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According to a new pilot study, the cannabis molecule cannabidiol (CBD) can reduce the difficulty of treatment-resistant anxiety by about 50% in younger people. Published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the scientists looked at patients between 12 and 25 years old, and no one experienced any significant side effects when using the non-psychoactive compound.
The 31 volunteers were previously diagnosed with different types of anxiety, like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder, and phobias. Although they didn’t respond to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), their average time in treatment was just over two years.
21 volunteers were also prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to help fight depression, changing meds twice on average because of the lack of efficacy or the unbearable side effects.
Following a three-month course of CBD with the combination of CBT, about 40% of volunteers experienced a reduction of 50% in symptoms, and it was measured through the Overall Anxiety Severity and Impairment Scale (OASIS). In addition, about two-thirds saw an improvement of a minimum of 33%, and the reduction average in anxiety scores was 42.6%.
Another scale called the Hamilton Anxiety Rating showed an average improvement of 51% following the 3-month intervention.
The lead researcher Paul Amminger said in a statement, “Young people had fewer panic attacks and were able to do things that they weren’t previously able to do such as leave the house, take public transport, eat at restaurants, go to school, attend appointments by themselves, and participate in social situations. That is a remarkable change in a group with treatment-resistant anxiety, long-standing severe up to severe anxiety.”
Unfortunately, these improvements weren’t continuous after CBD therapy was stopped, as anxiety scores had typically returned to baseline when volunteers were re-evaluated three months after taking their final dose. This shows that the symptom reduction was most likely caused by the cannabinoid directly over the CBT or other related factors.
The mechanism that helps to alleviate anxiety with CBD isn’t fully understood, and the study researchers stress that CBD activates different pathways to SSRIs and doesn’t incite the same side effects associated with antidepressants.
“CBD isn’t intoxicating and does not have tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as it does not cause alterations in perception and thinking, it does not make you ‘high,’ and it is non-addictive,” explained Amminger.
“We didn’t see the usual side-effects such as sleep issues, irritability or suicidal thoughts, which aren’t uncommon in those who take SSRIs.”
As inspiring as those findings might seem, the researchers point out that the small pilot study wasn’t placebo-controlled. Therefore, more research is needed to determine the efficacy of CBD as a therapy for anxiety.