This skeptic tried CBD to treat anxiety and became a believer
At a time when wellness trends come and go faster than you can say “Goop,” I tend to limit my interrogation of them to a passive observance of headlines. If I see a headline for Himalayan salt tequila shots, the most I’ll do is chuckle to myself—you won’t find me clicking into the article to learn more about Himalayan salt-rim wellness. When I started hearing about people using CBD oil to treat every condition under the sun—from acne to anxiety—I had my usual reaction, which is to glance and move on. But the CBD trend turned out to have some staying power, and I started learning more about it outside of clickbait headlines. Finally, I decided to try CBD to see if it could help with my anxiety issues. And after testing CBD, or cannabidiol, for a few weeks, I’m a convert, because using CBD for anxiety really did help me.
Part of the reason I don’t necessarily pay attention to passing fads, I think, is because I grew up in a small town in southern Oregon called Ashland, where people really do walk around wearing nothing but thongs and dreadlocks in the summertime. We didn’t necessarily come into contact with mainstream trends, even if people did try alternative medicines frequently. And as you can probably imagine, marijuana was also grown and consumed freely in the community.
In 2005, the state passed a law allowing medical marijuana cardholders to grow up to six mature marijuana plants and 18 immature plants on their properties, so it wasn’t uncommon to go to a friend’s garden and find a marijuana plant next to the tomatoes. While the rest of the country still largely treated marijuana as a highly criminalized gateway drug, Oregon was toking up. All of that to say that I’m in no way unfamiliar with the medicinal benefits of marijuana.
The same reason why I stopped smoking, ironically, was the same reason why I now feel passionately about the benefits of CBD.
Marijuana eventually started wreaking havoc on my mental health. In college, after I’d moved to the East Coast, had much less access to weed, and much lower quality weed (the rumors are true), I started finding myself having negative reactions to it. On the rare occasion when I did smoke, I felt paranoid and trapped in negative thoughts that sometimes scared me. Around the same time, I began to seriously struggle with depression and anxiety. To combat my anxiety, I started taking Lexapro, which I pair with various other practices to improve my mental health.
My anxiety doesn’t ever really leave me; it’s not the type of condition that comes and goes in waves. It’s more like a scale. I follow a mental health advocate and businesswoman named Jen Gotch on Instagram, and she uses the scale methodology to describe her depression/mood. If my level of anxiety were on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say that most days I fall at a 4.8. On the best days, I’m probably around a 1.5, and on my worst days, which are rare, I can be a full-blown 10. What this means is that I get through my days using techniques that therapists, yoga instructors, and Oprah have taught me: deep breathing, taking a second to bring awareness to my body, calling my mom, staring at trees, and talking myself out of negative spirals.
When I first took CBD a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t feel anything.
I took 28 mg of Charlotte’s Web extra strength hemp extract oil, which comes in a mint chocolate flavor. I was sitting on the couch and, like anyone who has ever taken an unfamiliar substance (legal or not), I felt a sense of excited anticipation while I waited to feel the effects of this magical oil that I’d heard so much about. Of course, my friends told me that you don’t feel high when you take CBD, but I thought that I might feel somewhat of a body high. I didn’t, so I asked my roommate and she gave me this sage advice: “Notice how you don’t feel.” I then scanned my body and realized that my stomach didn’t have that little flutter that I’m so accustomed to. Still, I wasn’t too impressed by that first trial or by CBD oil. Until I experimented more later.
The first time I felt the positive effects of CBD was on a day when my sketch comedy group had a show. I had woken up early to get into Manhattan (I live in Brooklyn), and the regular train I take wasn’t running—this isn’t a huge surprise for anyone who lives in N.Y.C.—but I also still had a long to-do list with stressful tasks, like memorize lines, pick up props, make sure everything goes smoothly. I took a dropper full of Charlotte’s Web’s maximum strength 60 mg CBD oil, but I didn’t instantly feel a change. It wasn’t until I was running around Midtown on the hunt for a flash drive with just 10 minutes until tech rehearsal that I really noticed a difference. My breathing wasn’t shallow, my shoulders weren’t locked up to my ears, and I was actually kind of having fun running down the street in Midtown.
Anyone who’s ever lived in New York can tell you that if you’re enjoying Midtown, you’re probably on drugs, and I kind of was, so that’s fair. But actually, CBD does not get you high.
Now that I’ve learned to use CBD in my daily life, I can attest that the hype is real. For me, anyway.
It’s likely not what you’d expect from anything that’s made from the plant that contains THC, so know that up front if you’re looking to try it yourself. I take CBD now on days when I can feel my anxiety edging towards a 6 or 7 on my scale, but it likely wouldn’t help much on days when I’m at an 8 through 10. But that’s perfect, because I feel like CBD helps me to cope with my anxiety better on normal days. I still take Lexapro, and I don’t think that CBD could necessarily replace that SSRI, but I do feel like it’s a little extra help on days when I need it. When my body feels more relaxed, my mind feels a little bit clearer; it doesn’t have to constantly notice the tension I feel while juggling 20 different self-sabotaging thoughts. It’s almost like CBD eliminates a factor in the anxiety equation, and if your body can relax, you have more bandwidth to deal with your mind’s thought spirals.
