This is a logical (and popular) question.
I've personally had to wean off of benzos and SSRI's for anxiety and that might have been the most harrowing experience...EVER.
One was highly addictive and the other was just as bad albeit, not technically "addictive".
We've gone through the different pathways on CBD and the various mechanisms of anxiety here.
What happens if we stop taking CBD?
Does anxiety come back?
Does it come back even worse like with benzos?
Great questions and we're going to do a deep dive into how CBD works and what it's like to stop taking it.
We'll cover these areas:
- Is CBD habit-forming
- Does CBD normalize
- Does CBD cause rebound anxiety after stopping it
- How long do you have to take CBD for anxiety before stopping it
- Is it safe to take CBD long term
- How often should you take CBD
- Side effects of stopping CBD
Let's get to it.
Look, had I known how brutal benzos and SSRI's were going to be, I would have never started.
My story here.
Let's make sure we're not entering another pact with CBD.
We'll walk through the key questions
Is CBD habit forming?
CBD is not habit-forming, addictive, or hedonic.
Hedonic means something that increases the sensation of pleasure.
It's why a rat will hit the level for alcohol or cocaine over food after a period of time.
Most of this "addiction" reaction is tied to dopamine and a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.
CBD is actually showing a great deal of promise in "unwinding" addiction across a range of substances including opioids.
CBD attenuated context-induced and stress-induced drug seeking without tolerance, sedative effects, or interference with normal motivated behavior.
Maybe more important for people who are nervous about CBD due to its association with cannabis, the effects are contrary and opposing those of THC in many respects.
A percentage of the population can become addicted to THC (and cannabis with sufficient THC).
CBD actually opposes this effect:
In contrast to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is associated with acute and neurodevelopmental pro-psychotic side-effects, CBD possesses no known psychoactive or dependence-producing properties. However, evidence has demonstrated that CBD strongly modulates the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system and may possess promising antipsychotic properties.
The "mesolimbic" is that nucleus accumbens we mentioned above as the seat of addiction.
CBD actually helps to moderate its activity which points to its anti-addiction quality.
Check out CBD and addiction here.
Does CBD normalize
Normalization speaks to an interesting response from the brain.
When a substance is externally increased in the brain's pathway, the brain tries to counter this effect by naturally dropping what is being increased!
- For example, nicotine increases choline.
- THC increases anandamide (a naturally occurring endocannabinoid - the "bliss" molecule)
- Opioids increase endorphins
- Alcohol and benzos increase GABA
- SSRI's increase serotonin
The body then responds by dropping the naturally occurring levels.
The net effect is that you feel even worse after the added drug wears off.
There's a remarkable review of this process from Judy Grisel's book, Never Enough (everyone should read it anyway!!)
This rebound counter-move by the brain is called normalization.
The net effect is that you'll need more and more of the drug to have the same response.
Eventually, you're taking the drug just to replace the brain's reduction so you do not feel terrible.
It's part of the addiction process and the key to our initial question of whether we'll feel anxiety if we stop taking CBD.
CBD does not normalize.
Why doesn't it do this? It seems too good to be true. Even THC (it's a chemical cousin in cannabis) will normalize.
This gets to the heart of the endocannabinoid system.
First, THC increases levels of anandamide (our "bliss" molecule) in the brain.
It has a direct effect on this level which the brain tries to counter.
CBD is called a negative allosteric modulator.
That's a mouthful!
Let's explain since it speaks to our question.
Most neurotransmitters (and drugs) initiate a message from one neuron to the next via increased chemical messengers (such as anandamide, GABA, etc).
CBD goes the other way!
It's sent from the receiving neuron to the sending neuron.
It bolsters a check and balances system...the endocannabinoid system.
If you spend enough time in the research (we clock 2-3 hours a day), you'll see situations where:
- CBD has no effect if the underlying pathway is functioning normally
- CBD has a negative effect on levels if the pathway is too strong
- CBD has a positive effect on levels if the pathway is too weak
That's why researchers are always using words like "modulate", "normalize", etc.
Even when it increases (like with GABA), it increases the "potential" for GABA transmission.
See our article on GABA.
Mark our words, the endocannabinoids are really the system under duress by our modern lifestyle since it's trying to balance all the other systems.
If we stop taking CBD, we don't want to compound our original anxiety with additional anxiety from the brain offsetting CBD's effect.
Research is not showing that CBD normalizes.
Let's get to the core question now.
Does CBD cause rebound anxiety after stopping it
We've looked at any additive anxiety from stopping CBD either due to addiction (dopamine) or normalization (brain's reaction to boosting specific neurotransmitters).
We're good there.
Here's the issue...there is both a short term and long term aspect of anxiety.
The short term is current state and CBD can definitely offset that.
See the CBD and public speaking anxiety review as an example.
The long term anxiety is different.
CBD actually helps there as well but we may be looking at actual brain area activity and neuroinflammation.
Those situations won't go away right away.
