55 year-old Louise* from Calgary, Alberta, was diagnosed with anxiety and depression over fifteen years ago. For years, she took medications prescribed by her doctor to help control her symptoms.
“My depression [medications] had to be tweaked a few times before we found a good combination, and I was prescribed a different medication for the anxiety,” she explains.
“I educated myself and felt that CBD was something I needed to try. I had to wean myself off the medications and onto the CBD oil very gradually. I started with a low-THC, high-CBD oil, and I felt like I had a new spring in my step,” she explains. “It has been very helpful.”
Louise works in the construction management industry. “I am currently looking for a new position, so I only take CBD in case I need to do a drug and alcohol test for work.” Since drug tests detect THC, Louise prefers to skip it to avoid any problems.
Otherwise, the treatment has worked well for her, and she’s been able to taper herself off her old medications.
Prevalence of anxiety in older adults
According to a 2009 report from Harvard Medical School, generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental illnesses affecting older adults (60+). While anxiety is often treated with a combination of medication and cognitive therapy, traditional drug treatments “may not be the best choice for older patients because they are more prone to side effects,” says the report.
Karen Newell, registered practical nurse and director of patient care at Natural Care, echoes the Harvard report’s sentiment.
“Anxiety in older adults can be difficult to treat because they are more prone to side effects from benzodiazepine medications. These side effects can include rebound anxiety, as well as insomnia and a higher risk of falls due to loss of coordination.”
Can CBD help with anxiety?
“Preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely.”
In a 2011 study, researchers administered either CBD or a placebo to participants with social anxiety disorder. Participants were then asked to give a presentation in front of a group, and rate their anxiety after. In another session, the participants were given the opposite: the CBD, if they had initially received the placebo, or the placebo, if they had received the CBD. The subjects rated themselves as less anxious when they had taken CBD than when they had taken the placebo.
Newell believes CBD is a good option for older adults suffering from anxiety.
“It’s a great alternative to traditional anti-anxiety medications – with fewer side-effects – and the evidence is there that it provides positive results and may improve quality of life for older patients and their families.”
CBD and medications – do they mix?
In addition to using CBD to help with her anxiety, Louise also takes medication for a thyroid condition. “The CBD has not seemed to affect [my thyroid medication] at all. I’m planning on getting blood work done soon which will let me know if anything has changed.”
Although she believes the CBD and her medication are compatible, it’s important to know that CBD can affect the way certain medications are metabolized.
Newell stresses the importance of working with a physician when considering CBD treatment.
“Drug interactions are an important concern, especially because older patients tend to take more medications. Ideally, patients would undertake a treatment plan with the help of their healthcare provider, and discontinue their other medications when using CBD.”
A very large number of medications are processed in the liver by cytochrome P450 enzymes. While there are upwards of 50 different cytochrome P450 enzymes, just six of them are responsible for metabolizing up to 90 per cent of medications.
CBD deactivates some of these major enzymes, making them less effective at processing medications. This means CBD can affect how medications are processed. This effect is dose-dependent, meaning it’s more pronounced at higher doses. If you are interested in trying CBD, it’s important to talk to your doctor about any interactions it may have with your other medications.
*Louise requested that we not share her last name.