I’m a bit of a self-care junkie. Part of my love affair with luxuriously long baths, weekly check-ins with my therapist, and “forest bathing” (which is really just a fancy way of saying “spending time outside”), is driven by the simple fact that it feels good. (Who doesn’t love to care for oneself, after all?) But the main reason I devote so much time and energy to self-care is to ward off my paralyzing anxiety. If left unchecked, the obsessive thoughts, shame spirals, and scathing internal dialogue hijack my brain, my body, and my joy. Self-care provides me with an active defense.
After years of living with anxiety, I’ve pretty much locked down the things that make me feel like my best (and least anxious) self, but I’m always on the lookout for new things to help ease my anxiety—if something has the potential to make me feel more calm, centered, and peaceful, I’m at least going to give it a shot.
Enter cannabidiol—better known as CBD—for anxiety. In case you’ve been living under a rock, this cannabis compound has seemingly taken over the world of wellness; it’s in gummies and baked goods, vape pens and postworkout smoothies, supplements and massage oils. And it’s easy to see why: CBD is a purported plant-based treatment for everything from muscle aches to seizures.
It also has the potential to treat anxiety.
I live in Oregon, land of legal dispensaries, so it didn’t take much to get CBD into my self-care routine. After a little trial and error, it became one of my favorite ways to help ease that constant gnawing in my chest. If I’m feeling anxious during the day, I’ll take a hit or two from a pure-CBD vape pen; it helps take the edge off, and because CBD isn’t intoxicating, I don’t have to worry about it getting in the way of work. If I have a million thoughts racing through my head when it hits the pillow, I’ll pop an edible with a high CBD-to-THC ratio to help me drift off to sleep. If I’m feeling physically tense (yet another fun side effect of anxiety!), I’ll throw some CBD-infused bath salts into the tub and take a nice, long soak. It’s been revolutionary.
Still, I had to wonder: Does CBD for anxiety actually work—or am I experiencing some kind of weed-inspired placebo effect?
First, some science: CBD is a chemical compound (known as a phytocannabinoid) that’s found in hemp and cannabis. It interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which has the potential to benefit the mind and body in a whole slew of ways—including in treating anxiety. (This is not the same as the high associated with weed—that comes courtesy of a different, psychoactive compound called THC.)
The research on CBD is early but promising. In one small study of 10 subjects with social anxiety, participants reported a significant decrease in anxiety after consuming 400 milligrams of CBD. A much larger 2015 analysis of 49 existing studies on CBD found strong evidence for CBD as a legit treatment for anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
Researchers think CBD may have an impact on our serotonin receptors, which explains the antianxiety, antidepression effect that so many CBD users report. “CBD also interacts with a neurotransmitter in our brain called GABA—gamma-aminobutyric acid—which modulates our stress response,” says Emma Chasen, cannabis educator and medicinal plant expert. In other words, CBD may help your body combat stress on a physical and mental and emotional level, she says. When I use it, I’m left with the same warm and fuzzy sense of calm you might get from, say, a glass of wine. Minus the problematic side effects of alcohol.