Science backs this up to some extent. A large-scale, long-term human clinical trial on the use of CBD to treat anxiety has not yet been conducted, but smaller short-term studies have shown positive effects. I will continue to take CBD oil, either one or two times a day (as the type I use suggests), and I am happy to announce that I’ve finally jumped on one train that L.A. wellness influencers endorse. If you’re curious about CBD for anxiety, talk to your doctor.
I Took CBD Oil Every Day for My Anxiety—Here’s What Went Down
Dana Myers, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and life coach based in Philadelphia. She has a special interest in how race, sex, gender, ethnicity, social status and competencies impact those in marginalized communities and aims to help her clients find purpose and peace in life.
Michelle Regalado is a seasoned editor, fact-checker, and content strategist with expertise in women’s lifestyle news.
When I first learned about CBD oil, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. My mind immediately turned to weed and the unnerving experiences I’d had with heightened anxiety in college. For me, a person who’s already predisposed to overthinking, marijuana, no matter what the form, would typically put my mind into overdrive and result in a common yet dreaded side effect: Paranoia. But, let’s back up a bit. What even is CBD?
What is CBD?
A bit of online digging led me to realize that the active ingredient in Charlotte’s Web Everyday Plus Hemp Oil, the product I’d been offered to test, was the chemical compound CBD, which stands for cannabidiol. Unlike THC, the other crucial compound in hemp and marijuana plants, CBD (when derived from the hemp plant) does not produce the psychoactive effects that make you feel “high”; instead, emerging science has hinted that CBD may actually ease anxiety, and therefore, makes you less likely to freak out.
For example, one study comparing the effects of THC and CBD found that, while THC increased anxiety by activating the neurotransmitters involved in the “fight or flight” response, CBD actually repressed autonomic arousal—or the nervous system response associated with sudden increases in heart rate or respiration. In other words, CBD may be ideal for people looking to relax and unwind.
While the science behind CBD’s effectiveness for treating anxiety, pain, and insomnia is still in its infancy, Charlotte Figi’s inspiring story sounds promising. Figi, a 6-year-old girl diagnosed with a rare and resistant form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, was placed on hospice care and given a “do not resuscitate” order when her parents, desperate and frustrated with pharmaceutical medication, considered medical marijuana; specifically, a strain low in THC and high in CBD. Charlotte is now nearly seizure-free since she began supplementing with Charlotte Web’s CBD oil, which the brand named after Figi.
Legal and Safety Things To Know About CBD
The current CBD industry is like the internet’s early years. the Wild West. Legally, speaking, a Harvard Medical School blog post reads, “All 50 states have laws legalizing CBD with varying degrees of restriction, and while the federal government still considers CBD in the same class as marijuana, it doesn’t habitually enforce against it.” With heightened interest around CBD, it’s important to note that because CBD is currently unregulated, it’s difficult to know what you’re getting (whether that’s a tincture—commonly referred to as CBD oil, which is often combined with a carrier oil like coconut oil—topical products like creams and balms, sprays, or capsules), despite product labels and brand promises, the blog post further reads. It’s also important to note that people experience CBD differently. For the most part, the National Institute of Medicine says that while most people can tolerate CBD, side effects do exist. They might include dry mouth, drowsiness, and reduced appetite, among others.
That said, those interested in exploring the potential benefits of CBD should consult with their doctor (especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or currently taking medication) and be mindful of your dosage, writes Consumer Reports. And before you buy, Megan Villa, co-founder of the hemp-focused website and shop Svn Space, told Shape magazine to seek out a certificate of analysis. “Ask for a COA for the batch number of the product you have, since these products are made in batches,” she said. “You need to match the batch number to the COA that pertains to it.” Then, scan the report for potency (i.e. does the number of milligrams of CBD that the product label touts match the lab report?), contaminants and pesticides, and mold (which should live under the “Microbiological Testing” part of the report). Go a step further and note whether the testing lab is GMP (Good Manufacturing Principles) certified, and whether the lab is registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Shape magazine also suggests purchasing CBD products made from domestically-grown hemp, and reading up on the difference between full- and broad-spectrum and CBD isolate.
With that, I threw caution to the wind and asked for a sample. Here’s what happened—including what it feels like—when I took one full dropper of Charlotte’s Web’s Everyday Plus Hemp Oil in the mint chocolate flavor every morning for seven days.
My First Impression
It was actually a bad bout of jet lag after a trip to California that inspired me to finally test out the CBD oil (I’ll admit that my weed-based reservations kept me from trying it for the first few months). Knowing that the oil had also helped people with sleep issues, I squeezed one full dropper of the Everyday Plus oil onto my tongue, per the instructions, and waited.
Thirty minutes later, I was surprised by how subtle the effect was. While I expected a hazy nodding-off effect similar to melatonin’s, the oil simply relaxed my body ever so slightly—my heart stopped pounding against my chest, my legs stopped kicking beneath my sheets, my mind stopped racing. I wasn’t sure if it was the oil or the late hour, but eventually, physical relaxation gave way to mental relaxation, and I drifted off to sleep.
