Can CBD Help Treat Panic Attacks? [Exploring the Science]

CBD Studies are shedding some light on this topic.
Nicole Richter Nicole Richter / Updated on July 8, 2019

CBD for Panic Attacks

It now appears that anxiety as a whole is rising in Western nations, and the United States is not immune to this trend. According to the largest book retailer in the country, Barnes & Noble, sales of books about anxiety recently jumped by 25%. It is, in some ways, a mysterious condition: You feel trapped in an invisible cage; you’re a prisoner but don’t know why; you feel terrible for reasons you can’t define.

Panic attacks, better known as Panic Disorder, relate to an anxiety disorder that affects an estimated 1.7% of American adults; this equates to around 2.4 million people. Women are twice as likely to develop the condition than men. An estimated 50% of all people who have a panic disorder develop it before the age of 24.

Whether panic attacks are linked to anxiety, or else they are caused by some other stress factor; they are real, frightening, or worse, emotionally debilitating. Generally speaking, doctors will tend to treat panic attacks with psychological therapy, medication, or even both, but thanks to recent research, a third option has come into the light. Scientists are starting to agree that CBD is potentially an effective treatment for panic attacks.

What are Panic Attacks?

While often thought to be the same thing, panic attacks and anxiety attacks are quite different. Anxiety attacks are mostly caused in reaction to a stressor. For example, a person may feel apprehensive or fearful of a certain situation. Anxiety attacks are short-lived and when the stressor goes away so does the anxiety.

Panic Disorder, on the other hand, is not related to a stressor. Instead, it involves repeated and unexpected instances of intense fear followed by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, and abdominal distress. In some cases, the symptoms mimic those of a heart attack or another serious medical condition. As a consequence, a Panic Disorder diagnosis isn’t made until after an expensive battery of tests.

Individuals with Panic Disorder often develop a feeling of intense anxiety between their episodes. In fact, it isn’t unusual for someone in this situation to develop a phobia about a place or situation where a previous panic attack has occurred; such as at a shopping mall or restaurant.

As the frequency of the attacks increase, the individual starts to avoid situations where they believe another attack could occur, or else they may not get immediate assistance. Although an isolated panic attack might only last for a few minutes, it leaves a deep psychological imprint.

The memory of the fear and terror you experienced can devastate your self-confidence and cause serious disruption to your everyday life. Eventually, you could suffer from one of these Panic Disorder symptoms:

  • Phobic Avoidance: You start avoiding certain environments or situations because you believe they are similar to the locations where you have suffered a panic attack. At its most extreme level, you could develop agoraphobia.
  • Agoraphobia: At one time, this condition was associated with open spaces and public places only. Now, it is believed that agoraphobia can develop after panic attacks. While it can develop at any time, it usually happens within a year of your first recurring panic attacks. It manifests as a fear of having a panic attack in a place where it is hard to escape from. As a result, you begin avoiding crowded places, enclosed areas, and even physical exercise.
  • Anticipatory Anxiety: This can have a severe impact on your life. Rather than feeling relaxed and ‘normal’ in the time between panic attacks, you feel tense, nervous, and anxious due to a fear of future attacks.

Common symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • Racing or pounding heart
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pains
  • Chills
  • Tingling in different body parts
  • Terror
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying
  • Nausea or upset stomach

What Causes Panic Disorder?

Unfortunately, doctors have been unable to pinpoint the reasons why certain people get Panic Disorder, although it does seem to be partially hereditary. Other causes could be stressful life events (such as entering a new workplace, getting married, having a child, or the death of a loved one) and thinking in a manner that exaggerates your normal bodily functions. Alas, the precise reason is unknown, although Panic Disorder is the subject of detailed scientific investigation.

To date, studies in humans and animals have tried to pinpoint the specific brain areas involved in fear and anxiety. It has been discovered that our fear response is coordinated by a structure deep within the brain known as the amygdala. It is a complex structure, and according to recent research, anxiety disorders could be associated with abnormal activation in this part of the brain.

