Is CBD or THC better for anxiety relief?

Is CBD or THC better for anxiety relief?


Sam North is an experienced cannabis consultant and writer who provides education and guidance for businesses, commercial projects, and private clients. With over 5 years of industry experience, Sam is passionate about the potential of cannabis to help restore balance and well-being into people's lives.

Anxiety issues are the most commonly diagnosed mental health issues in the UK. Each week, one in six of us will be battling through some form of anxiety. And while anxious feelings are a healthy part of the human condition, there is a difference between the occasional worry and serious angst.

More severe forms of anxiety can cause intense feelings of fear, dread, panic, and apprehension that interfere with our daily dealings. Due to the underlying stigma that surrounds mental health issues (which is, fortunately, slowly but surely eroding away), many patients feel the need to suffer in silence. This isn’t necessary. There is help available.

Whether it be with therapy, conventional pharmaceuticals, or any number of alternative treatments, there are measures that can be taken in conjunction with each other to keep the condition in check and maintain a comfortable quality of life. One of the newer potential partners in the fight against anxiety is medicinal cannabis, and in particular, two of the cannabinoids produced by the plant – THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

Both have been shown to have a possible impact in the reduction of anxiety symptoms, in differing ways.

THC is the cannabinoid most abundant in most cannabis strains, and the reason behind the ‘high’ felt when ingesting the plant, but it also comes with a range of possible medicinal benefits. CBD is rapidly growing in popularity due to the fact that it also offers possible therapeutic benefits, but is also totally non-intoxicating.

How CBD works for anxiety

CBD interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is responsible for regulating a range of physiological and cognitive processes including mood, sleep, appetite, motivation, and pain perception. The ECS is made up of endocannabinoids – cannabinoids that are produced by our bodies – and cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). Cannabinoids interact with these receptors, producing a range of results, and are then broken down by enzymes. 

While the exact processes behind how CBD works remain unclear, it is believed that CBD interacts with the ECS in a few key ways. First up, it is thought that CBD may reduce the rate at which our endocannabinoids are broken down, effectively increasing the time they can interact with the ECS, which may offer anxiety relief.

This study, from 2019, does into great detail on how CBD has the potential to help reduce anxiety and the possible implications for using it as a form of treatment through its interaction with the serotonin 1A (5-HT1A) receptor. Serotonin is a very important neurotransmitter and plays a vital role in how we regulate our mood. CBD has been shown to have the ability to boost serotonin production.

So, in short, CBD may be useful as a potential treatment for anxiety due to its role in serotonin regulation and its ability to allow our own endocannabinoids to interact with the ECS for longer.

How THC works for anxiety

THC also interacts with the ECS, but the evidence on the exact processes of these interactions has been more forthcoming than the CBD research.

THC has a strong affinity to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. It is through these strong interactions that researchers believe it may be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms (and also the reason THC offers its psychotropic effects), but that's not where the story ends.

The efficiency of THC at reducing anxiety symptoms seems to drop as the dose rises. This 2017 paper from the University of Washington points out that “THC appears to decrease anxiety at lower doses and increase anxiety at higher doses.”

This is a critical consideration to fully understand. Many new medicinal cannabis patients may look at a product and think “Great, this is a high-THC strain – it must be a strong anxiety relief option”. 

But this isn't necessarily the case, and could even have the opposite effect if taken in excess. This only furthers the argument that more research must be conducted before any definitive claims are made.

CBD vs THC for anxiety

So, all of this begs the question – Which cannabinoid is better for anxiety reduction?

Well, the same paper from the University of Washington (quoted above) came to the conclusion that a combination of the two, at the correct dosage levels, may very well be the most effective for anxiety symptom reduction.

This paper looked at multiple studies and found that a dosage of 7.5 mg of THC was sufficient to offer a potential reduction in anxiety levels. But, once the dose was pushed up to 12.5 mg, an increased level of anxiety was reported by participants. These doses are actually not hugely different, and there may be some outside factors to consider. Tolerance plays a large role in the experience patients observe when taking THC as a therapeutic medicine, as does how it is administered.

CBD, on the other hand, seems to offer anxiety symptomatic relief without the psychotropic effects of THC, and at all dosage sizes.

One study looked at how CBD may help reduce the level of anxiety felt during public speaking exercises, with one group given a dose of 300 mg while another was offered 600 mg. Both dosage sizes saw a marked decrease in anxiety, with the larger dose offering more relief.

There is also evidence that doses as low as 25 mg taken daily over an extended period (one month, in this case) could possibly help bring down the underlying anxiety levels in patients.

Choosing between CBD and THC for anxiety

Choosing between THC and CBD for reducing anxiety symptoms can be tricky. There are many factors that go into how both cannabinoids offer relief, but one thing is certain – more research is needed.

At the moment, it seems that both cannabinoids may have a role in controlling underlying anxiety, although they are anything but a magic cure. Current research points out that they are probably best administered in combination with other treatments, such as psychotherapy and medication. This is especially true when considering how they may interact with each other at different dosages and the fact that personal tolerance levels can play such a huge role in the efficacy of the treatment.

One thing is for certain, though. You must always seek professional advice before making any changes to your current medication, or when beginning a cannabinoid-based treatment plan. It is always worth trying to find the correct balance between cannabinoids for your needs, but it should never be done without the consultation of a medical professional.


Cannabinoids may offer significant relief from anxiety and the associated symptoms, but they should always be managed in conjunction with a professional medical opinion. THC and CBD both offer relief at varying dose sizes, but the research at this point suggests that they should be administered together for optimal results.

Don't let the stigma surrounding medical cannabis prevent you from getting a suitable treatment. Releaf provides tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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