Reflecting the next morning, I was most surprised by the fact that I never felt “high” in any way—there was never a moment of It’s kicking in; I can feel it now like with pain medications or even anti-anxiety drugs. Considering it takes time, consistency, and the right dosage to experience the full effect, I continued taking the oil once a day for the next six days. Here’s what went down.
It Made Me Less Anxious and Edgy
Rather than overthinking a sternly worded email or analyzing a social interaction, I found it easier to recognize the irrationality of these thoughts and actually let them go.
While normally I’d be slightly tripped up by little things like an overly crowded subway car or a full inbox at work, the CBD oil seems to have taken the edge off of my anxiety a bit. Rather than overthinking a sternly worded email or analyzing a social interaction, I found it easier to recognize the irrationality of these thoughts and actually let them go. In some ways, I feel more like myself. With that said, I’ve still experienced some social anxiety when meeting new groups of people—I’d be interested to see what taking the full recommended dose would do.
I’m More Focused At Work
I work well under pressure, but being extremely busy at work has almost made me less productive—I’m constantly distracted by email, Slack, and the people around me, to the point where getting my work done becomes difficult. This week, however, I’ve found it easier to put my blinders on, block out all distractions (especially social distractions), and focus on one task at a time. I think this is partly related to the lessened anxiety—I feel more frazzled and off task when my anxiety is running high. It almost feels like a newfound sense of clarity and calm that enables me to focus.
I’m Falling Asleep Faster
I assume this is also a side effect of feeling less anxious, but I seem to fall asleep faster; within the 20-30-minute range rather than my normal 45 minutes to one hour (or longer). Not only do I seem to be skipping or at least shortening the whole tossing-and-turning phase of my sleep cycle, but I’m able to snap out of the overthinking that often keeps me up at night. Of course, there’s no telling whether a big life event would disrupt this newfound bliss, but I’d like to think it’s helped on a day-to-day basis.
My Experience With CBD
Would I say that CBD oil has fundamentally changed my life? No. But per the Charlotte’s Web website, this is the typical first experience. “Anyone who has ever started a new vitamin or supplement routine knows the short answer to how long it takes to kick in is—’it depends.’ For many newcomers, they’re not sure what to imagine, or some anticipate a huge change right away. For most of us, though, dietary supplements take time.”
With that said, I’m definitely intrigued enough by the subtle effects to continue taking the oil and to possibly up the dosage to the recommended two full droppers of the 30mL bottle per day. Plus, I take comfort in knowing that it’s an all-natural product that’s responsibly grown on family farms in Colorado. Something that’s safe, legal, requires no prescription, and makes me less anxious, less scatterbrained, and more focused? I’m definitely on board.
Explore the World of CBD
Looking to learn more about CBD? These are some of my favorite products to help get you started.
For those new to CBD, Charlotte’s Web recommends this hemp oil. Containing 17mg of CBD per 1mL serving, this CBD oil is also U.S. Hemp Authority Certified. Choose from four different flavors including Lemon Twist, Mint Chocolate, Orange Blossom, and Olive Oil.
Go deep on the subject of CBD with this book that includes case studies, interviews with doctors, an overview of the latest cannabis research, and how scientists are exploring cannabis for various medical uses. There is also an explainer about the difference between CBD products made from industrial hemp versus in a lab, and products made from the whole marijuana plant.
Charlotte’s Web inaugural CBD oil product comes in two flavors; Olive Oil and Mint Chocolate. It’s also its most potent. According to its website, its Original Formula Hemp Extract Oil comes with 50mg CBD per mL.
Gretchen Lidicker puts a lifestyle spin on the world of CBD as the author draws on the “knowledge of leaders in the health and wellness world” to explain why CBD has become a top beauty and wellness trend for top athletes and celebrities. The book also includes recipes and recommendations for how to choose a top-quality CBD product.
This travel-friendly roll-on is packed with CBD and fragrant essential oils, including lavender, bergamot, and chamomile, for an easy de-stress quick fix. The result? “That elusive feeling of wakeful calm,” reads the Sagely Naturals website.
With this book, CBD is explained from A to Z and breaks down the good, bad, and ugly of a fledgling industry that is poised for rapid growth. CBD: 101 Things You Need to Know About CBD Oil covers what it is, why people take it, who it’s for (and who it isn’t for), its myriad forms, and more.
Lord Jones’ High CBD Formula Body Oil combines CBD with organic avocado, jojoba and safflower oils for smooth, hydrated skin. Each bottle has 100mg of CBD.
Charlotte’s Web’s Extra Strength Capsules feature 25 mg of CBD per capsule. The website offers capsules as a convenient and precise way to take CBD—on the go, stash them in your gym bag, pocket, etc.
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Shannon S, Lewis N, Lee H, Hughes S. Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: A large case series. Perm J. 2019;23:18-041. doi:10.7812/TPP/18-041