Background: Cannabis has been documented for use in alleviating anxiety. However, certain research has also shown that it can produce feelings of anxiety, panic, paranoia and psychosis. In humans, Δ9 -tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been associated with an anxiogenic response, while anxiolytic activity has been attributed mainly to cannabidiol (CBD). In animal studies, the effects of THC are highly dose-dependent, and biphasic effects of cannabinoids on anxiety-related responses have been extensively documented. A more precise assessment is required of both the anxiolytic and anxiogenic potentials of phytocannabinoids, with an aim towards the development of the ‘holy grail’ in cannabis research, a medicinally-active formulation which may assist in the treatment of anxiety or mood disorders without eliciting any anxiogenic efects.
Objectives: To systematically review studies assessing cannabinoid interventions (e.g. THC or CBD or whole cannabis interventions) both in animals and humans, as well as recent epidemiological studies reporting on anxiolytic or anxiogenic effects from cannabis consumption.
Method: The articles selected for this review were identified up to January 2020 through searches in the electronic databases OVID MEDLINE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PubMed, and PsycINFO.
Results: Acute doses of CBD were found to reduce anxiety both in animals and humans, without having an anxiogenic effect at higher doses. Epidemiological studies tend to support an anxiolytic efect from the consumption of either CBD or THC, as well as whole plant cannabis. Conversely, the available human clinical studies demonstrate a common anxiogenic response to THC (especially at higher doses).
Conclusion: Based on current data, cannabinoid therapies (containing primarily CBD) may provide a more suitable treatment for people with pre-existing anxiety or as a potential adjunctive role in managing anxiety or stress-related disorders. However, further research is needed to explore other cannabinoids and phytochemical constituents present in cannabis (e.g. terpenes) as anxiolytic interventions. Future clinical trials involving patients with anxiety disorders are warranted due to the small number of available human studies.