Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis. It does not appear to alter consciousness or trigger a “high.” A Is this supplement simply snake oil, or is it actually good for mental health?
Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis. It does not appear to alter consciousness or trigger a “high.” A recent surge in scientific publications has found preclinical and clinical evidence documenting value for CBD in some neuropsychiatric disorders, including epilepsy, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Evidence points toward a calming effect for CBD in the central nervous system. Interest in CBD as a treatment of a wide range of disorders has exploded, yet few clinical studies of CBD exist in the psychiatric literature.
To determine whether CBD helps improve sleep and/or anxiety in a clinical population.
A large retrospective case series at a psychiatric clinic involving clinical application of CBD for anxiety and sleep complaints as an adjunct to usual treatment. The retrospective chart review included monthly documentation of anxiety and sleep quality in 103 adult patients.
Main Outcome Measures
Sleep and anxiety scores, using validated instruments, at baseline and after CBD treatment.
The final sample consisted of 72 adults presenting with primary concerns of anxiety (n = 47) or poor sleep (n = 25). Anxiety scores decreased within the first month in 57 patients (79.2%) and remained decreased during the study duration. Sleep scores improved within the first month in 48 patients (66.7%) but fluctuated over time. In this chart review, CBD was well tolerated in all but 3 patients.
Cannabidiol may hold benefit for anxiety-related disorders. Controlled clinical studies are needed.
The Cannabis plant has been cultivated and used for its medicinal and industrial benefits dating back to ancient times. Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are the 2 main species.1 The Cannabis plant contains more than 80 different chemicals known as cannabinoids. The most abundant cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is well known for its psychoactive properties, whereas cannabidiol (CBD) is the second-most abundant and is nonpsychoactive. Different strains of the plant are grown containing varying amounts of THC and CBD. Hemp plants are grown for their fibers and high levels of CBD that can be extracted to make oil, but marijuana plants grown for recreational use have higher concentrations of THC compared with CBD.2 Industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC to be considered legal, and it is from this plant that CBD oil is extracted.3
Many different cultures have used the Cannabis plant to treat a plethora of ailments. Practitioners in ancient China targeted malaria, menstrual symptoms, gout, and constipation. During medieval times, cannabis was used for pain, epilepsy, nausea, and vomiting, and in Western medicine it was commonly used as an analgesic.4,5 In the US, physicians prescribed Cannabis sativa for a multitude of illnesses until restrictions were put in place in the 1930s and then finally stopped using it in 1970 when the federal government listed marijuana as a Schedule I substance, claiming it an illegal substance with no medical value. California was the first state to go against the federal ban and legalize medical marijuana in 1996.6 As of June 2018, 9 states and Washington, DC, have legalized recreational marijuana, and 30 states and Washington, DC, allow for use of medical marijuana.7 The purpose of the present study is to describe the effects of CBD on anxiety and sleep among patients in a clinic presenting with anxiety or sleep as a primary concern.
CBD has demonstrated preliminary efficacy for a range of physical and mental health care problems. In the decade before 2012, there were only 9 published studies on the use of cannabinoids for medicinal treatment of pain; since then, 30 articles have been published on this topic, according to a PubMed search conducted in December 2017. Most notable was a study conducted at the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research that showed cannabis cigarettes reduced pain by 34% to 40% compared with placebo (17% to 20% decrease in pain).8 In particular, CBD appears to hold benefits for a wide range of neurologic disorders, including decreasing major seizures. A recent large, well-controlled study of pediatric epilepsy documented a beneficial effect of CBD in reducing seizure frequency by more than 50%.9 In addition to endorphin release, the “runner’s high” experience after exercise has been shown to be induced in part by anandamide acting on CB1 receptors, eliciting anxiolytic effects on the body.10 The activity of CBD at 5-HT1A receptors may drive its neuroprotective, antidepressive, and anxiolytic benefits, although the mechanism of action by which CBD decreases anxiety is still unclear.11 CBD was shown to be helpful for decreasing anxiety through a simulated public speaking test at doses of 300 mg to 600 mg in single-dose studies.12–14 Other studies suggest lower doses of 10 mg/kg having a more anxiolytic effect than higher doses of 100 mg/kg in rats.15 A crossover study comparing CBD with nitrazepam found that high-dose CBD at 160 mg increased the duration of sleep.16 Another crossover study showed that plasma cortisol levels decreased more significantly when given oral CBD, 300 to 600 mg, but these patients experienced a sedative effect.17 The higher doses of CBD that studies suggest are therapeutic for anxiety, insomnia, and epilepsy may also increase mental sedation.16 Administration of CBD via different routes and long-term use of 10 mg/d to 400 mg/d did not create a toxic effect on patients. Doses up to 1500 mg/d have been well tolerated in the literature.18 Most of the research done has been in animal models and has shown potential benefit, but clinical data from randomized controlled experiments remain limited.