It is also possible that Panic Disorder, and the associated panic attacks, are caused by a physical issue or a medical condition such as:

  • Withdrawal from medication.
  • Use of stimulants such as cocaine, caffeine, or amphetamines.
  • Low blood sugar.
  • Overactive thyroid gland.
  • A minor cardiac problem called mitral valve prolapse, which happens when one of the heart’s valves fails to close properly.

Traditional Medicine to Treat Panic Attacks (Not Related to CBD)

If you decide to go down the traditional route to treat a panic attack then it’s important to understand that doctors will tend to prescribe two types of medicine:

Antidepressants – This is generally the first choice of doctors. When taken regularly, they alter neurotransmitter configurations which in turn help to block symptoms.

Anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) – The use of benzodiazepines for panic attacks is an extremely controversial topic among researchers. For example, while The American Psychiatric Association found positive evidence and claim that benzodiazepines can be used based on the individual patient’s history, The National Institute of Clinical Excellence came to a different conclusion, concluding that benzodiazepines were not effective in the long-term for panic disorder. According to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, benzodiazepines should not be used for longer than four weeks for panic disorder.

Substances to Avoid When Experiencing a Panic Attack

  1. Caffeine – Caffeine is a known stimulant and can trigger various emotions including nervousness, nausea, and lightheadedness.
  2. Artificial and Refined Sugars – Although sugar is located in virtually everything we eat these days, it’s important to be conscientious about it. Studies have shown that sugar creates changes in your body which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
  3. Alcholol – While thought to be a stress reliever by some, Alcohol is a toxin that leads to improper physical and mental functioning, by impacting the levels of serotonin in the brain.
    It also affects the nervous system and can cause an increased heart rate.
  4. Trans Fat – Trans Fat, aka hydrogenated fat, is one of the worst foods for your health. Unfortunately, it is also one of the tastiest. Studies have found that Trans Fat, located in foods such as french fries and candy can increase your risk of depression. Furthermore, it can lead to more anxiety-like symptoms.

CBD and Panic Attacks – The Science

As of now, it is known that THC can have a calming and soothing effect on the human body, proving to provide relief for panic attack suffers. This occurs when the anandamide in our bodies react with the THC in Cannabis. Recent studies, however, are showing that a different cannabinoid, known as CBD is also having a miraculous effect on panic suffers.

A study by Blessing et al., published in the October 2015 edition of Neurotherapeutics, looked at CBD as a possible treatment for anxiety disorders. It concluded that CBD’s effectiveness in reducing anxiety behaviors was conclusively demonstrated in preclinical trials.

The researchers found that cannabidiol helped with various disorders, including SAD, PTSD, PD, OCD, and GAD. It stated that the anxiolytic actions of the cannabinoid depended on CB1 receptors and 5-HT1A receptors in several brain regions. The study also stated that further investigation of the additional receptor actions could uncover more mechanisms.

It went on to say that findings in experiments involving humans supported preclinical discoveries, and suggest a minimal sedative effect, a lack of anxiogenic effects, and a safety profile described as ‘excellent’. The study did point out that the findings are mainly based on ‘acute CBD dosing’ in healthy people. This means additional research is needed to find out if chronic dosing is effective in the relevant clinical populations.

One of the most recent reviews of studies involving CBD and anxiety was conducted by Soares and Campos in 2017, where it was published in the Current Neuropharmacology journal. The research paper was titled ‘Evidences for the Anti-panic Actions of Cannabidiol’. The researchers pointed out that SSRIs, the current first-line treatment for Panic Disorder, are not effective in the long-term, and carry an array of side effects that cause patients to discontinue the treatment.

In contrast, CBD has anti-anxiety properties, and the duo put the theory to the test on both human and animal subjects. The research concluded that “CBD seems to be a promising drug for the treatment of PD.” It did go on to say that clinical trials involving patients with Panic Disorder were needed to show the “specific mechanism of action of CBD” along with the cannabinoid’s “safe and ideal therapeutic doses.”

