If you’re anxious about trying CBD for anxiety, you’ve got reasons to chill. One, there’s now sky-high piles of evidence that the stuff works. Two, the governor’s on your side. Ralph Northam announced on November 16 that he supports legalizing marijuana—and CBD, a less potent derivative, has been federally legal since 2018.
A quick primer on the difference: Cannabidiol, or CBD, is just one chemical component of marijuana, another of which is the well-known THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. That’s the good stuff—er, the stuff that makes users feel euphoric.
“THC gets you high and gives you paranoia if you smoke too much,” says Ethan Pompeo, owner of Green Valley Nutrition, one of a handful of local shops that specialize in CBD products. “CBD equalizes that.”
The mechanism might not be that simple, and studies have been mixed on whether cannabis and CBD can help with serious health issues like high blood pressure and cancer. But researchers and medical professionals have all but reached consensus on CBD’s ability to reduce anxiety and stress. The latest peer-reviewed evidence is a 2019 double-blind study out of Japan, in which researchers found teenagers with social anxiety disorders were less stressed after four weeks of regular CBD consumption.
CBD also passes the eye test, according to Ross Efaw of Greener Things, who has been working in medical marijuana for more than a decade.
“I’ve seen kids with ADHD, and they rely on this stuff for real,” Efaw says. “It is not a joke or a placebo to them. There is no doubt in my mind that it is truly an effective therapeutic.”
Okay, but for the uninitiated, just how does CBD make you feel? Most users describe it as mellowing them out, slowing them down, or just allowing them to lower their shoulders a bit.
“It calms your nerves,” says Joe Kuhn, owner of Albemarle Hemp Company. “It may make you slightly happy or euphoric, but you can still function. You can take it if you are a little nervous about a business meeting, and you’re still sharp as a pin without the negative effects or decrease in ability.”
Pompeo says that for him, CBD has meant the difference between being non-functional and becoming a husband, father, and business owner. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder as a child and has struggled with anxiety and motor tics throughout his life. He credits cannabis and CBD, along with minor lifestyle changes, for allowing him to cope. The product gives him “relief without the side effects” of the many pharmaceuticals he’s tried.
De-stressing CBD comes in a variety of forms, including oils, tinctures, capsules, gummies, chocolates, and smokable flowers.
You can also find topical balms and salves, which are intended for dealing with pain relief and physical inflammation rather than stress. The science on the effectiveness of these balms is mixed, though.
Tinctures, concentrated oils dropped under the tongue at roughly 25 milligrams per dose (Pompeo says to start small and work up if necessary), are popular. But so are capsules and gummies, which take longer to act on the body but are more palatable to some users. Whatever you choose, expect to pay about $50 for 30 doses.
Different CBD formulations are more effective for different applications, Efaw says. Terpenes, chemical compounds found in many plants, dictate both the cannabis flower’s aroma and effects. CBD derived from plants with one terpene composition might be best for daytime stress regulation, while a different set of terpenes might calm the mind and induce sleep.
The last rule of CBD? Don’t get too high on your own supply. In Virginia, CBD products are allowed to contain a very small amount of THC in each dosage, so if you want to completely avoid psychological effects make sure you’re taking a zero-THC product—folks at dispensaries can help if you’re unsure—and go into the process with an open mind.
“It’s not a cure-all, but it is helpful,” Kuhn says. “If you are having real emotional issues, you need to see a doctor.”