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9 ways CBD oil can benefit anxiety, addiction, and pain

Written by John Davis

Last updated: March 31, 2023

CBD oil has rocketed to popularity following its (partial) legalization in 2018, and in parallel, a ton of research has come out supporting its use for treating anxiety, addiction, inflammation, and neurological pain.

Though it is not psychoactive, it’s derived from the same plant as THC (aka marijuana). Indeed, one of the benefits of CBD is that it can help tamp down on some of the adverse effects of using THC for medicinal purposes.

Confused about the potential uses of CBD oil? Check out these key benefits uncovered by our research team as we read up on the substantial scientific literature supporting CBD oil as a supplement.

CBD oil benefits

1. Cannabidiol is most easily used in a liquid form

CBD’s intriguing biological properties have attracted attention from scientists and medical researchers studying a number of health problems.

In June of 2015, Nora D. Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse gave a presentation to the United States Senate Drug Caucus (1). 

The caucus had called a hearing to inquire on the potential medical uses for cannabidiol, which remains difficult or illegal to obtain and use (depending on the oil’s source) in many states. In it, she described the state of the scientific research behind the use of cannabidiol oil for a wide range of health problems.

2. CBD oil has been used as a treatment for epilepsy

Some fascinating evidence exists suggesting that CBD oil is effective as an adjunctive treatment in children with epilepsy that was not well-controlled by medication. Volkow cites a number of small studies and clinical reports which found that cannabidiol oil reduced the frequency of seizures.

A 2012 review by Gloss and Vickrey at the University of California’s Department of Neurology examined the limited number of studies available to date, noting that there were some promising results, but concluding that the studies were too small and too limited to draw any strong conclusions (2). 

There was, however, good evidence that there were no major adverse effects (side effects) from the cannabidiol oil treatment protocols used.

3. CBD oil can help protect your brain from degenerative disease

CBD oil also appears to have the ability to reduce inflammation and protect the brain from degenerative damage in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. So far, the research has been mostly confined to the Petri dish and the microscope.

Volkow cites one small study that found some improvement in quality of life in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

However, beyond this, no major studies have tested cannabidiol oil as a drug for preventing or slowing the progression of any neurological diseases. 

Similarly promising results have been found in cell cultures of cancerous cells. Cannabidiol appears to have anti-tumor properties. Volkow notes that there are a number of clinical trials underway: within a few years, there should be some good research on whether CBD oil can reduce tumor size or slow the progression of cancer.

4. CBD oil has been explored as a potential treatment for schizophrenia

Human trials are a little more advanced when it comes to using CBD oil to treat psychological problems. A 2012 study by a team of nine researchers in Germany, Italy, and the United States investigated the effects of cannabidiol on brain activity in patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia (3). 

The researchers compared cannabidiol to a common anti-psychotic drug called amisulpride. While both drugs were similarly effective at reducing the severity of symptoms, cannabidiol had far fewer side effects. 

Further, analysis of blood samples revealed that patients who received cannabidiol had heightened levels of a particular neurotransmitter, and levels of this neurotransmitter in the blood were strongly and independently related to having fewer symptoms of schizophrenia.

5. CBD oil is a well-established anti-anxiety treatment

The neurological effects of cannabidiol might be useful for treating anxiety, too. A 2011 study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology examined whether cannabidiol could reduce anxiety and nerves in people with social anxiety disorder who were assigned a simulated public-speaking test (4). 

Half the volunteers were given a single dose of CBD, while the other half were given a placebo. All of the study’s subjects were then instructed to prepare and give a short speech about their city. 

To increase anxiety, the subjects were told the speech would be videotaped and later analyzed by a psychologist.

Compared to the subjects who received the placebo, the subjects who were given cannabidiol had lower levels of self-assessed anxiety, less cognitive impairment, and were more alert.

Their overall performance in the speech was nearly as good as that of healthy controls who didn’t have social anxiety disorder!

