CBD vs THC: The Great Anxiety Debate

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This article discusses the early experiments and studies on the effects of two cannabinoids on anxiety.

Cannabis and relaxation—name a more iconic duo. The plant is well-known for its calming compounds and three-letter abbreviations for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Despite attention in popular science and culture, however, there’s still plenty we don’t know about these cannabinoids.

This is particularly important when it comes to anxiety. More than 40 million Americans over the age of 18 suffer from anxiety disorder and many turn to cannabis as a holistic wellness tool.

Anecdotally, many report mental health benefits from using products with THC and CBD. Scientifically, there’s not much peer-reviewed research into the differences between the two and which is more effective in combating anxiety. Until now.

Anxiety and What We Know

Anxiety is a national and global public health problem that is only getting worse. Last year, roughly one-third of adults (32.3%) reported anxiety and depression symptoms in the United States. This issue is echoed internationally with anxiety disorders afflicting about 300 million people.

The good news is that science is looking more seriously at cannabis as a mental health aid and potential anxiety reliever. Early studies show that CBD reduces anxiety symptoms by up to 50% in young people—a particularly important finding considering that young people are even more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety than adults. Another study also finds that THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces a high, produces an anxiogenic (anti-anxiety) response in the body at correct doses.


But, if both compounds show early positive signs, which is preferable for treating anxiety? Well, even though both are natural cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis plant, new research is uncovering notable differences between the two.


This is exactly what scientists looked into earlier this year in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. The researchers gathered a group of 300 participants, comprising both cannabis novices and occasional users, for a comprehensive exploration of anxiety alleviation strategies.

Participants were split into three groups and assigned different anxiety-beating formulations: a THC-dominant product with 24% THC, a CBD-dominant product featuring 24% CBD, and a balanced cannabis flower containing equal proportions of CBD and THC at 12% each. Procuring supplies from licensed dispensaries, participants embarked on a meticulously monitored four-week trial period.

The findings are significant. While all groups experienced varying degrees of anxiety reduction, the CBD-dominant group emerged as the standout performer. Notably, these participants reported diminished tension and paranoia following consumption without experiencing cognitive impairment. In contrast, the THC-dominant group demonstrated less pronounced anti-anxiety effects.

In the ongoing discourse surrounding cannabis for anxiety management, this evidence lends weight to CBD’s efficacy, offering relief without the cognitive impairment often associated with THC consumption and its psychedelic effects.

An Important First Step

It’s exciting to get some initial answers to the age-old question of CBD vs THC for anxiety. It’s even better to note that CBD is well tolerated by most people and considered safe.

Nonetheless, as with all things emerging cannabis research, there are some asterisks to consider. Keep in mind that not all CBD is created equal. Some producers test their products independently for purity and potency while others don’t. This space's lack of regulation and oversight often results in poor actors with poor products.

It’s therefore worth researching brands and considering their production techniques before buying products to help with anxiety. Check out reviews and don’t be shy to ask for more information on third-party testing and whether their hemp is organically cultivated. And, whenever starting with a new cannabis-derived product, be sure to start by dosing low and going slow.

This last part is especially important when it comes to THC since incorrect dosing can have the opposite intended effect. Research reports that “THC appears to decrease anxiety at lower doses and increase anxiety at higher doses.” The psychoactive element must be considered when preferring this compound for anxiety relief.

Of course, each person reacts differently, meaning that some consumers might see better results with THC and others with CBD. In this sense, it’s heartening that both compounds in the study have a positive impact on treating anxiety. Further, if consumers want to leverage both cannabinoids in their well-being routines, remember that full-spectrum CBD contains THC at reasonable levels. This can be a good option for those wanting to experiment with the “entourage effect” and explore the other natural compounds present in the cannabis plant.

This is indeed an important first step. Knowing what works is key to applying the right treatment and fighting this mental health emergency. Let’s look forward to more funding, research, and understanding in the global fight against anxiety.

About the Author

Scott Mazza is the co-founder and COO of Vitality CBD (Buffalo, NY). Hailing from a background in finance, Scott is well-versed in the benefits of hemp and is passionate about providing people with a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals.