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 true 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.
If you’re 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.
Table of Contents
Research on CBD and Anxiety
Unlike its cousin THC, CBD can’t cause anxiety or any other intoxicating effects. On the contrary, multiple human studies have shown that pure CBD can help with anxiety:
- In a 2011 Brazilian study, CBD capsules improved anxiety caused by public speaking in people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) (1)
- In a 2019 Japanese study, 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)
- In a similar 2019 study of healthy adults, CBD reduced anxiety caused by a simulated public speaking test (4)
- 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) (5)
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.
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 (6). On top of that, multiple factors can influence how you respond to THC.
According to research, some people have a higher chance of getting anxiety from THC due to: (7)
- 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 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 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.
But 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.
But 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 reports of people who experienced anxiety and even panic attacks from full-spectrum CBD products.
Like other susceptible individuals, I’m so sensitive to THC that even the small amount present in full-spectrum CBD 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 (8).
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 about 70 mg, I still got the calming effects and none of the anxiety.
Another option is to switch to a different brand. After trying many full-spectrum CBD oils I’ve noticed more pronounced THC-related effects from certain companies.
These two choices are ideal because full-spectrum CBD provides the greatest benefits thanks to the “entourage effect” produced by all of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active compounds working in synergy (9). So even though THC is the issue, it’s nice to have a little bit for that extra boost to the entourage effect.
But 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 (undetectable traces might remain). 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. But 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.
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).
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 reports since they help you confirm that the CBD and THC levels are accurate and you’re getting your money’s worth. These tests can also verify that there are no contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.
- Bergamaschi, Mateus M., et al. “Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naive social phobia patients.” Neuropsychopharmacology 36.6 (2011): 1219-1226.
- Masataka, Nobuo. “Anxiolytic effects of repeated cannabidiol treatment in teenagers with social anxiety disorders.” Frontiers in psychology 10 (2019): 2466.
- Shannon, Scott, et al. “Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: a large case series.” The Permanente Journal 23 (2019).
- Linares, Ila M., et al. “Cannabidiol presents an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve in a simulated public speaking test.” Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry 41 (2018): 9-14.
- Skelley, Jessica W., et al. “Use of cannabidiol in anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.” Journal of the American Pharmacists Association 60.1 (2020): 253-261.
- Bhattacharyya, Sagnik, et al. “Acute induction of anxiety in humans by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol related to amygdalar cannabinoid-1 (CB1) receptors.” Scientific reports 7.1 (2017): 1-15.
- Stoner, Susan A. “Effects of marijuana on mental health: anxiety disorders.” Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute. (2017).
- Lucas, Catherine J., Peter Galettis, and Jennifer Schneider. “The pharmacokinetics and the pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids.” British journal of clinical pharmacology 84.11 (2018): 2477-2482.
- Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects.” British journal of pharmacology 163.7 (2011): 1344-1364.
Gleb is a freelance writer from Vancouver, Canada specializing in CBD and cannabis. He’s read thousands of studies on CBD and other supplements, helping him translate complex science into plain language. Gleb has tried and reviewed dozens of CBD brands and products, written third-party testing reports, and knows the CBD industry inside and out. When not writing, he likes to kickbox, travel, and tell everyone how awesome intermittent fasting is.