6. CBD treats anxiety by modulating serotonin uptake

A review article published in the journal Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences in 2018 reviewed all of the CBD-related scientific work conducted thus far (5). 

According to this same review study, the benefits of CBD oil for anxiety are supported by deeper biological work on how CBD molecules affect the function of the brain. CBD acts on specific neurotransmitters in the brain related to serotonin uptake, and it modifies blood flow to specific areas of the brain.

These findings have been confirmed in high-resolution medical imaging studies that show changes in cerebral blood flow in the hippocampus and other parts of the brain linked to feelings of anxiety.

7. CBD oil could help you quit an addiction

CBD has been proposed as a way to help people who are addicted to tobacco or even who are addicted to cannabis—a much rarer problem than tobacco addiction, but nevertheless a major issue for some people.

The rationale for using CBD to treat addiction may be linked to the same type of brain effects that help with anxiety. Withdrawal from a chemical dependence on a compound like nicotine creates feelings of anxiety and dissociation, which can be addressed by CBD.

A fascinating study done in the UK and published in the journal Addiction showed the potential for CBD to help reduce addiction-related craving behaviors in smokers (6).

CBD has also been explored as a potential treatment for opiate abuse, though given the fraught legal and ethical landscape surrounding opiate addiction, solid studies on CBD for painkiller abuse are few and far between.

8. CBD may soon become a mainstream treatment for mental health problems

Many of the positive effects of cannabidiol are the result of its ability to modulate levels of neurotransmitters in the brain.

This would explain why it appears to be a potent treatment for such a wide range of maladies. 

Despite the fact that much of the research is at a very early stage, CBD oil shows a lot of promise in treating many chronic health conditions, including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. 

9. CBD oil can be used to reduce neuropathy pain, especially in combination with THC

Cannabidiol may also work in concert with THC to reduce pain levels in people with neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer pain. It may also help reduce pain and spasms in multiple sclerosis too, suggesting that CBD (perhaps combined with medicinal THC) could be a very effective pain treatment (7).

CBD oil side effects

Cannabidiol is very safe. A 2011 study published in the journal Current Drug Safety concluded that CBD oil use, even at fairly high doses, does not appear to be associated with any major side effects (8).

However, the authors caution that more research is needed, along with studies that follow subjects for longer periods of time.

In the intervening years, more research on the safety of CBD oil has been conducted, and the findings are very much the same: CBD, even in very high doses, is quite safe.

CBD can even mitigate the negative effects of THC. In fact, CBD has even been found to be a mediating factor for some of the negative effects of THC, the active ingredient in recreational and medical cannabis.

One study which reviewed the literature on the overall negative effects of cannabinoids pointed to emerging research that suggests that CBD ameliorates some of the negative psychological effects of THC, but noted that more research is needed on this frontier (9).

Some risk of side effects are present when using lower-quality CBD oil that may be “contaminated” with THC, which is psychoactive. One case report that was published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology described two children who were using CBD oil to treat epilepsy, but were experiencing classic signs of being high: frequent laughter, bloodshot eyes, and reduced attention (10).

When their doctor switched them to a highly purified CBD-only oil, these symptoms immediately disappeared, and their epilepsy remained controlled.

A takeaway from this study, and other research suggesting that up to one in five CBD oil products could be contaminated with detectable amounts of THC, is that side effects from over the counter CBD oil products might not actually be due to the chemical action of CBD.

If you think you’re getting side effects from a CBD oil, you might want to try a different brand—it could be something entirely different (like THC!) that’s causing the problem.

CBD oil dosage

500 to 700 mg of CBD is the dose you should target for mental wellness. Hopefully, with the quasi-legalization of CBD in 2018, there will be more research in the next few years on optimal dosage and dosing protocols to get the best effects.

Until then, here’s what we do know: individual large doses taken orally, of 500 to 700 mg of CBD, are effective at creating the kind of anxiety relief and addiction disinterest we’ve seen earlier.

