Can CBD Help With Stage Fright and Athletics?

CBD and stage fright and athletic performance


There's a fascinating connection between Kobe and MJ's performance.

The NBA is filled with almost circus level athleticism, height, and ability.

The dividing line between the truly great and the also-ran has more to do with the mind than the body.

Both MJ and Kobe shared a passion with their Coach…

Mindful meditation.

As we're working on that, are there other tools we can use to bring down the tide of doubt and stress that can sabotage performance, be it on a stage or court?

The research on CBD is fascinating on this question since we don't want anything that actually interferes with performance...whether physical or mental.


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CBD shows great promise here.

Here are the topics we'll cover:

  • What causes stage fright
  • The CBD and public speaking study with social anxiety
  • How CBD can help for stage fright
  • CBD and verbal or dexterity with stage fright
  • Can you take CBD before sports?
  • When to take CBD for stage fright
  • How much CBD to take for stage fright
  • What's the best CBD to take for stage fright

Let's get started...the stage or court or conference table beckons!

What causes stage fright

First, you're not alone.

Roughly 7% of the population displays stage fright including huge stars like Adelle and Rhianna.

That's just the tip of the iceberg as speaking in public is the most common we'll use to tease out the effects of CBD for stage fright.

The symptoms are pretty well established:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Tics and tremors
  • Panic
  • Stuttering
  • Loss of memory and verbal or dexterity

But what's happening under the hood?

Essentially, stage fright is a trigger of our sympathetic nervous system...fight or flight to put it more clearly.

All the symptoms point to the activation of this system which is about survival.

In terms of stage fright, this survival mechanism has been intertwined with our very complex human psychology around judgment and embarrassment.

This only speaks to how important group dynamics are to our survival.  We are indeed pack animals where our social standing might directly affect our survival changes a few 1000's years ago.

Now we're playing the violin or basketball or giving a speech at work.

Same dynamics come to play.

  • Worry about judgment
  • Activation of the sympathetic nervous system
  • Stress system cascade

Blank stares.

Let's start to tease out what we can do about it with CBD.

It all started with this one study.

The CBD and public speaking study with social anxiety 

Public speaking is the most common type of stage fright.  It's technically glossophobia and 77% of the population has some form of fear here.

In fact, a greater fear than that of death??  Maybe they need to rethink that.

It speaks to how powerfully attuned nature has set our antennas to the perception of others.

The study was fairly simple.

To add insult to injury, they included people with diagnosed social anxiety (see CBD and social anxiety).

A simulated public speaking event occurred with some people getting 600 mg of CBD before and others receiving a placebo.

The results were astounding:

Pretreatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort in their speech performance, and significantly decreased alert in their anticipatory speech.

You can see a direct countering to the fight or flight system.

  • Anxiety - a sense of dread
  • Cognitive impairment - the "deer in the headlights" effect of stage fright
  • Speech performance - memory and verbal ability

Furthermore, they were less nervous prior to the speech.

This is important since the stage fight has a self-reflective quality.

You worry about getting stage fright which proceeds to cause stage fright.

It's the old "try not to think of an elephant" trick.  All you're seeing right now is an elephant!

And the placebo group (did not receive CBD)?

The placebo group presented higher anxiety, cognitive impairment, discomfort, and alert levels when compared with the control group as assessed with the VAMS. 

As to be expected.  VAMS is a test of how others perceived the speaker - very important since is the very basis for stage fright, to begin will others judge us??

The above result is not our favorite part.

This is..

The SSPS-N scores evidenced significant increases during the testing of the placebo group that was almost abolished in the CBD group.'s a droid on Star Wars.

Actually, it's a different psychological test that measures how negatively a person sees him or herself.

This is the other piece of stage fright… self-doubt..which amplifies perception from others in a self-referential, vicious cycle.

There's a ping pong effect with stage fright.

  • We worry about being nervous or making mistakes.  
  • Observers see us being nervous which makes them uncomfortable
  • We pick up on this and... rinse repeat.

So...why does CBD have this effect and are there downsides.

Let's dig deeper.

How CBD can help for stage fright

We're going to look at the components of stage fright and CBD:

Okay...those sound rather grandiose but wait for the research.

CBD and stress response

This is a critical piece of the run-away train.

One of the first pieces to drop is the corticotropin-releasing factor.

Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH; previously known as corticotropin-releasing factor) is the central regulator of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the main organizer of the body’s response to stress.

It starts the stress response ball rolling.

CBD's effect there?


Interestingly, cannabidiol at low (5 mg/kg) and intermediate doses (15 mg/kg) successfully blocked the effects induced by acute stress on corticotropin-releasing factor, pro-opiomelanocortin and glucocorticoid receptor gene expression

What's interesting is that it didn't have this effect under normal situations.

"Acute stress".  Immediate, sudden, and powerful stress.

Sound familiar?

We have a whole review on CBD and CRF since it's tied to anxiety, panic attacks, and more.

Then there's the downstream player, cortisol.  Cortisol is our main stress hormone and the culprit behind the racing heart, sweaty palms, etc.

A study looked at cortisol and stress response with people at high risk for psychosis undertaking public speaking.

The results (we'll translate):

changes in anxiety and experience of public speaking stress (all p’s < .02) were greatest in the CHR-P and least in the HC, with CHR-CBD participants demonstrating an intermediate level of change.

The people with high risk and no CBD had the highest cortisol response.  The healthy controls had the lowest response.  CBD treated people with high risk were in-between.

Essentially, among the most vulnerable (see CBD and psychosis), CBD was able to bring down cortisol and stress response.

Check out CBD and cortisol for much more research.

We have massive reviews of associated anxiety-related issues which are all tied to stress response:

Let's look at the GABA/Glutamate pathway and stage fright.

CBD and repetitive or negative thoughts

Persistent thoughts and fears going over and over prior to the performance.

The "little voices" that keep bringing up every dire possibility.

We have to turn to GABA and glutamate, our "brake" and "gas" pedals of the brain and nervous system.

We have an entire review of CBD and negative thoughts or ruminations (repetitive thoughts).

We're very proud of that review as it drills down into the brain areas of self-doubt, hypervigilance, and more.  

Here's the tie-in with GABA, our "brake" pedal:

The study results showed that people who were best at blocking the unwanted thoughts — in this case, the word pair — also had the highest concentrations of an important chemical messenger called GABA in their brain's hippocampus


One of CBD's primary effects on anxiety is boosting GABA function so that the "fear" network can be silenced.

For example:

Finally, the anxiolytic effects of systemic CBD partially depended on GABAA receptor activation in the EPM model

Anxiolytic just means anti-anxiety.

There's a whole network of fear and reason between very old and very new areas of our brain.

GABA is key to calming the fear center.  See CBD and GABA or CBD and mechanisms of anxiety.

Let's look at that network now.

CBD and fear response

Fear has a brain region.  

It's not a very good movie teaser.


Part of our very old "reptilian" brain is the amygdala.

It's the seat of emotional response including fear, impulse, anger, etc.

Not only has CBD been shown to calm this response plus boost the constraint (prefrontal cortex),  CBD goes directly to the memory of fear!

Many times, stage fright can be triggered by a mistake from the past.

Will do I mess up again?  Is it going to happen again?  

This seed of doubt is critical to starting the whole nasty ball rolling.

Many studies on CBD have looked at this effect:

Taken together, our results broadly confirm previous findings demonstrating that acute CBD treatment reduces contextual fear memory expression

Contextual fear memory.

Essentially, fear ingrained in our memory tied to a specific context.

Such….as playing an instrument?  Giving a speech?  The starting whistle?

How about the anticipatory events prior to performance?

We've looked at this in detail at the following:

Just to name a few.

They're all intertwined with stage fright...just a different "vehicle".

Let's take it one step further...from fear to dread.

CBD and dread

There's actually a place in the brain for dread called the habenula.

Research is showing this to be the area in charge of dread or the expectation of bad and painful events.

Expectation of bad events.

To some extent, stage fright is a form of a panic attack in that they share similar pathways and symptoms.


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Fight or flight activation for one!

Look at CBD's effect on this pathway:

Cannabidiol caused a clear anti-aversive effect, decreasing explosive escape and defensive immobility behaviors


Immobility is a common symptom of stage fright.

In fact, "freezing up" is one of the key fears of performance anxiety.

This is pure fight or flight.

There's another brain tied to fear and dread called the dPAG.

Look at CBD's effect there:

Intra-dorsal periaqueductal gray administration of cannabidiol blocks panic-like response by activating 5-HT1A receptors.

5-HT is the chemical name for serotonin.

That's a perfect lead to our next section.

CBD and serotonin (master regulator of human behavior)

If it involves human behavior, serotonin is at play.

