Health & Science

Massive Survey Aims to Assess CBD for Anxiety Relief

By Willis Jacobson
Sep 23, 2020
Courtesy of Getty Images

While the COVID-19 pandemic has ratcheted up anxiety levels, a new survey aims to assess the role CBD and other cannabinoids can play in helping Americans cope.

On Wednesday, the Wholistic Research and Education Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to cannabis research and advocacy, announced the launch of its Cannabinoid Anxiety Relief Education Study, or CARES. Billed as the first study of its kind, researchers will contact millions of Americans in an effort to learn if and how cannabinoids help them reduce anxiety and co-morbid conditions, like insomnia and depression.

Pelin Thorogood, co-founder and president of Wholistic, said the pandemic presented a unique opportunity for researchers. While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that Americans turn to cannabis and CBD to relax, she said no clinical studies have been carried out on the issue.

“We thought this was an incredible opportunity to collect what the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] calls ‘real-world data,’” Thorogood said Wednesday. “How are people using CBD and cannabis in this very unique environment to potentially assist with anxiety and insomnia issues? What are they taking? How much are they taking? Is it helping? We want to really connect the dots from a demographic data collection perspective … so we can learn from the experiences of so many.”

The study is being funded entirely by Wholistic, though the organization declined to reveal exactly how much it will cost.


Among the partners helping to carry out the study, which will be conducted throughout October, are the University of California-Irvine and the University of California Institute for Prediction Technology (UCIPT).

The research team will distribute a survey to potentially millions of CBD and cannabis users via email lists and online forums located on at least nine participating websites.

Thorogood hopes at least “tens of thousands” of people will respond.

The study’s backers plan to release preliminary results in late November. Those results could be useful for a wide range of applications, they say, particularly since the study will look at data relevant to specific groups and not just seek out averages.

“The large and diverse participant population will enable us to analyze differences in CBD and cannabis use patterns,” giving a view into how various factors may impact perceived health benefits, said Dr. Sean Young, executive director of the UCIPT and the principal investigator for the study.

That point is particularly critical, said Thorogood, noting that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t particularly effective in medicine. She said this study will allow consumers, regulators and industry operators to “slice and dice” the data to address specific demographic groups. Those could include men within a specific age range, or women with certain pre-existing conditions, or people from a particular geographic region.

“There’s going to be a lot of amazing bench-marking done through this study, so the information is going to be very granular and very meaningful,” she said. “I think it’s going to help a lot of people … as we understand directly from the people how [CBD and cannabinoids] may be beneficial.”

The study is in line with Wholistic’s stated mission to fill gaps in current research, educate the public with research-driven data, and to influence public policy. 

FDA also exploring CBD

A day before the announcement of the CARES initiative, the FDA revealed that it is seeking participants for a CBD and cannabinoid-focused program of its own.

The FDA’s Office of Women’s Health said the agency plans to host a virtual public meeting on Nov. 19 to “discuss potential sex (biological) and gender (psychosocial) differences in use and responses to CBD and other cannabinoids.”

A notice from the FDA stated that researchers, educators, clinicians and patients may benefit from attending the webcast. The planned presentations will address patient and healthcare provider perspectives, sex differences in the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids, their use  during pregnancy and government agency perspectives on CBD research and evaluation.

The FDA pointed out that the conditions for which CBD is often marketed – such as chronic pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia – are more prevalent in women than men. 

“There are many unanswered questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing CBD,” read the FDA notice. “The Agency is working on answering these questions.”

Separately, the FDA announced in August that it was seeking a contractor to help it study CBD as it develops regulations.

Although the upcoming FDA event is unrelated to the CARES survey, Thorogood said she was delighted to see the federal government also exploring the topic. She noted that Wholistic, which is based in San Diego, is a federally approved public nonprofit, so she said the CARES data will be shared with the FDA and other government agencies.

“More data is better – when it’s collected in a scientifically rigorous manner, which this is,” she said.

To read, or participate in, the CARES survey, click here.

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