CBD Works In The Brain To Treat Anxiety

Christine Kielhorn PHD July 25, 2018 4 comments

Strains high in CBD target the same receptors in the brain that pharmaceuticals can to treat anxiety and stress, and no side effects.

When you have anxiety, feelings of fear and worry become extreme and can even be disabling. Anxiety is different from stress in that the fear remains even in the absence of a negative stimulus.

Unfortunately, conventional treatments don’t always alleviate all symptoms of anxiety. Cannabidiol (CBD), however, could potentially be a safe and effective treatment for anxiety disorders, and has shown great promise in clinical and pre-clinical studies

CBD is a phytocannabinoid found in the Cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD does not have psychoactive effects, and is being investigated for a number of therapeutic applications, including anxiety disorders.

CBD interacts with several receptors that are known to regulate fear and anxiety responses in the brain, such as: the cannabinoid receptor CB1, the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor, and the transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 receptor (TRPV1). The exact mechanisms by which CBD interacts with these receptors and helps to improve the symptoms of anxiety is called an “anxiolytic” effect.

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Stressed Business Man at his desk

Exploring the Anxiolytic Effect

These mechanisms are not yet well understood, and are the subject of active areas of research. Imaging studies of the brain have shown that CBD affects activity levels of different areas of the brain that are known to play a role in modulating anxiety and fear. Whatever the mechanisms, the effectiveness of CBD and its relative lack of serious side effects mean that it is a promising therapy for various anxiety disorders.

The 5-HT1A receptor is a common target for anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals. The receptor is found at neurons within the brain, where it acts as a post-synaptic receptor that promotes control of anxiety and moderates the brain’s response to stress and panic. CBD may bind directly to this receptor, thereby playing an active role in helping the brain to cope with anxiety.

The Role Of CB Receptors

Research indicates that CBD could also play an indirect role by binding to a different part of the receptor and promoting the binding of other molecules that reduce anxiety and stress.  In fact, CBD showed similar efficacy to the anti-anxiety drug ipsapirone (which also targets the 5-HT1A receptor) in treating patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD).

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In both animal and human studies, moderate doses of CBD were found to have the greatest effect on anxiety. For example, volunteers free from anxiety disorders participating in a stress test known as a “test of public speaking in a real situation” (TPSRS) had lower anxiety levels, both physiologically and psychologically, when they took a median dose of CBD (as opposed to a low or a high dose).

Anxious hands close up

Fighting Stress

Chronic stress disorders, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may also receive benefit from CBD.  CBD can help the brain to dampen its response to fear and reduce memories associated with fear. The presence of CBD helped to block “reconsolidation” of fear memories, meaning it could be used to help the brain recover its ability to eliminate recurring memories in patients with PTSD using a process called extinction.

CBD can also promote several processes in the brain that help to combat the effects of stress to regulate anxiety and depression. One such process is called neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons in the brain. Another is synaptic remodeling, in which the neural connections in the brain can be modified, rearranged and restored to a healthy state.

CBD has been shown, in numerous human and animal studies, to effectively reduce the symptoms of anxiety and allow the brain to recover its ability to deal with chronic stress and fear.


  1. Is anxiety curable? I’ve been getting treatment for years and
    I still get bad symtoms sometimes. I would appreciate any
    insight you can provide.

  2. Barbara Brown

    Smoking marijuana on a daily basis controls my anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and ADHD. Why all the controversy when alcohol is legal and is so dangerous and deadly. Just legalize it and be done with all this crazy hoopla. Peace✌

  3. April

    I’m desperately trying to find legitimate CBD for this! Can you please tell me where to buy something like this???

  4. Thank you for pointing out that CBD oil can be used to reduce feelings of anxiety. I have been feeling very anxious for the past few weeks due to stress at school, so I’m thinking about buying a CBD tincture soon. I’m going to see if I can find a good business that can sell me a CBD tincture.