Finally, the most notable benefit of cannabis as a form of treatment is safety. There have been no reports of lethal overdose with either of the cannabinoids and, outside of concerns over abuse, major complications are very limited.19 Current research indicates that cannabis has a low overall risk with short-term use, but more research is needed to clarify possible long-term risks and harms.
Given the promising biochemical, physiologic, and preclinical data on CBD, a remarkable lack of randomized clinical trials and other formal clinical studies exist in the psychiatric arena. The present study describes a series of patients using CBD for treatment of anxiety or sleep disturbances in a clinical practice setting. Given the paucity of data in this area, clinical observations can be quite useful to advance the knowledge base and to offer questions for further investigation. This study aimed to determine whether CBD is helpful for improving sleep and/or anxiety in a clinical population. Given the novel nature of this treatment, our study also focused on tolerability and safety concerns. As a part of the evolving legal status of cannabis, our investigation also looked at patient acceptance.
Design and Procedures
A retrospective chart review was conducted of adult psychiatric patients treated with CBD for anxiety or sleep as an adjunct to treatment as usual at a large psychiatric outpatient clinic. Any current psychiatric patient with a diagnosis by a mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or physician assistant) of a sleep or anxiety disorder was considered. Diagnosis was made by clinical evaluation followed by baseline psychologic measures. These measures were repeated monthly. Comorbid psychiatric illnesses were not a basis for exclusion. Accordingly, other psychiatric medications were administered as per routine patient care. Selection for the case series was contingent on informed consent to be treated with CBD for 1 of these 2 disorders and at least 1 month of active treatment with CBD. Patients treated with CBD were provided with psychiatric care and medications as usual. Most patients continued to receive their psychiatric medications. The patient population mirrored the clinic population at large with the exception that it was younger.
Nearly all patients were given CBD 25 mg/d in capsule form. If anxiety complaints predominated, the dosing was every morning, after breakfast. If sleep complaints predominated, the dosing was every evening, after dinner. A handful of patients were given CBD 50 mg/d or 75 mg/d. One patient with a trauma history and schizoaffective disorder received a CBD dosage that was gradually increased to 175 mg/d.
Often CBD was employed as a method to avoid or to reduce psychiatric medications. The CBD selection and dosing reflected the individual practitioner’s clinical preference. Informed consent was obtained for each patient who was treated and considered for this study. Monthly visits included clinical evaluation and documentation of patients’ anxiety and sleep status using validated measures. CBD was added to care, dropped from care, or refused as per individual patient and practitioner preference. The Western Institutional Review Board, Puyallup, WA, approved this retrospective chart review.
Setting and Sample
Wholeness Center is a large mental health clinic in Fort Collins, CO, that focuses on integrative medicine and psychiatry. Practitioners from a range of disciplines (psychiatry, naturopathy, acupuncture, neurofeedback, yoga, etc) work together in a collaborative and cross-disciplinary environment. CBD had been widely incorporated into clinical care at Wholeness Center a few years before this study, on the basis of existing research and patient experience.
The sampling frame consisted of 103 adult patients who were consecutively treated with CBD at our psychiatric outpatient clinic. Eighty-two (79.6%) of the 103 adult patients had a documented anxiety or sleep disorder diagnosis. Patients with sole or primary diagnoses of schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and agitated depression were excluded. Ten patients were further excluded because they had only 1 documented visit, with no follow-up assessment. The final sample consisted of 72 adult patients presenting with primary concerns of anxiety (65.3%; n = 47) or poor sleep (34.7%; n = 25) and who had at least 1 follow-up visit after CBD was prescribed.