It's critical for stage fright in the following avenues:
  • Serotonin directly controls stress response
  • Serotonin directly controls our self-perception and confidence
  • Serotonin directly controls cognitive function and abilities can we get more of that (but not too much which is very problematic)?

In fact, too much serotonin has actually been tied to stage fright and fear of public speaking:

Escitalopram prolonged fear induced by simulated public speaking and released hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation

It's all about balance with serotonin.

Too little and self-esteem suffers along with depression and poor stress control


Too much and a whole host of debilitating effects can occur (see CBD and serotonin syndrome)

We've covered it in detail here:

The goal is balance.

Hello CBD!  

The endocannabinoid system, where CBD works, is tasked with balance key neurotransmitters like serotonin.

Not boosting in one direction like SSRI's!

Look at CBD's effect following injury which exhausts serotonin:

Overall, repeated treatment with low-dose CBD induces analgesia predominantly through TRPV1 activation, reduces anxiety through 5-HT1A receptor activation, and rescues impaired 5-HT neurotransmission under neuropathic pain conditions.

CBD reduced pain, reduced anxiety via serotonin pathways, and "rescued" serotonin function.

Stress is known to eat up serotonin.  Stage fright is an acute form of stress.

Look at this element of choral singers in a study:

Evidence also indicates that they have a different genetic profile from nonsingers; they have more serotonin and arginine vasopressin receptors, which may help manage anxiety, even during intense performance pressures

This brings us to the next section...self-esteem. Confidence.

Why can some people perform and not have fear?

CBD and self-esteem

This gets interesting very fast to the point that we did a full review on CBD and self-esteem.

First, look at this key area in the brain tied to mood:

Self-esteem and internal locus of control were significantly correlated with hippocampal volume in both young and elderly subjects.

The more hippocampus, the more self-esteem.

Here's the important piece to help make this make sense.

The hippocampus is one of our most dynamic and vulnerable areas of the brain since it handles memory.

It's also dual tasked with managing mood.  Emotional states.

It's also the most affected by stress and cortisol!

A study looked at whether CBD would offset the damage or reduction in the hippocampus from long term cannabis (THC) use:

Users not exposed to CBD had 11% reduced volumes and 15% lower NAA concentrations. Users exposed to CBD and former users did not differ from controls on any measure

Essentially, long term cannabis users lost more than 10% of this brain area tied to mood control.

CBD completely negated this loss!  No difference from controls who didn't use cannabis at all.

We have an entire article on CBD and hippocampus neurogenesis (repair) but a quick take away:

Preclinical studies have shown CBD to induce synaptic plasticity and facilitate hippocampal neurogenesis,29,30 with some evidence suggesting that the proneurogenic action of CBD via the hippocampus may underlie its anxiolytic effects.

That's a mouthful but it's too important.

CBD promoted the growth of brain pathways and repair in the hippocampus.

This likely underlies (partially) the anti-anxiety effect.

This is more a long term "preparation" for stage fright.

Check out CBD and self-esteem for more research.

We covered many components tied to stage fright but what about effects on performance.

CBD and verbal or dexterity with stage fright

There's no point in getting rid of stage fright if it causes a reduction in verbal, mental, or physical ability.

This would apply to substances like benzos which have a sedative effect.  Even THC directly reduces cognitive function and memory.  

Alcohol, so-called liquid courage, has its own effects on performance (on stage or in bed).

Most of the substances used to offset stage fright have negative effects on our ability to do the very thing we're on stage to accomplish.

What about CBD?

These negative effects are primarily due to pushing certain pathways (GABA - our "brake" pedal in the brain) too far in one direction.

Benzos directly target GABA as does alcohol.

Here's the trajectory with increasing boosting of GABA:

  • Calm
  • Drowsy
  • Sedated
  • Hypnotic
  • Amnesiac
  • Death!

Yes, you can slow down the system so much that breathing stops which is the reason for overdose.

Check out CBD versus benzos to learn more.

Remember that CBD is a feedback mechanism and has different responses depending on the state of the system.

As for the 600mg dose prior to public speaking for people with social anxiety:

Thus, because of the absence of psychoactive or cognitive effects, to its safety and tolerability profiles, and to its broad pharmacological spectrum, CBD is possibly the cannabinoid that is most likely to have initial findings in anxiety translated into clinical practice.

Absence of psychoactive or cognitive effects.

You don't see the typical "when using heavy machinery" warnings with CBD as it doesn't keep pumping GABA beyond normal levels.