A review by Crippa et al., published in the September 2018 edition of Frontiers in Immunology, looked at the therapeutic potential of CBD. The paper aimed to describe the advances in the use of cannabidiol in neuropsychiatry. The review found that CBD had antipsychotic, anxiolytic, and neuroprotective properties.

Both basic and clinical investigations found that CBD had benefits for patients with conditions as wide-ranging as PTSD, Parkinson’s, bipolar disorder, social phobia, and sleep disorders. The researchers wrote that CBD was a “useful and promising molecule” that could help people with a variety of clinical conditions.

For the record, one study in the 2017 Soares and Campos review found that a single dose of 300mg of CBD caused a significant decrease in anxiety levels after a simulated public speaking test. In a different study in the review, a 600mg dose of CBD caused a major reduction in anxiety in people with social anxiety disorder.

While this is potentially fantastic news, there is one problem: Even the most inexpensive high-quality CBD products cost around $70-80 per 1,000mg. Therefore, a single 300mg dose is the equivalent of $21-24. If you took a single dose every day, it would be $600-700 per month.

Even though brand antidepressants and other anti-anxiety medications can cost $200 a month, it is still less costly than CBD. On the other hand, if CBD works and the other drugs don’t, there isn’t much of a conversation to be had! Hopefully, future studies will show the efficacy of smaller CBD doses. Over time, the price of CBD is likely to go down as competition in the market intensifies.

Final Thoughts on CBD for Panic Disorder

Preliminary research into CBD’s effects on Panic Disorder, plus an array of other conditions, has proven positive to date. CBD comes from specially grown marijuana strains such as Cannatonic, Harlequin, Charlotte’s Web, and ACDC. However, weed remains federally illegal in the United States, so conducting clinical studies on it is next to impossible; at least it is with cannabis used on the streets.

In contrast, industrial hemp is now legal to grow in the U.S., and this plant contains a mass of CBD with little THC. Therefore, it should theoretically be easier for scientists to learn more about this particular cannabinoid. Soon enough, we should have ample evidence which proves CBD’s efficacy, or lack of.

If you have been diagnosed with Panic Disorder and have turned to CBD for help, please let us know all about your experiences in the comments section below. Include your diagnosis (if you feel comfortable sharing), your daily CBD dosage, and the effects you felt. Remember, the research backs up many claims about CBD, but it is only a drop in the ocean. A LOT more studies have yet to be conducted.

As things stand, anecdotal evidence into the benefits of CBD for anxiety disorders such as PD is mounting up. We know that there are tens of thousands of people all over the world who swear by CBD. Although there is still some resistance; an increasing number of experts believe that cannabidiol has potential therapeutic use. If it helps wean people off dangerous opioids, that is a bonus.

Article Sources:
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36 comments
  1. Irene Dilley
    No it makes anxiety much worse.

    Absolutely NOT! I ended up in the ER after using CBD 8 mg cbd and 2 mg thc. I had been using this for over a year just fine. One day this week I took a cbd pill 10 mg and about an hour later I thought I was dying. Warm unpleasant feeling all over, heart pounding like a tiger was after me, dizzy and light headed, tingly hands and ice cold hands, confusion , was able to stumble to my phone and call 911. Many hours in the ER and admitted overnight. Many heart tests, echocardiogram, heart monitor many blood tests. Turns out I cannot use thc at all. And here I thought I was helping my symptoms of Anxiety and minor aches and pains. Btw I Am 64 years old so I suppose I should have known better than to experiment with non-regulated supplements.

  2. Mitchell Love
    Yes

    Yes, it does, but if the attacks are too severe, or too long duration-ed, then go for weed instead. ACDC and Canatonic are two great strains for this purpose.

