CBD may reduce the severity of symptoms and impairment caused by chronic anxiety in young people by up to a half, a new study has shown.
Mental health charity Orygen’s Cannabidiol Youth Anxiety Pilot Study found that young people with treatment-resistant anxiety had an average 42.6% reduction in symptom severity and impairment following 12 weeks’ treatment with CBD.
The reduction in symptoms was observed on two different scales: the clinician-rated Hamilton Anxiety Rating (50.7%) and the self-rated Overall Anxiety Severity and Impairment Scale (42.6%) in which participants filled in a questionnaire on symptoms including panic attacks, situational anxieties, worries and flashbacks.
Study lead Professor Paul Amminger described the level of improvement as “remarkable”.
He added: “The young people had fewer panic attacks and could do things which they were previously unable to do like leave the house, go to school, participate in social situations, eat at restaurants, take public transport or attend appointments by themselves.
“That’s an amazing change in the group which has had treatment-resistant, long-standing, severe to very severe anxiety.”
Study co-investigator and Orygen executive director Professor Patrick McGorry said the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows anxiety to be the most common form of mental ill health in young people. It affects nearly one third (31.5%) of those aged 16 to 24, almost double the rate of the general population.
“We’re seeing more and more young people experiencing anxiety – it’s the fastest growing form of mental ill health in young people and we urgently need innovation in treatment,” he said.
“Cannabidiol is a promising treatment option which appears safe and effective. We need further research to confirm this and explore its value.”
The pilot study involved 31 young people aged 12 to 25 who were recruited from Orygen’s primary care services. Participants had a diagnosed anxiety disorder and had failed to show significant improvement in anxiety severity following at least five cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions.
The starting dose was one 200mg capsule of CBD per day, which was increased to 400mg after one week. Those who did not show significant improvement in symptoms had their dosage increased at 200mg increments up to 800mg per day. All participants were offered bi-weekly CBT for 12 weeks (five sessions).
“The problem with current frontline treatments for anxiety – CBT and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant drugs – is that they only work in about half of the people who try them,” Professor Amminger said.
“Anxiety disorders are very common so that leaves a large number of young people untreated, struggling with symptoms and developing secondary conditions [such as] depression and substance use disorders.
“Our pilot study found that cannabidiol not only helped to reduce anxiety symptoms, 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.
“We did not see side effects like suicidal thoughts, irritability or sleep problems, which are not uncommon in people taking SSRIs.”
Orygen started exploring CBD as an anxiety treatment after it was found to be effective in adults.
Although the findings are promising, Professor Amminger said further research was required.
“The next step is a randomised controlled trial… 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.”
The trial received financial and specialist technical support from the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics.