Does cannabidiol reduce the severity of worry or the symptoms of anxiety? A new placebo-controlled study says no

A study focusing on individuals with high levels of anxiety revealed that a 300-milligram dose of cannabidiol (CBD) did not reduce the severity of their worry — the cognitive symptoms of anxiety. This result was consistent with placebo after both a single dose and a two-week dosing period. The study was published in Psychopharmacology.

Symptoms of anxiety can be classified into emotional, cognitive, physical and behavioral forms. Emotionally distressed individuals may experience restlessness, fear, or apprehension. On a cognitive level, constant worry, thoughts and difficulty concentrating are common symptoms. Physical symptoms include restlessness, muscle tension, fatigue and sleep disturbances. Behaviorally, anxiety can lead to avoiding certain situations, nervous habits, or seeking reassurance from others.

Common forms of treatment for anxiety include psychotherapy and medication. However, psychotherapy is expensive and not always easy to obtain, while existing medications have negative side effects such as sedation and weight gain. Therefore, researchers are looking for new, convenient treatments for anxiety symptoms that are both readily available and free of negative side effects.

One promising candidate in this regard is cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is a chemical compound derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), its counterpart, cannabidiol does not produce a psychoactive “high”. This has led to increased research interest in its potential therapeutic properties, including its anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anxiolytic effects.

Study author L. Riley Gournay and colleagues aimed to investigate the effects of cannabidiol on anxiety symptoms in individuals with a high tendency to worry. They compared the effects of a 300-milligram oral dose of cannabidiol, a 50-milligram dose of the same substance, and a placebo, both immediately after the first dose and after two weeks of daily administration. They hypothesized that cannabidiol would reduce symptoms of anxiety immediately after the first dose, and that after two weeks, participants taking cannabidiol would have lower levels of anxiety than those taking placebo.

The study included 63 participants with a high tendency to worry as assessed by the Penn State Worry Questionnaire. The average age of the participants was 29 years, of which 32 were women, 30 were men and one person was gender nonconformist. The researchers specifically selected individuals with a high tendency to worry to avoid a “floor effect,” where treatments cannot reduce worry in those who did not initially worry.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Each group received either 150 milligrams of cannabidiol, 25 milligrams of cannabidiol, or a placebo twice a day. This resulted in total daily doses of 300 mg cannabidiol, 50 mg cannabidiol, or placebo. The treatments were administered in the form of six soft gel capsules, each containing either 25 milligrams of cannabidiol or inactive ingredients to ensure consistency in the number of capsules taken by each participant.

To ensure adherence to the treatment protocol, participants recorded time-stamped videos of themselves using the capsules each time. The researchers advised them to eat a high-fat snack before taking the capsules to improve absorption. The study was conducted in a double-blind fashion, meaning that neither the participants nor the researchers directly involved knew which treatment each participant received.

Before the study, after the first study day and at the end of the study period, the participants completed the assessments of the severity of worry (Brief Measure of Worry Severity) and anxiety symptoms (anxiety scale of depression, anxiety and stress scales). -21, DASS-21). After the study, they also completed a short standardized interview about possible side effects of the treatment.

The results showed that worry decreased on average during the study period. However, there were no significant differences between the three treatments. Mean anxiety was similarly reduced by the 300 mg and 50 mg cannabidiol doses and placebo. The effects of the treatments were consistent both after the first day and after the entire two-week study period.

When looking at general anxiety symptoms, no differences were found between the three treatments after the first day. However, a comparison of anxiety symptoms at the end of the study revealed a reduction in physical symptoms in the cannabidiol groups, but not in the placebo group. This decrease was most pronounced in the group taking 300 milligrams of cannabidiol per day, and was statistically significant, so the results were generalizable beyond the sample.

“Together, these findings suggest that 300 mg of oral cannabidiol does not reduce cognitive symptoms of anxiety (i.e., worry) after both acute and repeated administration. There was some evidence for a 300 mg repeated dose on the physical symptoms of anxiety. These findings are consistent with the accumulating evidence with, suggesting that the anxiolytic effects of cannabidiols may be relevant for specific symptom domains,” the study authors concluded.

The study sheds light on the effects of cannabidiol on anxiety symptoms. However, it should be noted that the research groups were very small. Because of this, the effects had to be very significant to be observed. If there had been weak effects of the treatments, they could have gone undetected.

Paper Effects of Cannabidiol on Worry and Anxiety Among High-Trait Worriers: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial By L. Riley Gournay, Morgan L. Ferretti, Sarah Bilsky, Emily Vance, Anna Marie Nguyen, Eric Mann, Parker Williams, and Ellen W. LeenFeldner .

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