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.