This has been tested up to a gram of CBD (1000 mg) with the same effect.

CBD appears to improve cognitive function across a range of diseases that impair it:

Acute and chronic CBD treatment improves cognition in Alzheimer’s disease models.


CBD improves cognitive impairment in neuro-inflammatory and neurological disorders.


There is no significant effect of CBD on cognitive function in ‘healthy’ states.

Feedback mechanism.  Boost when low.  Reduce when high.  Nothing when normal.

What about physical endeavors?

Can you take CBD before sports?

In terms of stressful events, sports ranks up at the top.

We've addressed the stress response effect of CBD with stressful events but what about endurance, hand-eye coordination, etc?

We don't have good trails yet on athletics specifically but there is no research showing that CBD would impair these aspects.

In fact:

Cognitive function and thermoregulation appear to be unaffected by CBD while effects on food intake, metabolic function, cardiovascular function, and infection require further study.

Actually, we can speak the latter parts.

CBD and appetite (no real effect there - unlike THC which significantly boosts appetite)

  • Metabolism - normalizing but minimal effect on insulin, cholesterol, etc.  Actually boosts mitochondria, our cellular powerplants - see CBD and mitochondria
  • Immune response - normalizing effect on immune response with anti-bacteria or anti-viral effects

One study looked at elements of key sports performance with the following:

Standing steadiness, hand-eye coordination, cognition and manual coordination were unchanged from baseline 5–85 min post-tx

So...we're not seeing differences (up or down) in aspects of sports performance...just reduced stress response which is key to our discussion on stage fright.

There is research on recovery after athletics which is fascinating but a subject for a different review.

A keynote:

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has excluded CBD from its list of prohibited substances.

We have to be careful because the other cannabinoids like THC are prohibited and many brands of full-spectrum CBD have trace amounts of THC (legally).  

You can fail a drug test due to these types of CBD which is why we only focus on THC free CBD isolate.

What about timing?

When to take CBD for stage fright

Peak CBD occurs about 4-6 hours after taking it.

The public speaking study is probably our best guide as they administered the CBD 1 ½ hours before the event.

You can speed delivery by placing CBD under your tongue for up to 60 seconds.

This allows more CBD to enter the bloodstream via the sublingual gland.

We have more detail at our CBD and performance anxiety review.

What about the dosage?

How much CBD to take for stage fright

It's important to test CBD on yourself and see where the sweet spot is since everyone's different.

The peak CBD level for neurogenesis (the hippocampus effect above) is 300 mg daily but that's more of a long-term approach to avoid stage fright, to begin with (fear reduction, stress response, serotonin support,  etc).

For acute issues...translation….I have a performance tonight!....the 600 mg dosage from the public speaking is a good benchmark.

Again, this depends on age, weight, etc so test ahead of time.

600 mg is a higher amount although research points to a strong safety profile from 600-800mg across a range of issues.

What about the type of CBD?

What's the best CBD to take for stage fright

There are basic requirements for any CBD:

  • Organically grown in the US at an FDA registered farm
  • 3rd party tested
  • CO2 processed
  • THC free - (THC has been shown to increase the pleasure of other food and addictive drugs)
  • No solvents
  • No heavy metals
  • No pesticides
  • No bacteria
  • No mold


We test IndigoNaturals twice since our whole family uses it daily.


Then there's the question of full-spectrum versus CBD isolate (by itself).

All the research is on CBD isolate across 100's NIH studies.

We looked at the whole full spectrum versus CBD isolate question above.  

There's also the question of histamines.

40-60% of the population has histamine (allergic) issues and this number increases for women and as we get older.

Acute stress directly pomps up histamine which directly pumps up anxiety.

In fact, a common anti-anxiety med is actually an antihistamine and many people have a calming effect from antihistamines.

This is not a good long term as it rips choline from the body which is critical for cognitive function and just happens to be the dam against the fight for flight system we mentioned above.

Check out CBD and choline to learn more.

There's also the issue of trace amounts of THC in many full-spectrum CBD productions.

Legally, you can have up 03% but that's enough to build up over time and even fail a drug test.

Also, THC is not great for performance (cognitive or physical).

Finally, there's cost.

We price our CBD isolate at 2 to 3 cents per mg of CBD before discounts up to 30%.

This is to make it available to as many people as possible with high quality, 3rd party tested CBD isolate like in the research.

Be well.  Take care of each other.  Take care of yourself.


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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.

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