Can Full-Spectrum CBD Cause Anxiety?

Article by: , last updated October 18, 2020

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.

These extracts contain a small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main intoxicating component of cannabis. For most people, this isn’t enough to cause any psychoactive effects.

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

Here’s how full-spectrum CBD can cause anxiety and what you can do about it. 

Research on CBD and Anxiety

The first thing you should know is that CBD on its own is completely non-psychotropic. That’s a fancy scientific way of saying that it doesn’t get you high or cause any other mind-altering effects (including increased anxiety).

Multiple human studies have demonstrated that pure CBD (also known as isolate) 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 2015 review paper concluded that “current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders” which include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), SAD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (4)

Why Full-Spectrum CBD Can Cause Anxiety

If pure CBD has been shown to relieve anxiety, then how can full-spectrum CBD cause it or make anxiety worse?

Here’s the thing: full-spectrum CBD is a type of whole-plant hemp extract. 

Hemp is a variety of cannabis that contains small amounts (0.3% or less) of THC. That means full-spectrum CBD products can contain the same concentration of THC.

Most of us are familiar with THC because it’s the main compound responsible for the mind-altering high experienced when smoking cannabis. One of THC’s possible side effects is 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). In addition, 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)

  • individual genetic factors
  • 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 and related side effects even when ingesting relatively small amounts of THC.

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. This means that roughly speaking, a full-spectrum CBD oil can contain as much 3 milligrams (mg) of THC per one ml of liquid. 

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

With this data, we can estimate that a full dropper of your average full-spectrum CBD oil will contain roughly 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 Own Experience With Anxiety From Full-Spectrum CBD

I’ve personally experienced an uncomfortable bout of anxiety that lasted for 2-3 hours after taking roughly an 80 mg dose 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 experience anxiety even from a single puff. 

I also found other online reports of people who experienced anxiety and even panic attacks from full-spectrum CBD products.

As it turns out, 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. But that hasn’t stopped me from using CBD.

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 health experts (7). 

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

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

Alternatives to Full-Spectrum CBD for Anxiety

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

First off, you can lower your dose. In my case, I found that as long as I kept my full-spectrum CBD oil dose low enough (no more than 50 mg for most brands), I still got the beneficial, calming effects of CBD and none of the anxiety. 

This is my preferred option because full-spectrum CBD extracts are believed to provide the greatest benefits thanks to the “entourage effect” produced by all of its cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active components (8).

The second best option is to switch to 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 third 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 benefits of all the minor cannabinoids and terpenes found in full and broad-spectrum hemp extracts. 

Make Sure to Check Third-Party Test Results

Whichever option you choose, you should also check the third-party lab test reports to see the precise levels of THC in your product.

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 products from companies that don’t provide these test results since they also help you confirm that the CBD levels are accurate and you’re getting your money’s worth.

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