Cannabidiol Treats My Anxiety Without Making Me High

By Tracy Chabala 12/22/17

I could still cognate and put ideas together and think like a sound person, but the ceaseless background noise that constantly rattled around in my mind went silent.

A cartoon of a woman's face in front of marijuana leaves wallpaper
CBD oil is proving to be a potent natural alternative to pharmaceuticals.

I read about Cannabidiol for the first time four years ago in TIME. The article asserted that CBD—a non-psychoactive chemical found in marijuana—could potentially assuage psychosis in schizophrenia, which struck me as absurdly ironic since hosts of studies have confirmed that THC can trigger both schizophrenia and psychosis in those predisposed to develop these conditions. Further research on the substance pointed to CBD’s potential to ease anxiety, stem addiction, and keep seizures and migraines at bay.

Given I struggle with a host of psychobiological issues, including extreme anxiety and bipolar disorder, and given my sister struggles with both schizophrenia and the debilitating side effects that come with a regular intake of antipsychotics, reading about CBD definitely piqued my curiosity as a potential salve to my problems. But I was knee-deep in AA at the time, and taking anything remotely connected to weed seemed perilous. Even without the influence of AA, I had no desire to get near weed since the THC-rich strains brought on extreme paranoia. I decided it was an interesting article and likely a promising treatment for many ailments, but one that I would disregard as potentially therapeutic for myself.

A few months ago, and after being out of AA for over two years, a coworker of mine mentioned that she used CBD oil for migraines and that it was extremely effective at curbing the agony that accompanied them. I recalled the many articles I’d read on CBD’s effectiveness. Being out of AA allowed my perspective on all matters of addiction to broaden, and, in doing so, to appreciate that answers to addiction questions lie on an ever-fluctuating greyscale. AA and abstinence is rooted in absolutism, but there really are no absolutes whatsoever when it comes to individuals’ bodies and minds. We are all gloriously unique. This shift in my perspective ignited an interest in CBD.

“You have to have a medical card to get those, right?” I asked. “I’m thinking they could help me with anxiety.”

“No,” she said. “You can get them right across the street at Lassen’s,” she said. Lassen’s is a family-run health food store in my Los Angeles neighborhood, one that closes on Sundays so the family can go to church. I figured if Lassen’s carried the stuff, it couldn’t be too mind-bending.

My anxiety really peaked this past year, and for the first time I acknowledged what an enormous role it’s played in holding me back in life. From that screaming inner critic to the crippling shyness I sometimes experience, many of my hang-ups just boil down to plain-old anxiety. Non-narcotic prescriptions such as Gabapentin have proven helpful, but they often render me sluggish and sleepy. Considering these side effects, I figured why not try the CBD? Especially since some further reading on the substance pointed to its neuroprotective potential.

Unfortunately, Lassen’s only sold CBD oil, not the capsules. I wanted to take the pills instead of rationing out the oil through a dropper to make sure I received the same dose each time I used it. I also discovered the sad reality that CBD is no cheap substance. The top-shelf brand recommended on nearly all CBD blogs will cost you upwards of $60 per bottle for thirty pills. The woman at the store did mention that from what she understood CBD works best when paired with a trace amount of THC, and that if I really wanted to get results from taking it, I should check out a dispensary or go online to see what options I had with combinations.

At first, I was totally against the idea. I’m a sober person and one with a history of having horrid reactions to pot. Why would I risk taking THC, no matter how small the dose? Despite these hesitations, I returned to the internet to do further (amateur) research on the topic, and I discovered that many users on CBD forums preferred the CBD with THC strain. So, I decided to try and get a medical card and at least visit a dispensary and see what my options were, promising myself that I’d be honest with the pot doc about my psychological history, as well as my history of substance misuse. If she gave me the green light, I’d try the stuff. In the end, the doctor I visited at a marijuana clinic put me on a 30-day trial period. My honesty, she said, was a rare breath of fresh air.

The dispensary down the street from the clinic smelled yummy, the aroma having a calming effect on me not unlike one conjured by the scent of coffee or chocolate. Its owner, Alfred, a weed-geek in his early thirties, was eager to utilize his vast store of pot knowledge to help me find just the right kind of CBD to ease my anxiety.

“We have one that has only 1.7mg of THC per pill, which is the lowest you’ll find. It’s just enough to help activate the CBD.”

“But I’m really really sensitive to THC and all substances,” I said, worried. “So even a small amount might have an effect. I just don’t want to get paranoid.”

“I promise you,” he continued, “that you won’t feel any mental shift outside of feeling calmer. Most of the weed people smoke today is nearly 100% THC. The CBD is supposed to counter the effect of THC in weed, but it’s been bred out of most strains. That’s why you get paranoid. Stuff today is super strong.”

Alfred’s reassurances helped me pony up the $55 to buy just 20 five-milligram CBD pills, and he threw in a CBD joint free of charge. I didn’t smoke it—it just seemed a bit too close to smoking a joint, although I’m not against smoking CBD in the future.

The label on the bottle suggests taking two pills per day. I swallowed the first one after arriving home, waiting to feel the effect. Though I did feel a bit of a head rush, one that no longer accompanies taking the pills, I was surprised to find myself not feeling sleepy or sedated, and I certainly didn’t feel remotely high or paranoid. What I do remember was that the noise in my head immediately shut off.

Everything was quiet. I could still cognate and put ideas together and think like a sound person, but the ceaseless background noise that constantly rattled around in my mind went silent. It was like my head turned into a clear, wind-free summer day. So, I kept taking the pills, but given the expense I decided to do so only on an as-needed basis. They also have come in handy when I’m wound up and need something to mellow me out before going to bed.

The difference between the CBD pills and other anti-anxiety meds I’ve taken is that the CBD pills just seem gentler on my system. They don’t provoke lingering drowsiness or an irritable comedown, which has sometimes resulted from taking Gabapentin.

I’m pretty sure there’s no panacea for every physical and psychological ailment plaguing mankind, but I’m still glad for the potential that CBD affords those with stubborn problems like migraines and psychosis, especially when prescription drugs to treat these ailments often come with awful side effects. I’m hoping that as marijuana laws continue to loosen, more people will open their minds to it.

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Tracy Chabala is a personal essayist and freelance journalist covering food, technology, and addiction for multiple outlets. Her work has appeared in the LA Times, LA Weekly, Salon, and VICE. She is working on a novel. Follow her on Twitter @tracyachabala.