Pilot study suggests cannabidiol may reduce severity of chronic anxiety in young people by half

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Findings from a recent pilot study indicated that cannabidiol may significantly improve symptoms of anxiety for young people who have had little success with therapy and allow them to function more comfortably in society.

The study was published in the  , and led by Paul Amminger, MD, PhD, professorial research fellow at Orygen, a non-profit in Parkville, Australia focused on youth mental health research, policy, education, and clinical care.

According to the study, almost half of young people experiencing moderate to severe anxiety are treatment resistant. This investigation aimed to discover the effects of cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating substance derived from cannabis sativa, on young people with this level of anxiety.

The pilot study recruited 31 participants aged 12 to 25 from Orygen’s primary care services. Each patient in the study had shown little to no improvement after undergoing at least five cognitive therapy (CBT) sessions. Participants were at first given 200 milligrams (mg) of cannabidiol per day. Then, after a week, their doses were increased to 400mg a day. Participants who showed little improvement after being on 400mg per day, had a dose increase to 800mg per day. Each patient was offered biweekly CBT for 12 weeks.

Severity of anxiety was observed through a clinician-rated scale as well as a self-rated scale, which involved patients filling out a questionnaire that asked about panic attacks, situational anxieties, worries, and flashbacks.

The pilot study’s results showed that on average, participants had a 42.6 percent reduction in anxiety severity and impairment after the 12-week treatment.

“Our pilot study found that cannabidiol not only helped to reduce anxiety symptoms, but it was also very well tolerated – the most common side-effects were mild sedation and mild fatigue but that was at the time when doses were increased and usually went away after a couple of days,” said Amminger in a statement. “We did not see side effects like suicidal thoughts, irritability, or sleep problems, which are not uncommon in people taking SSRIs.”

Although these results were promising, researchers concluded that more research is necessary.

“The next step is a randomized controlled trial, which is the gold standard to test a new intervention. Such a trial needs to be done in a much larger group – around 200 to 250 young people – to enable us to say with some certainty that there is, or is not, real treatment benefits and effects,” Amminger said.