Cannabidiol, one of the many active ingredients found in cannabis, is said to be a natural alleviant for anxiety – but does it really work? Emily Reynolds investigates.
If someone said the words ‘cannabinoid oil’ to you, you probably wouldn’t be thinking of anything particularly medical. You’re probably, let’s be honest, thinking about weed.
But unlike cannabinoids like THC, one of the active ingredients in marijuana, cannabinoid oil (or CBD oil) doesn’t get you high – so if you’re looking for something euphoric, it’s probably not going to hit the spot.
CBD oil could have its own benefits, though: research has found that using the oil may be good for mental health. One 2016 study found a “maintained decrease in anxiety and a steady improvement in the quality and quantity of the patient’s sleep”; another, in 2010, reduced symptoms of anxiety in patients with seasonal affective disorder.
“CBD works on receptors in the brain, a number of which have now been identified as cannabinoid,” Dr. Adrian James, registrar at the Royal College of Psychiatrists tells me. “We don’t know exactly how it works and further research is need to understand this.”
When I first read about the potential anxiolytic properties of CBD oil, I was intrigued. Anxiety isn’t my only mental health problem, but it’s certainly one of the most pervasive and unpleasant of my bipolar symptoms. Anxiety plagues me almost every day – sometimes related to specific or genuinely stressful things, sometimes free-floating. I’m anxious about work, relationships, money, my health, my friends, my family. I’m anxious about being anxious; I’m anxious about having anxiety. Could CBD oil be the thing that calms me down once and for all?
I decide to try it, buying a small bottle that instructs me to place two or three drops under my tongue, to hold it there for a minute and then swallow. It tastes earthy; almost like straw might, but somehow not unpleasant at all. The bottle recommends starting with two drops and building up to a maximum of ten. I start my routine.
I don’t notice a change immediately, but after a week or so I start to feel the benefits. One unintended but entirely welcome side effect of the oil is that my joints are hurting less: persistent shoulder and back pain has eased. I’m doing nothing else differently; I still fall asleep on a lumpy mattress, my posture still most closely resembles Gollum’s. I have to put it down to the CBD oil, and hope that my yearly expenditure on Deep Heat might get a little smaller.
To mix it up, I add something a little tastier to my new routine: edibles. I get a package from LivLate Edibles containing a cookie, lollies, sour bears, popping candy and some sour candies.
“There’s still lots of research to be done,” says Lux, who set up the company after feeling the benefits of CBD oil herself. “I’m not a medical doctor, and I always advise people speak to their doctors. But we also know our bodies best, and for me it’s been a game changer. I vape it in moments of high stress, and the deep breathing couples with the CBD helps immensely.”
“I can only speak for myself but I felt my mood lift, it helped me push past my physical pain and helped with headaches and general aching.”
I notice the difference when I forget to take it, when my anxiety does get worse again. It had been hard to tell how much of a difference it had been making; anxiety isn’t linear, of course, and it ebbs and flows. But when I stop taking it, forgetting my bottle when I go away for the weekend, I do notice a small difference. I start to worry about small things; my heart rate seems a little faster and I find things a little more overwhelming.
Of course things still make me anxious; it’s not a panacea, and, at least for me, anxiety is slightly too stubborn to be fully eradicated. Other factors also come into play: normal life stresses or having too much work, being hungover or simply being nervous about something. Dr. James also says that much of the evidence that CBD oil helps with anxiety is “not convincing”, so it’s best to take claims that it can totally cure anxiety with a serious pinch of salt.
It’s also important to note that CBD oil – or any alternative therapy – is not a substitute for proper mental healthcare. Part of its efficacy for me, I would wager, is because I’m also currently engaged in therapy and take medication for my bipolar. I’m starting from a lower base level of anxiety, and am very aware of how my mental illness presents itself, am able to navigate it fairly easily now.
If you’re tempted to get your hit of CBD by smoking weed instead of using legal oils, Dr. James warns against it, pointing to links between marijuana and anxiety. “Irrespective of any evidence that might or might not emerge in relation to therapeutic benefits, the message that there are known risks to mental and physical health from using non-pharmaceutical cannabis should always be made prominently,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean that, taken safely, CBD oil doesn’t have some benefits. For me, it’s more of a top up than it is a ‘cure’ of any kind – but when it comes to improved mental health? Even the tiny things can help.
Main image: Christin Hume/Unsplash