  3. Eric Harris
    My experience tells me CBD does help with Panic Disorder.

    I have a long history of Panic Disorder. Finally being diagnosed with it 15 or so years ago. I have been off and on SSRI’s. Currently I am taking SSRI and it has helped almost completely eliminate it. But recently I have had a few panic attacks even being on SSRIs. I took up vaping nicotine a few months ago after being off cigs for 10 years. Big mistake as I think that was the trigger for the return of the panic attacks.

    My last panic attack happened when I noticed a overall gassy and fluttery feeling in my chest. Of course I worried about it for an hour and had a panic attack and called 911 as I have done in the past. Today I had the similar situation but took 2 of my CBD gummies, and they seemed to have settled me down and I feel calmer, and like no panic attack is on the horizon. For anyone worried, I’ve been tested for heart health in the past and everything is fine. I even had a blood test recently and all was normal. So all of these sensations are all anxiety and panic disorder related.

    My experience tells me CBD does help with panic disorder. Take a little advice from me. Stay away from coffee and nicotine.

  4. Mackenzie Custance
    Strong Minded

    CBD does help for panic attacks, but I would say go for CBD only if you can wait patiently as the results take some time to show up. Also marijuana is more fast acting as compared to CBD when it comes to handling panic attacks. So depends how severe your situation is and how strong minded you are.

  5. William Blazey
    Cured of panic disorder

    I had severe panic attacks 25 years ago and could barely function. I tried 30 different compounds and drugs. I finally got relief with .125 mg of gabapentin. I called it my magic pill. 1 a day at bedtime. It has a cumulative effect and the longer you are on it the less you need. Eventually I felt so normal I went off 20 years ago and have not had a problem since. I had to have it compounded (comes in 100mg capsules – will burn your throat if not in capsule). It does not mix with benzo’s. Warner Lambert thought I was nuts (they made it first) but I will bet anyone $5000 it will cure panic disorder. Please note if alcohol gives you panic when it wears off this drug is for you. Weed did nothing for me.

  6. Timo

    i’ve been having really bad panic attacks for about 6 months and been prescribed Xanax but recently stop using Xans cause of the negative side effects it had on me, since i stopped with Xanax mi panic attacks became worse and more frequent , so i decided to take a more natural approach started to try gaba , L-theanin , taurine, but they all made me more anxious! i was starting to lose hope.. then i decided to give Cbd oil a try and i have to say i’m seeing wonderful results!! normally when i’m driving i’m alway worried that i’m going to have a panic attack ! but when i used Cbd the first day i just when’t out to buy groceries and when i got back home i realised i didn’t even think about it!! ive been on cbd oil for less than a week now and feel more under control now , i still feel the panic atacks creeping up on me once in a while but as soon as i start to feel them coming i just take some more cbd oil put it under my thongue and get almost immediate relief !! having panic attacks sucks but you just got to keep your head up!! There is Light at the end of the tunnel!! the Cbd oil that i use is Cbd oil 600mg 18.5% 2x a day.

    1. stuart marshall
      Hello from a panic disorder sufferer.

      Hi,

      Just read this comment from you about your panic disorder. Out of all the responses here yours seemed to be the closest to the panic disorder I have suffered for the last 17 years.

      I have just bought a bottle of CBD oil and was going to vape it but it gave me a massive headache so I am now trying it under the tongue.

      With my panic, I feel like I am going to go mad .. lose control. Some people’s panic is more physical based where they think they are going to have a heart attack or similar but mine is different.

      How is your panic now?

    2. noah
      im willing to give it a try

      im 18 and ive had panic attacks since i was 5 years old i have it once and awhile but lately ive been having them multiple times a year and i know from other family members that i was soon going to have to go to the doctor and be prescribed a pill , which is my worst fear i hate pills and i want something to make me feel normal not slumped. so tomorrow im going to the store and getting cbd oil and see if it works i will let all of you guys know if it does and i have really bad panic attacks where i get tunnel vision , my heart races and i feel dizzy. so if it works im hoping that someone who is in the same boat as me can try it.

