If you’ve recently been prescribed Lexapro (escitalopram), or are researching it, you might be a little freaked out about its side effects. And on your hunt for a better alternative, you came across CBD.
But is hemp-derived CBD a viable replacement for Lexapro? Can it help with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or depression?
In this article, we’re going to give you a full breakdown of CBD vs. Lexapro — how they work, what they can and can’t do, and their side effects.
- Research suggests CBD has the potential to help with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, but it hasn’t been evaluated with the same clinical rigor as Lexapro has.
- CBD may be able to replace Lexapro for you, but it’s important to speak with your psychiatrist first before making the switch.
- Because CBD has the potential to interfere with Lexapro and cause adverse effects, it is not a good idea to use both at the same time.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally-occurring cannabinoid in the hemp plant. Though not an approved medical treatment for much of anything, anecdotal evidence and preliminary research suggests that CBD may have benefits for anxiety, stress, sleep, pain, inflammation, and gout, among other things.
What is Lexapro?
Lexapro is the brand name of escitalopram, an antidepressant medication commonly prescribed to treat depression and anxiety.
The main cited benefits of Lexapro are that it can improve energy levels, decrease nervousness, and increase feelings of well-being.
CBD vs. Lexapro: How They Work
So CBD and Lexapro have benefits — but how do they work in the body to produce these benefits?
How CBD Works In the Body
CBD works by interacting with your endocannabinoid system (ECS), a receptor system in your body that keeps your vital functions and systems in a state of balance.
The ECS regulates the nervous system, mood, motor control, sleep, and inflammation — among other things. According to Harvard Medical School, the “ECS is critical for almost every aspect of our moment-to-moment functioning.”
The ECS normally produces its own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, but during times of mental or physical stress, introducing outside cannabinoids (such as the CBD you’d get from a gummy) can help it perform its job and keep your body in balance.
Scientists don’t have a full picture of how CBD interacts with the ECS, but there are pieces of evidence demonstrating how CBD renders benefits:
CBD May Prevent Anandamide Breakdown
A major theory is that CBD slows the degradation and metabolism of anandamide, an endocannabinoid in the body associated with mood regulation, pain relief, and anti-depression properties, among other things.
Anandamide breakdown is thought to be associated with negative physical and mental sensations. CBD’s preservation of this endocannabinoid would explain all the benefits that it has — CBD can help your body re-stabilize and function normally again.
This is also the foundation of CBD’s potential benefits for those dealing with anxiety and depression.
CBD May Behave Similarly to SSRIs
Research also shows that CBD may mimic the effects of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) by inhibiting — interfering with — certain enzymes that process serotonin in your body.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. A normal level of serotonin is associated with normal emotions. Some research suggests that CBD may indirectly increase serotonin concentrations, therefore bettering your mood.
How CBD really works is likely a combination of these two processes — as research progresses, we’ll know for sure.
How Lexapro Works In the Body
Lexapro (escitalopram) is an SSRI. As we discussed with CBD, SSRIs work by preventing the reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Reuptake is the process by which neurotransmitters are absorbed back into your nerve endings — preventing reuptake causes serotonin to stay in between your nerve endings for longer, therefore rendering its effects for an extended period of time.
When your serotonin levels are normal, you feel mentally at ease. But if your serotonin levels are too low, you may experience negative emotions. Scientists debate whether low serotonin levels cause depression — there are studies both proving and disproving this.
However, there is an observed correlation between serotonin deficiency and anxiety, depressed mood, aggression, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
SSRIs such as Lexapro are by increasing your serotonin levels, thereby reducing the anxious or depressive symptoms associated with serotonin deficiency.
Can CBD Help with Anxiety? What Research Says
Although CBD possesses SSRI-like effects and can positively impact your ECS, is it a viable treatment for anxiety?
As of right now, no — there’s simply not enough clinical evidence showing CBD can reduce anxiety to consider it a medical treatment. And CBD products, depending on who you buy them from, are of varying quality, so they won’t all do the same things.
However, just because CBD isn’t a medically verified anxiety treatment doesn’t mean that it can’t help.
Preliminary research and anecdotal evidence show that CBD has a variety of potential benefits for anxiety, depression, and related disorders.
One research review concluded that, based on existing preclinical evidence, CBD is a promising treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are specific examples of CBD’s benefits for anxiety, too. A study done in 2011 found that CBD significantly reduced anxiety and cognitive impairment in people subjected to a public speaking test.