Main Outcome Measures
Sleep and anxiety were the targets of this descriptive report. Sleep concerns were tracked at monthly visits using the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index. Anxiety levels were monitored at monthly visits using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale. Both scales are nonproprietary. The Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale is a widely used and validated anxiety measure with 14 individual questions. It was first used in 1959 and covers a wide range of anxiety-related concerns. The score ranges from 0 to 56. A score under 17 indicates mild anxiety, and a score above 25 indicates severe anxiety. The Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index is a self-report measure that assesses the quality of sleep during a 1-month period. It consists of 19 items that have been found to be reliable and valid in the assessment of a range of sleep-related problems. Each item is rated 0 to 3 and yields a total score from 0 to 21. A higher number indicates more sleep-related concerns. A score of 5 or greater indicates a “poor sleeper.”
Side effects and tolerability of CBD treatment were assessed through spontaneous patient self-reports and were documented in case records. Any other spontaneous comments or complaints of patients were also documented in case records and included in this analysis.
Deidentified patient data were evaluated using descriptive statistics and plotted graphically for visual analysis and interpretation of trends.
The average age for patients with anxiety was 34 years (range = 18–70 years) and age 36.5 years for patients with sleep disorders (range = 18–72 years). Most patients with an anxiety diagnosis were men (59.6%, 28/47), whereas more sleep-disordered patients were women (64.0%, 16/25). All 72 patients completed sleep and anxiety assessments at the onset of CBD treatment and at the first monthly follow-up. By the second monthly follow-up, 41 patients (56.9%) remained on CBD treatment and completed assessments; 27 patients (37.5%) remained on CBD treatment at the third monthly assessment.
Table 1 provides means and standard deviations for sleep and anxiety scores at baseline and during the follow-up period for adults taking CBD. Figure 1 graphically displays the trend in anxiety and sleep scores over the study period. On average, anxiety and sleep improved for most patients, and these improvements were sustained over time. At the first monthly assessment after the start of CBD treatment, 79.2% (57/72) and 66.7% (48/72) of all patients experienced an improvement in anxiety and sleep, respectively; 15.3% (11/72) and 25.0% (18/72) experienced worsening symptoms in anxiety and sleep, respectively. Two months after the start of CBD treatment, 78.1% (32/41) and 56.1% (23/41) of patients reported improvement in anxiety and sleep, respectively, compared with the prior monthly visit; again, 19.5% (8/41) and 26.8% (11/41), respectively, reported worsening problems as compared with the prior month.
CBD Oil for Mental Health—Should You Take It Too?
Is this supplement simply snake oil, or is it actually good for mental health?
- What Is CBD?
- Find a therapist near me
About 20 percent of the population suffers from some form of anxiety. If you have anxiety, you may be looking for a new way to relax your body and mind. Many of my patients and followers on Twitter and Facebook have reached out to ask me whether CBD oil is the newest snake oil, or whether can it really help ameliorate symptoms of anxiety without causing side effects.
What is CBD oil?
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a natural plant-based oil that contains phyto (plant) chemicals called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are “feel good” molecules naturally made by the body when we are feeling relaxed and secure or involved in something that makes us happy, like hugging someone we care about or sitting down to a meal we are looking forward to. Cannabinoids are also released when we sleep well and exercise. Cannabinoids bind to little docking stations in our bodies called cannabinoid receptors that help stimulate those feel-good responses. Discovered in 1992, the main cannabinoid molecule is called anandamide, which is translated from the Sanskrit as “bliss molecule.”
The cannabinoid system is key to helping the body keep itself in balance. This system ensures our stomach and intestines run well, keeps inflammation down, and modulates pain while helping to maintain our mood in a good place. Research suggests the cannabinoids from CBD can stop the breakdown of anandamide. When we retain more anandamide in our body, there’s more bliss.
Will CBD oil make me high, like marijuana?
No, it will not. I tell my patients if you are looking to feel high, then you will be disappointed. Supplemental CBD oil comes from the hemp plant. Hemp is a cannabis plant and a close cousin of marijuana. However, CBD from hemp has practically no tetra-hydro-cannabinoids (THC). THC is the substance in marijuana that has psychoactive effects and can give you a high. In fact, a number of studies on CBD showed that CBD itself can counter the negative effects of THC—including appetite issues, weight gain, and paranoia.