  7. Chloe

    I’m 16 and suffering from panic disorder after the death of a close family member. I have never taken any medication for it as I am very scared to feel unlike myself. Last night, I took one 15mg CBD capsule and I don’t know if this is because I was tired, nervous about taking it or the actual CBD but I felt a little spacy and out of it. Nothing traumatic but now I am hesitant to try it again as it was not particularly pleasant. Is that a common reaction? should I just try again?

    1. Lauren

      I don’t think it was from the CBD. After I have a panic attack I too feel out of it. It drains your energy.
      Actually I had a panic attack from anxiety the other evening and after about 20 mins of anxiety I took CBD drops under my tongue and within 5 min I felt relief… Idk if my body just calmed down or it was the oil but I had been having anxiety for a few hours and felt a panic attack potentially coming on. But, within 5 min I felt 90% better.

  8. Dara

    I’ve had severe panic disorder for 12 years. I can’t smoke thc as it gives me panic attacks. I want to know if there is a resource for which cbd works best and if it is on a case by case basis, is there research or a doctor/s that treat panic disorder with cbd?

  9. Michelle

    I have suffered from severe panic attacks for the past 17 years. Along with anxiety phobias and ptsd. I took Zoloft in the past and hated it. Got off for many years and got back on in march. I know zoloft is just a bandaid so i quit cold turkey. I was on 50 mg for 3 months and my body is having a bad reaction to getting off Zoloft. Im having mahor panic attacks. I cant sleep at night i can’t drive..especially over bridges. I tried the oil but was given a small dose and I didnt feel any relief. Any suggestions of a good dose to start on. I’m going crazy….

  10. Kellie

    I’m 18 years old and am currently suffering from panic attack disorder. I’ve smoked marijuana for about 2 years now and have been using CBD oil for about 6 months. I saw some questions in the comments about it that I wanted to address.

    CBD oil has helped my symptoms, however, if I miss a dose, I’m sent into a downward spiral. I’m guessing because I’ve technically been supplementing CBD for two years, and my cannabinoid system is very much dependent on it. I went on vacation recently and forgot my CBD oil and am now paying for it!! My anxiety is at an all time high because of the withdrawal from CBD.

    You do not smoke cbd oil. CBD oil is present in marijuana as well as THC, but there is not THC in CBD so you will not feel ‘high’. CBD oil can be taken in a capsule form or by just swallowing the oil. I prefer capsules (from Charlotte’s Web) because the taste/consistency of the oil is definitely not enjoyable. You can also just buy the oil and encapsulate it yourself (you can find empty capsules on amazon for cheap). Typically when people have bad experiences with marijuana it is caused by the THC. THC does sometimes have calming effects it can also increase my anxiety and feel like I have no control over my body.

    I’ve never had a problem purchasing CBD oil online, and I live in Virginia (medical marijuana has just become legal but recreational marijuana has not).

    Hope this helped! And remember you’re never alone!!! We’re all in this together.

  11. Samantha Nowell

    Lately anxiety and panic attacks have taken over my life and as a 21 year old this has caused a bit of depression as well.

    Could someone please explain to me more about CBD oil? Is it something you smoke or ingest? Can it be ordered through the mail? I’ve smoked weed maybe 3 or 4 times in my life, and each time ended in horrible depersonalization and panic attacks that almost sent me to the hospital and lasted for weeks. So I’m hesitant to try something similar, but I’m curious because it seems to have really helped a lot of people.

    1. Iris

      This is in response to Samantha: I can totally relate. I had a most horrible panic attack/depersonalization experience years ago while stoned. Unfortunately, panic attacks and anxiety almost rule my life. My doctor has suggested CBD but, of course, I am terrified. I have been on anti-anxiety meds for years.
      My doctor explained that the panic attack, while stoned, most likely resulted from the THC in the marijuana. I am excited – yet terrified -about the idea of CBD. What did you decide, Samantha?

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