptoms or medical conditions linked to stress and PTSD, consult with a doctor experienced in cannabis use for advice.


  1. Mayo Clinic. (2018, Nov, 14). Weight loss: Gain control of emotional eating. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047342
  2. AIS. (2019, Dec 26). What to Do When Stress Gives You Hives. Retrieved from https://www.stress.org/what-to-do-when-stress-gives-you-hives
  3. MedlinePlus. (2020, April 9). Stress and your health. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm.
  4. NIMH. (2019, May). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml.
  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018, Dept 24). PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_veterans.asp.
  6. Mayo Clinic. (2018, July 6). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967.
  7. Linares IM, Zuardi AW, Pereira LC, et al. Cannabidiol presents an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve in a simulated public speaking test. Braz J Psychiatry. 2019;41(1):9–14. DOI:10.1590/1516-4446-2017-0015.
  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. Published 2018 Sep 21. DOI:10.3389/fimmu.2018.02009.
  9. Blessing EM, Steenkamp MM, Manzanares J, Marmar CR. Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12(4):825–836. DOI: 10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1.
  10. Elms L, Shannon S, Hughes S, Lewis N. Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series. J Altern Complement Med. 2019;25(4):392–397. DOI:10.1089/acm.2018.0437.
  11. Castillo P. E., Younts T. J., Chávez A. E., Hashimotodani Y. (2012). Endocannabinoid signaling and synaptic function. Neuron 76 70–81. 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.09.020; Riebe C. J., Pamplona F., Kamprath K., Wotjak C. T., Wotjak C. T. (2012). Fear relief—toward a new conceptual frame work and what endocannabinoids gotta do with it. Neuroscience 204 159–185. 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.11.057.
  12. Shannon S, Opila-Lehman J. Effectiveness of Cannabidiol Oil for Pediatric Anxiety and Insomnia as Part of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Report. Perm J. 2016;20(4):16-005. DOI:10.7812/TPP/16-005.
  13. 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. Published 2018 Sep 21. DOI:10.3389/fimmu.2018.02009.
  14. Sallaberry, C. and Astern, L. The Endocannabinoid System, Our Universal Regulator. Retrieved from https://www.jyi.org/2018-june/2018/6/1/the-endocannabinoid-system-our-universal-regulator.
  15. Morena M., Aukema, R., […], and Hill M. Upregulation of Anandamide Hydrolysis in the Basolateral Complex of Amygdala Reduces Fear Memory Expression and Indices of Stress and Anxiety. Journal of Neuroscience 13 February 2019, 39 (7) 1275-1292; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2251-18.2018.
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