CBD is well-tolerated at doses up to 1500 mg per day. We also know that CBD oil is safe and well-tolerated even in doses of up to 1500 mg per day. CBD is also safe enough for long-term use for it to be consistently recommended by doctors as a way to control seizures in children.

Finally, CBD can also ameliorate some of the negative effects of THC, so it’s a great addition for users of medical cannabis who have side effect problems caused by THC.

The optimal CBD to THC ratio is unknown. As for the right CBD/THC ratio, scientists are still completely in the dark for the time being, though research is ongoing.

CBD oil benefits FAQ

Q: How long does it take for CBD oil to work?

A: CBD oil appears to be rapidly absorbed by the body, with blood levels of CBD increasing rapidly after taking an oral dosage of CBD oil (11).

Once absorbed in your body, CBD also lasts a long time; levels of CBD in your blood remain high for between 18 and 32 hours (12). In terms of how long it takes for CBD oil to start having a noticeable effect on symptoms, studies in rats suggest that dramatic effects are visible within 72 hours of starting to take CBD, so you should notice a difference pretty quickly if CBD is going to work for you.

Q: Is CBD oil safe?

A: Pure CBD oil is extremely safe, and by itself has no known side effects at the doses used in scientific research (up to 1500 mg per day).

When taking CBD oils you buy over the counter, you may have side effects caused by other compounds that are included in the product, either intentionally or unintentionally. Most notable among these is THC, the psychoactive compound that’s in recreational and medical cannabis.

Research has found that one in five CBD oils and hemp oils ordered online have detectable amounts of THC, so if you get side effects from your CBD oil, they might be due to THC or other compounds. In this case, try a different, higher-quality brand.

Q: What is CBD oil made from?

A: CBD oil is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant by soaking the plant materials in a solvent, like grain alcohol (also known as ethanol or ethyl alcohol, the same thing that’s in high-strength liquor).

Then, the plant materials are filtered off, and the alcohol is evaporated, which leaves an oily residue rich in cannabinoids. When using hemp, the strain of cannabis that’s specifically developed for industrial use, the primary cannabinoid is cannabidiol, known as CBD.

In contrast, other strains of Cannabis sativa will contain THC, which is psychoactive. High quality CBD oils will use additional purification steps, like fractional distillation, to isolate and purify the CBD. In its purest form, CBD itself isn’t “made” of anything; it’s just a molecule.

When delivered in CBD oil, it’s dissolved in hemp oil, which is a plant oil just like any other, whether it’s coconut oil, olive oil, or canola oil.

Q: Can CBD oil make you fail a drug test?

A: Hypothetically, taking pure cannabidiol (CBD) would not make you fail a drug test, but in practice, the risk of failing a drug test is very high if you take CBD oil. That’s because many CBD products are contaminated with traces of THC, which can be detected quite easily on a drug test.

CBD and THC, of course, come from exactly the same plant, so it’s understandable why there’s likely to be some cross-contamination. A 2019 study found that 21% of CBD oils purchased online contain detectable amounts of THC, so if you are getting drug tested, taking CBD oil is not a good idea, especially given how long THC can remain in your system (13).

Related: Our best CBD oil picks


CBD oil is a safe, well-tolerated supplement that has a lot of promise both for pain caused by neurological issues and for mental health challenges like anxiety and addiction. CDB is widely available legally, though its technical status under the law is still a bit murky.

If you’re taking CBD oil for mental wellness, a daily dosage of 500-700 mg is in keeping with what’s been found effective in clinical research.

If you think you are getting negative side effects, you might want to try a different brand–CBD is so well-tolerated, and brands are so variable in their purity, that it’s more likely that your side effects are being caused by a contaminant (like THC) in the oil, rather than the CBD itself.


John Davis

John Davis is a Minneapolis-based health and fitness writer with over 7 years of experience researching the science of high performance athletics, long-term health, nutrition, and wellness. As a trained scientist, he digs deep into the medical, nutritional, and epidemiological literature to uncover the keys to healthy living through better nutrition.