For example, most people don't realize that SSRI's can take 2-3 weeks before they have any effect (assuming they will) on depression and anxiety.
That's because the main lever of SSRI's is neurogenesis...literally building new brain.
That's not an immediate process.
CBD has the same effect (without the nasty side-effects) but it's still going to take some time.
Check out CBD for long term anxiety repair.
If you stop taking CBD and there are still the effects of chronic stress, inflection, inflammation across the brain and gut, anxiety will likely come back.
There's some good news here as well.
Some of the studies are finding that the results of even a single use of CBD can last for days.
More importantly, we've researched in detail how CBD deals with the actual causes of anxiety!
Check out these for more information:
- CBD and long term anxiety
- CBD and the mechanisms of anxiety
- CBD, meditation, and exercise for hippocampus neurogenesis
- CBD and hippocampus neurogenesis
- CBD and neuroinflammation for anxiety
- CBD and probiotics for anxiety
Like we said, we're deep in research.
The goal is not just another benzo where anxiety spikes after we stop taking it.
That's a nightmare we've been through (see CBD to wean off benzos for anxiety).
How long do you have to take CBD for anxiety before stopping it?
The immediate effects of CBD for anxiety can occur within 10-20 minutes (if you hold the oil under your tongue up to 60 seconds).
Peak effects are generally 2-3 hours after taking it and the half-life is generally around 4-6 hours.
That's the immediate effect of CBD on anxiety.
For long term anxiety, this depends on different factors:
- Past trauma, infection, stress, etc
- Genetic pathways for stress response and repair
- Ongoing, chronic stress
- Gut health and balance
- Hormone balance and status
- Lifestyle choices (exercise, meditation, nutrition, etc)
Let's give one example.
Some sources of anxiety can be marbleized into our nervous system.
This can even go back to our situation in the womb, to our mother's stress, or even to our ancestors!
Yes, that sounds scary but it speaks to how "plastic" our genes and brains are.
This just means that the brain is constantly being molded and changed.
You're changing your brain right now by reading this sentence!
In our CBD and performance anxiety article, we looked at research on how descendants of Holocaust survivors carry the imprint of that stress in their genes.
It's called epigenetics.
It can figure into anxiety and depression with current research showing up to 4 generations!
Another study found epigenetic markers up to 11 generations.
Then there's traumatic stress.
We personally take CBD daily and don't plan to stop since we've seen its effects on everything from mitochondria function (key to aging) to gut lining barriers (key to auto-immune).
The good news is that if you decide to stop CBD, you will not have more anxiety then what is currently "written" in your system.
Just know that CBD is not just a bandaid like Benzos which masks anxiety.
We've written extensively on how CBD addresses the root mechanisms of anxiety here.
Is it safe to take CBD long term
Since CBD doesn't normalize or pose an addiction risk, this begs the question.
Is it safe to take CBD long term?
We're starting to see longer-term studies finally.
A sleep study looked at a 2-month window with no negative effects:
Studies have found that CBD can interact with medications that use the P450 pathway in the liver.
This can make the other medication either more bio-available or less depending on how it functions.
These studies here are 8 weeks long with a strong safety profile.
A study on seizures and CBD was up to 3 months long:
Apart from reducing the seizure frequency in 39% of the patients, the side effects were only mild to moderate and included reduced/increased appetite, weight gain/loss, and tiredness.
There are many longer-term studies on that page above.
The FDA approved Epeliodex has even more extensive research with patients on it for years but it's also a synthetic analog of CBD.
Every time we look at synthetic, the profile is worse versus natural.
Think hydrogenated oil, fake sugar, progestin versus progesterone, etc.
We want to focus on just CBD studies for that reason.
As we see long term studies, we'll add them here.
How often should you take CBD
This really depends on your situation.
We have some research here:
Generally, it's best to take it after a meal for maximum absorption.
The number of doses is not so important as the total mg of CBD per day (or per dose).
Research is showing that the long term neurogenesis effect from CBD starts to go down after 300 mg doses even if the anti-anxiety effect continues.
Check out how many mgs of CBD for anxiety here.
The goal is to address what's causing the anxiety to begin with.
Side effects of stopping CBD
So...are there side effects to stopping CBD?
Can we get anxiety from stopping CBD?
Hopefully, we've cleared up the addiction and normalization question up above.
This means that the act of stopping CBD will not cause anxiety by itself.
Just keep in mind that longer-term issues driving anxiety (all the way to brain rewiring) take time to address as we see from the SSRI studies (See CBD versus SSRI for serotonin and anxiety).
They generally start to work in 2-3 weeks so that's a good indication since CBD works on the same pathways.
Also, make sure to check out the article on meditation and exercise for anxiety.
Finally, if you're getting older, check out pregnanolone for anxiety and just general aging.
Master overview of CBD and anxiety pathways to look at various aspects we can directly affect.
Links to CBD and anxiety research with dozens of anxiety-specific topics.
Always work with a doctor or naturopath with any supplement!
The information provided here is not intended to treat an illness or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.