And of course, we have to mention the millions of people who have found CBD useful for anxiety, depression, and similar problems — we speak to many of them every day in our brick-and-mortar stores.
So although the clinical proof isn’t there to show that CBD is as reliable as Lexapro, it still has benefits that can’t be ignored. Many people are already using CBD in place of Lexapro and drugs such as Xanax and Zoloft.
Say goodbye to anxiety, no prescriptions needed. Discover our CBD oils, edibles, drinks, softgels, and more. Lab-tested and backed by 100s of reviews.
CBD vs. Lexapro: Side Effects and Downsides
If you’re comparing CBD and Lexapro based on their adverse effects, it’s important to be aware that there are both short- and long-term side effects to account for.
Here are the side effects you can expect from both CBD and Lexapro:
Side Effects of CBD
Potential short-term side effects of using CBD include:
- Dry mouth
- Reduced appetite
As of right now, scientists aren’t aware of any negative side effects that stem from long-term CBD use, assuming it’s used in proper amounts and through healthy methods (edibles or oils, versus smoking it).
Side Effects of Lexapro
Potential short-term side effects of using Lexapro include:
- Dry mouth
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased sweating
Lexapro’s negative side effects are noticeably more extensive than CBD’s.
But they don’t compare to the long-term side effects of using SSRIs.
A study of 180 patients who had been using SSRI antidepressants for 3-15 years found that there were serious long-term consequences of using these prescriptions.
Reported physical side effects included withdrawal effects (73.5% of those surveyed), sexual problems (71.8%), and weight gain (65.3%), and mental effects such as emotional numbness (64.5%) and feelings of addiction (43%).
Is CBD A Viable Replacement for Lexapro?
Given that CBD has benefits for anxiety and far fewer (and far less bad) side effects than Lexapro, it may seem like the perfect replacement. But is it?
It really depends on the kind of support you need, and what your psychiatrist thinks is right for you. Many medical professionals are partial to CBD, but they recognize its limitations, especially in light of limited clinical evidence around its efficacy (and the large variability in quality).
If CBD can replace the function of Lexapro and doesn’t cause any adverse interactions with medications you’re already taking, then it is likely a good option for you.
However, if your psychiatrist recommends against it, you might not want to use CBD. As a CBD company, we work hard to know what CBD can and can’t do. But we also accept that we don’t know more about the human body than a doctor does.
Does CBD Interact With Lexapro?
Yes — due to the way CBD works on the body, it will interfere with Lexapro and other antidepressants.
One study in which CBD and antidepressants were taken together showed that using the two in unison caused some adverse effects, which may include dizziness, confusion, and drowsiness.
Can You Use CBD And Lexapro Together?
Because CBD has the potential to interfere with Lexapro and cause adverse effects, it is not a good idea to use both at the same time.
Conclusion: Alternative Or Not?
CBD has benefits for those dealing with anxiety and depression. In many cases, it may be able to help you, and it doesn’t pose the same dangers as antidepressant drugs do.
But it’s important to remember that CBD hasn’t been evaluated with the same clinical rigor that Lexapro has. So it’s not as dependable from a medical standpoint.
And CBD will work differently for different people — the best way to learn if it can help you is to try it for yourself.
This is what we suggest you do — in small doses, and under the guidance of a medical practitioner. You might find that CBD is perfect for your situation!
So when you’re ready to get started, read our CBD dosing guide (there’s a chart, too) so you know how much to take.
Or, if you want to explore more comparisons between CBD and prescription medicines, see our article on CBD vs. Xanax.
CBD vs. Lexapro: FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions we get about CBD and Lexapro.
Can CBD be used with Lexapro?
CBD should not be used with Lexapro. Using CBD and Lexapro together can result in potential interactions like dizziness, confusion, and drowsiness.
Is CBD better than antidepressants?
Whether CBD or antidepressants are the right option for you depends on your situation. CBD has benefits for anxiety and depression and far fewer side effects than most antidepressants.
However, Lexapro and other similar drugs have more clinical evidence backing them, and we know more about the consistency of their benefits and side effects.
Therefore, neither is really better — ask your psychiatrist about CBD to determine if it would be right for your situation.
Is CBD a good alternative to anxiety medication?
In many cases, CBD can support mental health in the same ways anxiety medications do. However, it’s not a bulletproof replacement in all cases because we don’t know as much about how CBD works as we do about antidepressants.
What is the closest drug to Lexapro?
Celexa (citalopram) is in many ways similar to Lexapro. Like Lexapro, it is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).