Child Psychiatry Consult

CBD for sleep and anxiety – A brief review of the evidence


Grace is a 15-year-old girl in the 10th grade whom you have been treating for anxiety. Family history also is notable for her father having an anxiety disorder. She has been taking an SSRI and is engaged in therapy, which has resulted in some improvement in symptoms. She can become overwhelmed when taking tests, and she has breakthrough anxiety in social situations and occasional difficulties with sleep. She denies using any substances. Her parents, who have come to her appointment with her, noted that while they see some progress, they would like to try more natural interventions. They had done some research on cannabidiol (CBD), and Grace’s father said that using it has tremendously helped his sleep. They inquired about Grace using it as well.

A sad teenaged girl sits on her bed Bhupi/Getty Images


CBD use has dramatically increased over the past few years, and in many places can be found in gummies, chocolate, tinctures, and other forms at grocery and convenience stores, in addition to being widely available online. It is a nonpsychoactive compound (versus tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) found in the Cannabis sativa plant. The Farm Bill, which was passed in 2018, legalized production of hemp or the cannabis plant with a THC concentration less than 0.3%. This bill additionally maintained the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight with CBD. States may have laws that are more restrictive about use. CBD was approved in 2018 by the FDA for treatment of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome in individuals 2 years of age and older, and is categorized as a schedule I substance due to its being derived from the cannabis plant.

Dr. Maya P. Strange, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Vermont Medical Center and University of Vermont Robert Larner College of Medicine, both in Burlington.

Dr. Maya P. Strange

In randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials leading to CBD’s approval, the most common side effects were drowsiness, insomnia, disrupted sleep, sedation, malaise, weakness, decreased appetite, diarrhea, elevated liver enzymes, rash, and infections. CBD also carries a warning about the potential for suicidal ideation, agitation, new or worsening depression, aggression, and panic attacks.1 In in vitro and animal studies, CBD has been found to affect growth of tumor cell lines, to have no effects on embryonic development, and to potentially cause some drug-drug interactions through inhibition of CYP2C9, CYP2C19, and CYP3A4. However, the clinical relevance currently is unknown. Animal studies also indicate potential efficacy in decreasing anxiety.2

CBD has been promoted as being effective in treating a number of ailments including migraines, chronic pain, insomnia, ADHD, and anxiety. Multiple anecdotal reports tout the benefits. In a study exploring abuse potential, there were no significant findings, and CBD was generally well tolerated in open trials exploring potential clinical benefits. A retrospective feasibility study – conducted in Israel – exploring use of CBD to decrease problematic behaviors in youth with autism spectrum disorder demonstrated improvement in communication, anxiety, disruptive behaviors, and parental stress.3


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