Can Full-Spectrum CBD Cause Anxiety?

Written by | last updated July 28, 2021

✓ Evidence Based

Medically reviewed by

Andres Maldonado, MD

In short: yes, full-spectrum CBD can cause anxiety in some susceptible individuals. Although research has shown that pure cannabidiol (CBD) can relieve anxiety, this isn’t necessarily the case for full-spectrum CBD.

That’s because full-spectrum CBD extracts contain a small amount (<0.3%) of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of cannabis. For most people, this isn’t enough to cause intoxicating effects.

However, if you’re extremely sensitive to THC due to certain risk factors, you can get more anxiety or even a panic attack from taking a large enough dose of a full-spectrum CBD product.

Read on to learn how full-spectrum CBD can cause anxiety and what you can do about it. 

Research on CBD and Anxiety

Unlike its cousin THC, CBD can’t cause anxiety or any other mind-altering effects. On the contrary, multiple human studies have demonstrated that pure CBD can relieve various types of anxiety:

  • In a 2011 Brazilian study, CBD capsules improved anxiety caused by public speaking in people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) (1)
  • In a similar 2019 Japanese study, pure CBD oil improved anxiety in teenagers with SAD and avoidant personality disorder (2)
  • In another 2019 study done in Colorado, CBD capsules improved anxiety scores in almost 80% of the study participants (3)
  • The researchers of a 2020 review paper concluded that “CBD has a promising role as alternative therapy in the management of anxiety disorders” which include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), SAD, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (4)

Why Full-Spectrum CBD Can Cause Anxiety

If pure CBD has been shown to relieve anxiety, then why is full-spectrum CBD different?

It’s because full-spectrum CBD is a whole-plant hemp extract. Since hemp is a variety of cannabis that contains small amounts (0.3% or less) of THC, this means full-spectrum CBD can have THC.

THC is the main compound responsible for the cannabis high. Its potential side effects include increased anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks.

In particular, there’s some evidence that THC has a biphasic effect on anxiety, meaning that low doses can reduce anxiety, while higher ones can make it worse (5). On top of that, multiple factors can influence how you respond to THC.

According to research, some individuals have a higher chance of experiencing anxiety from THC due to: (6)

  • Genetics
  • Personality traits
  • Infrequent use
  • History of previous anxiety reactions
  • Presence of anxiety disorders or symptoms
  • Basal anxiety levels
  • Being female
  • The environment and the context in which the THC is consumed

This means that for a minority of people, ingesting even small amounts of THC — such as the kind found in full-spectrum CBD products — can actually cause anxiety, panic attacks, and related side effects.

How Much THC is in Full-Spectrum CBD Products?

full-spectrum-cbd-oil

Full-spectrum CBD products can legally contain up to 0.3% THC, so roughly speaking, a full-spectrum CBD oil can contain as much as 3 milligrams (mg) of THC per one milliliter (ml) of liquid. 

For example, here’s a third-party lab report of a high-quality full-spectrum CBD oil showing that the THC content is about 1.6 mg/ml of oil or about 0.17% (a bit below the 0.3% legal cutoff for hemp).

With this in mind, we can estimate that 1 ml (one full dropper in most cases) of your average full-spectrum CBD oil will contain about 1-3 mg of THC. Even if you were to take two full droppers, this would only add up to 2-6 mg. This doesn’t seem like much, and for most people, it isn’t.

However, for individuals who are highly sensitive to THC due to the risk factors we discussed earlier, this can be enough to cause or worsen anxiety.

My Experience With Anxiety From Full-Spectrum CBD

I’ve personally experienced an uncomfortable high and anxiety that lasted for 3 hours after taking roughly 80 mg of full-spectrum CBD oil. If I had to estimate, it contained about 3-4 mg of THC.

At first, I was surprised because full-spectrum CBD products had always relieved anxiety for me.

However, after doing some research, it made total sense. I’ve smoked cannabis in the past and stopped using it after I began to get anxiety even from a few puffs. I also found many other online reports of people who experienced anxiety and even panic attacks from full-spectrum CBD products.

Like many susceptible individuals, I’m so sensitive to THC that even the small amount present in full-spectrum CBD products can make me feel anxious.

Using Full-Spectrum CBD for the First Time? Start Low

If you plan on using a full-spectrum CBD product and think it might make you anxious (especially if you have existing anxiety issues), be sure to follow the “start low and go slow” approach to cannabinoids recommended by clinical researchers (7). 

Start with a small 5-10 mg dose of CBD and wait for two hours to see the effects. If you don’t notice anything, you can try a higher dose, again stopping for two hours to see if you notice any difference. 

Use this method to find the full-spectrum CBD dose that provides you with anxiety relief or whichever benefit you’re looking for. 

Alternatives to Full-Spectrum CBD

If you’ve already experienced anxiety from full-spectrum CBD products, you have four options.

First, you can simply lower your dose. In my case, I found that as long as I kept my full-spectrum CBD oil doses below 50-70 mg, I still got the calming effects and none of the anxiety. 

Another option is to switch to a different brand. After trying various full-spectrum CBD oils I’ve noticed more pronounced THC-related effects from certain brands.

For example, I’ve taken an 80 mg dose of CBDistillery’s full-spectrum CBD oil and had zero issues, whereas a 50 mg dose of Endoca’s oil made me feel slightly high.

These two options are ideal because full-spectrum CBD provides the greatest benefits thanks to the “entourage effect” produced by all of its cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active components working in unison (8).

So even though THC is the issue, it’s nice to have a little bit for that extra boost to the entourage effect.

However, if you want to play things safe, you can also go with broad-spectrum CBD products.

This type of extract contains the same ingredients as full-spectrum CBD but removes THC (to the point that it’s not detected on third-party tests). This way, you can maximize the entourage effect while avoiding THC.

The last option is to use CBD isolate products, which contain only pure CBD and nothing else.

However, this isn’t ideal since you won’t be getting the synergistic benefits of all the other cannabinoids and terpenes found in full and broad-spectrum CBD products.

Summing Up

Pure CBD can’t cause anxiety because it’s a non-intoxicating compound that has anxiety-relieving effects. However, full-spectrum CBD can potentially cause or worsen anxiety symptoms, depending on your sensitivity to THC.

While most people will be fine, some are so sensitive to THC that even a small amount is enough to trigger anxiety.

That’s why you should always check the third-party lab test reports (called Certificates of Analysis) to see the precise levels of THC in your product.

Keep in mind that although THC comes in two forms, delta-9 and delta-8, we’re mostly concerned about delta-9 because delta-8 is less psychoactive and naturally found in much smaller quantities (unless you’re using delta-8 products).

An example of a third-party Certificate of Analysis (CoA) showing that a full-spectrum CBD oil contains 1.6 mg of THC per ml.

There’s little regulation in the CBD industry, so it’s common for products to contain more or less CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids than advertised on the label.

You should never buy CBD from companies that fail to provide third-party test documents since they help you confirm that the CBD and THC levels are accurate and you’re getting your money’s worth.

Besides, these tests can also verify the lack of contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.

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