There’s a growing interest in cannabidiol (CBD) as a potential treatment for a variety of mental and physical health conditions. Like any subject when it first reaches public consciousness, there’s also a degree of confusion and misunderstanding. To weigh the pros and cons of any potential treatment requires first separating truth from fiction.

What is CBD and how is it related to marijuana?

CBD is a natural, plant-based chemical with medicinal uses. It comes from hemp, and hemp and marijuana both come from the cannabis plant. Although they have a common origin, marijuana and hemp plants have been bred through the years to have different properties.

The chemicals in cannabis that cause medicinal and psychoactive effects are called cannabinoids. Although there are over 100 by some count, the most prevalent are THC and CBD. Marijuana has been bred to have high levels of THC, which causes the associated high, but to be classified as hemp, the level of THC in the plant must be very low. Canada, for instance, says that any cannabis plant with a THC content above 0.3 percent is considered marijuana.

Is CBD oil the same as hemp oil?

CBD oilManufacturers label their products in various ways. Traditionally, the term “hemp oil” has been used for the product made from the seeds of the plant, and “CBD oil” for the product made from the flowers, but there’s an emerging trend to produce oil from the entire plant. Although hemp seeds have many health-promoting benefits, they aren’t a rich source of CBD.

Is CBD legal?

The legal status of CBD is somewhat murky, due to the fact that CBD oil can be derived from both marijuana and hemp. Federal law has been interpreted in different ways, but most state governments have decided that hemp-derived CBD, without significant THC content, is legal to purchase and use.

What are the health benefits of CBD?

CBD research is still in its infancy, but there are indications that the compound may help a wide variety of physical and mental health disorders, including chronic pain, epilepsy, resistant infections, depression and alcoholism.1

How does it work?

Humans produce their own cannabinoids, which bind to specific receptor cells. Cannabinoids coming from outside the body, like THC and CBD, can bind to the same receptors. CBD may work in multiple ways, including by helping the body use its own internal supply of cannabinoids more efficiently.

Is CBD useful for treating anxiety?

CBD shows promise as a treatment for various types of anxiety disorders. One study gave people with social anxiety disorder either CBD or a placebo, and those who received CBD reported much less anxiety when placed in a simulated public speaking environment.2 A review published in the journal Neurotherapeutics found evidence to suggest that CBD might effectively treat generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive–compulsive disorder.3

One way that CBD may help anxiety is by affecting the level of the neurotransmitter GABA, which calms the body and mind. CBD helps the brain hold onto more GABA, which likely explains its benefit in excitatory conditions such as epilepsy and anxiety. CBD may also help anxiety by affecting levels of other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.

Does CBD have side effects and risks?

Although there are a lack of long-term studies, the side effects associated with CBD appear to be minimal. The most common side effects reported are tiredness, diarrhea, and changes in appetite.4 The risks of CBD are likely to be lower than those of common anxiety drugs they may replace, such as benzodiazepines, which have high addiction potential.

How is CBD used?

CBD is sold in various forms, including as tinctures, capsules and topical lotions. Recommended dosages vary according to the form of the preparation and the needs of the consumer. Because CBD is currently sold as a supplement rather than a drug, it isn’t regulated as strictly as medications are, and potency and consistency may vary among products. Some states, like Minnesota and Iowa, regulate CBD produced within their borders. It’s likely that pharmaceutical grade CBD products will be widely available in the future.

When using new products, including CBD, it’s always wise to work with a healthcare practitioner. Traditionally, plant-based supplements have been suggested more often by naturopaths and chiropractors than by traditional medical personnel, but a growing number of practitioners of all types, including psychiatrists and psychologists, are recommending CBD. Although much is yet to be learned, CBD is a promising tool in the toolkit of health interventions.


1What is CBD?” Project CBD, Accessed May 12, 2018.

2 Bergamaschi M.M., et al. “Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients.” Neuropsychopharmacology, May 2011.

3 Blessing, Esther M., et al. “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders.” Neurotherapeutics, October 2015.

4 Kerstin Iffland, and Franjo Grotenhermen. “An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, June 2017.

Written By Martha McLaughlin

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