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Cannabidiol, or CBD, is being tested as a potential treatment for a growing number of diseases and medical concerns, including mental health conditions. There’s some evidence that CBD can help control emotions like anxiety and fear, which has raised interest in the possibility it can help with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Here’s a look at what the science has to say.

What Is PTSD?

It’s estimated that 6% of people will have PTSD at some point in their lifetimes. It can happen in response to any traumatic event or situation, although it’s more common in military veterans. 

PTSD can cause symptoms that are so serious, you may not be able to live normally. You may:

  • Have flashbacks to the traumatic event. These can be so vivid, your heart may race or you may break out in a sweat.
  • Have nightmares 
  • Need to stay away from places and things that remind you of the event, or you may have a hard time talking about it
  • Be easily startled, or feel like you’re always on alert 
  • Have trouble controlling your anger
  • Have trouble sleeping and concentrating
  • Block out memories of the event
  • Feel bad about yourself or hopeless for the future
  • Feel detached from other people

PTSD is usually treated with therapy and medication, including antidepressants.

What Is CBD?

Cannabis sativa is a plant species that includes hemp and marijuana. Of the hundreds of chemical compounds it contains, the two best-known are THC and CBD. THC is the ingredient that has the intoxicating effect marijuana is known for. CBD doesn’t make you feel “high.”

CBD products are mainly made from the hemp plant and are sold in a wide variety of forms, from oils and capsules to gummies and even face creams. You can buy them online and in specialty stores, and depending on your state’s laws, grocery and convenience stores also.

Only one CBD product has been approved by the FDA: a prescription drug that treats certain seizure disorders. Other products aren’t allowed to be marketed as medicines, dietary supplements, or food additives. But you don’t have to look far to find claims that CBD can help with all kinds of health conditions. 

What’s the Evidence for CBD in PTSD Treatment?

Studies on animals have shown that CBD can lessen behaviors that indicate anxiety and fear, which can be translated to PTSD symptoms. But very little research has been done into how CBD affects people with PTSD. 

  • A 2019 review looked at the cases of 11 people with PTSD who were given CBD along with therapy and psychiatric medications. Almost all reported improvement in their PTSD symptoms after 8 weeks.
  • The first phase of a study testing marijuana containing high levels of CBD in military veterans published in 2021 didn’t show any better results on PTSD symptoms than a placebo (fake medicine). 

Several studies are going on right now to test CBD in people with PTSD. 

Scientists are also working to learn exactly how CBD affects the brain processes that play a role in PTSD.

  • A review of clinical studies on CBD published in 2018 shows it can change the way your brain processes traumatic memories.
  • Another review published in 2021 found CBD calms activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala. That area can be overstimulated by traumatic stress. 

Government rules that limited the use of CBD in research were relaxed in 2015, so scientists may be able to learn more soon.

Is CBD Safe for Treating PTSD?

According to a report by the World Health Organization, CBD is generally safe and non-addictive, and has a low potential to be misused. But other than the drug approved to treat seizures, CBD products aren’t regulated by the FDA. That means no health claims have been proved, and there’s no guarantee any particular CBD product is safe or contains what it says it does. 

If you decide to try CBD, you should consider:

  • The product you take may not have the amount of CBD listed on the label.
  • Some CBD products have been found to contain other ingredients, including THC.
  • Doctors don’t yet know what dose might be helpful, or even how much of the CBD you use gets into your bloodstream. 

It may not be long before the CBD landscape changes. The FDA is working with lawmakers on a new process for regulating CBD products. 

What Are the Possible Side Effects of CBD?

Most of what we know about the possible side effects of CBD products comes from clinical trials of the FDA-approved anti-seizure drug and animal studies. They include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Crankiness and other mood changes
  • Liver damage
  • Male infertility

CBD can also interact with certain other drugs, sometimes blocking their effects, sometimes amplifying them. They include certain antibiotics, antidepressants, cholesterol medicines, and blood thinners. 

If you’re being treated for PTSD or other health conditions, it’s very important to talk to your doctor before you try a CBD product. 

Show Sources



Mayo Clinic: “What are the benefits of CBD – and is it safe to use?”

Biomolecules: “Cannabidiol: A Potential New Alternative for the Treatment of Anxiety, Depression, and Psychotic Disorders.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: “How Common Is PTSD in Adults?”

American Psychiatric Association: “What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “Cannabidiol (CBD) – Potential Harms, Side Effects, And Unknowns.”

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: “Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series.”

PLOS One: “The short-term impact of 3 smoked cannabis preparations versus placebo on PTSD symptoms: A randomized cross-over clinical trial.”

Frontiers in Neuroscience: “Cannabidiol as a Therapeutic Alternative for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: From Bench Research to Confirmation in Human Trials.”

IBRO Neuroscience Reports: “Cannabidiol and the corticoraphe circuit in post-traumatic stress disorder.” 

News release, Drug Enforcement Administration.

World Health Organization: “Cannabidiol (CBD) Critical Review Report.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Cannabidiol (CBD): What we know and what we don't.”

CDC: “CBD: What You Need to Know.”

News release, FDA.

FDA: “What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD.”

Journal of General Internal Medicine: “Cannabidiol Interactions with Medications, Illicit Substances, and Alcohol: a Comprehensive Review.”