Is CBD oil legal?
CBD that comes from hemp is legal in all 50 states. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, CBD has no effective amount of THC. There is a tiny bit, but it is not enough to cause any psychoactive effects. As a result, there are none of the legal concerns associated with marijuana.
Is CBD effective for mental health challenges?
For decades, the World Health Organization’s expert committee on drug dependence has offered a long list of conditions that CBD may benefit. Research studies on both animals and humans have shown that CBD may help lower feelings of isolation, relieve autism symptoms, and reduce the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It seems CBD can calm the brain and support the hippocampus, which is a brain area important for healthy emotion and memory.
One study showed CBD could reduce social anxiety in a way comparable to ipsapirone and diazepam (valium). A 2012 double-blind, randomized clinical trial looked at the benefits of CBD for psychosis. In this study, 40 volunteer patients were given CBD or an antipsychotic. Both treatments helped patient symptoms equally, while the group taking CBD enjoyed many fewer side effects and no problems with movement, weight gain, or hormonal dysregulation—all common side effects of antipsychotic medications. A version of CBD oil was just studied for its benefits in childhood epilepsy—and will now be released as simply a CBD oil.
- What Is CBD?
- Find a therapist near me
Is CBD safe?
CBD seems to be exceedingly safe. In fact, the FDA-approved use of CBD in epilepsy was studied in children, which suggests both kids and adults can use it safely. While it has effects on relaxing the body and helping with pain, CBD does not suppress the breathing centers of the brain the way opioid drugs do, which is why there is not the concern, even in overdose, that you would have for pain-killing drugs.
Since the 1960s, medical research has collected research supporting the safety of CBD. Typical doses of 10mg to 100mg a day show no negative effects. Even one study where patients took 1,280 mg a day did not see a problem. The director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse has stated that CBD oil is safe, and recently the FDA approved CBD oil for use in children with epilepsy.
CBD Essential Reads
Could CBD Oil Help Treat Schizophrenia?
Despite What You May Think, CBD Is Not Weed
I have been working with CBD in my practice for about two years and have not seen a problem. Sometimes, when patients get more relaxed, it can give them a strange sensation. Understandably, that can be concerning to patients who are not used to feeling calm.
Please note that, because of the way the liver works, CBD may affect the clearance of other drugs you are taking. As always, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new herbal supports, especially if you are taking prescription medications.
Can CBD oil cause a positive result in a drug test?
Since CBD has practically no THC, there is, in theory, little to no chance it will create a positive drug urine test. And, the follow-up confirmatory test for marijuana is too specific to come up positive from CBD. Having said this, it is important to purchase CBD from nutraceutical companies who manufacture it from varieties of hemp containing the lowest THC.
If you are not sure, and this issue could be a problem for you, you may not want to risk it—or talk to your employers about CBD oil first, before using it.
How much CBD oil should I take?
I usually recommend that patients start with 15mg of CBD once or twice a day. This oil is best taken with food. Instead of self-prescribing, I strongly recommend you work with a practitioner knowledgeable in natural medicine who is experienced with CBD, especially if you are taking other medications and/or if you have mental health symptoms that could be severe.
How about the CBD beverages and foods that are so popular?
Right now, many companies are trying to fill their shelves with CBD-infused products. My guess is that the vast majority of these are not of good quality and may contain little to no CBD. If you are going to use CBD oil as a supplement for mental health, ask your practitioner for a high-quality version that you can take in a prescribed dosage. Don’t try to get it through other products where the amount and quality are not well understood.
Remember: General anxiety support
In my books, I always recommend not simply taking supplements for anxiety, but making dietary and lifestyle changes and adopting stress-relieving rituals and therapies to bring full healing to your body. Also, visit with your doctor regularly or when issues pop up. While CBD is a very good supplement, I find its power is enhanced when combined with natural modifications.
For a more thorough look at the research and references, please see my academic review on CBD here.
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Martin-Santos R, et al. Acute effects of a single, oral dose of d9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) administration in healthy volunteers. Curr Pharm Des. 2012; 18(32):4966-79.
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