Panic attacks can be debilitating and cause issues reaching far beyond the moment of the attack itself. While those who suffer from panic attacks have some treatment options, most pharmaceutical drugs for panic attacks have harsh side-effects, and therapy on its own is not always enough to be effective. Thus, many are turning to CBD, the non-psychoactive compound of the hemp plant, for relief. But does CBD for panic attacks actually work? Is it safe? What does the research say? We answer all these questions and more in this article.
CBD for Panic Attacks at a Glance
- Claim: CBD can reduce or eliminate panic attacks.
- What the research shows: Early research is extremely promising. However, more research is needed. A clinical trial on CBD for panic attacks is currently underway.
- All the facts: While we won’t know for certain until the clinical trial completes in fall of 2020, so far evidence supports that using CBD may be effective.
About Panic Attacks
The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as “a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” While panic attacks look and feel different for everyone, some common symptoms can include shortness of breath, racing heart, intense fear, feeling a loss of control or safety, nausea, chest pain, dizziness, and a feeling of unreality or detachment.
Panic attacks are involuntary and often occur without warning. While they can be debilitating enough on their own, those who experience them often face social stigma. People may assume that they are being intentionally dramatic or that they’re looking for attention. In reality, the opposite is the case.
It’s not known what causes panic attacks. However, some known risk factors include:
- Family history of panic attacks
- Major life stresses or changes
- A traumatic event
- Childhood physical or sexual abuse
- Smoking or excessive caffeine intake.
Panic attacks can lead to other complications. Problems at work or school, avoidance of social situations, financial problems, and depression are all associated with panic attacks when left untreated. Constant fear of having another panic attack is also quite common. In extreme cases, substance abuse or suicide can occur. However, panic attacks are treatable.
One common treatment for panic attacks is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). According to Anxiety.org, “CBT focuses on educating clients about their disorders, identifying and changing maladaptive thoughts and fears, learning relaxation and other coping strategies, and helping clients face their fears.”
Other effective coping strategies include mindfulness, acceptance, and self-education. These are often used in conjunction with therapy, medication, or both.
Pharmaceutical medications are also commonly used. SSRIs and SNRIs and Benzodiazepines are the most common of these. However, both classes of medications can have harsh side effects.
The side effects of Benzodiazepines can be worse. Common side effects include tolerance and addiction, abuse, low blood pressure, heart problems, breathing problems, blurred vision, nausea, and skin rash. Patients are often not informed of their highly addictive quality and the dangers of quitting cold turkey.
Now, experts are researching whether CBD for panic attacks could be effective. With few and mild side effects (especially compared to pharmaceutical treatments), it is an appealing option. But does it work?
CBD for Panic Attacks
So far, both early research and anecdotal evidence indicate that yes, CBD for panic attacks may be effective.
There are a great many personal stories from people who say that CBD helped relieve or even eliminate their panic attacks entirely. While some people didn’t find it effective, many did. One contributor to Quora said, “my [CBD] oil has made my panic attacks almost nonexistent. On occasions I will feel one coming and I’ll take some more oil. So far it’s made my panic attacks subside. I’ve been on my brand of oil since July, 2017 and off my anxiety and depression medication.”
Aside from anecdotal evidence, there is good reason to think that CBD may be effective for addressing panic attacks. CBD works by connecting with our body’s endocannabinoid system. CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety and promote ease and relaxation by working with our central nervous system.
Among many other things, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for modulating the neural circuitry that mediates anxiety and fear response. One study noted that the endocannabinoid system helps modulate the fear response, stating, “endocannabinoid signalling may ensure an appropriate reaction to stressful events. Therefore, the ECS can be considered as a regulatory buffer system for emotional responses.”
In short, CBD positively affects the endocannabinoid system, which in turn helps to regulate our emotional responses.
So far, early studies indicate that using CBD for panic attacks is effective.
The conclusion of a recent review of the literature sums up the state of the research on CBD for panic attacks. They authors said, “CBD seems to be a promising drug for the treatment of PD [Panic Disorder]. However, novel clinical trials involving patients with the PD diagnosis are clearly needed to clarify the specific mechanism of action of CBD and the safe and ideal therapeutic doses of this compound.”
There is currently a clinical trial on CBD for Panic Disorder underway. It is scheduled for completion in October of 2020.
Some smaller studies also give us clues to CBD’s efficacy for panic attacks. For example, a study on rats concluded that the endocannabinoid system should be “considered for the development of additional treatments against panic and other anxiety-related disorders.”
There are also quite a few studies on CBD’s effects on anxiety disorder, which closely relates to pannic attacks. Studies like this one, which showed a decrease in anxiety during public speaking in those treated with CBD, or this case study, which showed CBD to be more effective than anti-anxiety medication in relieving anxiety, point towards CBD’s efficacy for panic attacks.
Downsides of Using CBD for Panic Attacks
What are the side effects of using CBD for panic attacks? The short answer is, not many. CBD has been praised in the medical community for its excellent safety profile. Harvard Medical School also attests to its safety, and the World Health Organization states, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
That said, CBD is not entirely without risks. Common side effects include nausea, fatigue, and irritability, and it can also interact with some blood thinners.
Since the safety and purity of CBD is not regulated by the FDA, it’s vital to ensure your CBD comes from a reputable source. There have been instances of CBD containing dangerous chemical additives, and while these are rare, it’s important to make sure your CBD is safe. Get familiar with reading independent lab reports and only buy from companies that make them easily accessible.
Overall, provided it’s from a reputable source, CBD is remarkably safe and may be worth trying with the approval of your doctor. Make sure to check with your pharmacist if you’re taking any other medications, because CBD may interact with them.
So far, the evidence seems to support using CBD for panic attacks. We’re especially excited to see the results of the clinical trial when it completes in fall of 2020, which should give us a clearer idea of whether this is correct. If the results are positive, it is likely that CBD for panic attacks may become an FDA-approved treatment.
While the evidence so far points in a hopeful direction, it’s important to note that CBD has not yet been proven to cure panic attacks. Also, what works for one person may not work for the next. Even if CBD is effective in reducing or eliminating panic attacks, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily effective for everybody. However, given its remarkable safety profile and its many other health benefits, it may be worth a try.
If you are interested in trying CBD for panic attacks, make sure to consult your doctor to find out if it’s an appropriate addition to your treatment plan.