Sertraline (brand Name: Zoloft) is one of the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety.
But effective though it may be at reducing short-term anxiety symptoms, it’s got a host of nasty side effects that has many people searching for natural alternatives.
One such alternative is Cannabidiol (CBD), a hemp-derived cannabinoid that may be effective for addressing anxiety and mental discomfort.
While there isn’t a lot of clinical evidence behind CBD as an anti-anxiety solution, lots of preliminary evidence suggests it may have benefits.
In fact, many people are already using CBD as a supplement to, or in some cases, a replacement for, antidepressant medications like Xanax, Lexapro, and Zoloft.
In this article, we’ll explore the risks of Zoloft, discuss how CBD may be able to help with anxiety, and talk about the pros and cons of both.
Learn more: CBD vs. Xanax for Anxiety
Learn more: CBD vs. Lexapro for Anxiety
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The Risks of Using Zoloft & SSRIs
Zoloft belongs to a class of drugs known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRIs work by altering the transmission of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with feelings of well-being and happiness.
By increasing the amount of serotonin that remains between your nerve endings, SSRIs boost positive emotions and feelings.
However, despite the research backing the efficacy of Zoloft and other SSRIs, there are also many risks associated with these types of drugs.
Common side effects of Zoloft (taken from their website) include:
- Nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, or indigestion
- Increased sweating
- Tremors or shaking
- Change in sleep habits including increased sleepiness or insomnia
- Sexual problems including decreased libido and ejaculation failure
- Feeling tired or fatigued
Long term, studies show that Zoloft and other antidepressants may potentially cause sexual problems, weight gain, addiction, and more.
So although Zoloft can reduce anxiety, it does so with considerable downsides. In addition to these side effects, Zoloft may also negatively interact with many substances.
Zoloft may create a potentially fatal interaction if taken with MAO inhibitors (used to treat depression and other psychiatric problems), such as isocarboxazid, linezolid, and metalaxone. Combining these two drugs can lead to serotonin syndrome, in which too much serotonin builds up in the brain – this can be deadly.
Zoloft can also increase the risk of bleeding and bruising if taken with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen) and blood thinners (e.g. warfarin).
Serotonin syndrome can also occur when Zoloft is taken with other antidepressants (like SSRIs), as well as drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy).
Now, to be clear, we’re not saying that Zoloft is guaranteed to leave you worse off than if you’d never begun using it. If your doctor has prescribed Zoloft to you, it’s because they believe that the benefits for you outweigh the downsides.
We’re also not implying that these side effects and interactions will always apply; many people won’t feel all of these side effects, and for the most part, not to an extreme level. You likely won’t be advised to take Zoloft if you’re already using medications it interferes with.
Instead, we’re making you aware of the potential downsides of Zoloft – and why a natural alternative like CBD may in many cases be much better.
What is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is a cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are a type of compound found in the cannabis plant (cannabis is referred to as hemp if contains less than 0.3% THC by dry weight).
There are over 100 cannabinoids, but CBD is one of the most commonly extracted because of its wide variety of potential benefits. It’s been researched by scientists for a variety of uses, anxiety chief among them.
Can CBD Help With Anxiety?
Research indicates that CBD has potential as a treatment for many anxiety disorders.
It’s been shown to reduce anxiety and discomfort in participants subjected to a public speaking test, demonstrating it may help with short-lived, in-the-moment feelings of anxiety.
Studies also point to the efficacy of CBD for specific anxiety-related disorders. One research review found that CBD may be a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Although evidence on the chronic (long-term) use of CBD for anxiety is lacking, anecdotal evidence suggests that it may have therapeutic potential in the long run – many people are now using CBD in lieu of Xanax, Lexapro, and Zoloft.
How It Works
CBD works by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a receptor system in your body responsible for regulating most vital functions, including your mood and mental state.
There are two types of receptors in the ECS:
- CB1 receptors, which are responsible for the mental effects of cannabinoids
- CB2 receptors, which are responsible for the physical effects of cannabinoids
CBD, for its wide array of benefits, doesn’t actually bind heavily to either CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, CBD works by supporting the overall function of your ECS and helping it to keep your body balanced.
Some researchers suggest that CBD works by preventing endocannabinoid breakdown (endocannabinoids are internal cannabinoids produced by your body), but more investigation into cbd’s mechanism of action is needed.
Research also suggests that CBD, like Zoloft, may impact the transmission of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Elevated serotonin levels are associated with calmed, focused, and happy sensations – CBD may increase serotonin levels, thereby promoting these positive effects (however, these alterations aren’t close to the degree of those from Zoloft).
Despite its impact on serotonin, CBD’s overall action in your body is, by and large, very natural. It simply supports your body’s built-in systems, rather than hijacking how your brain works, as Zoloft does.
CBD Effects for Anxiety
Although CBD is beneficiall for anxiety, it doesn’t render very noticeable effects. Instead, most people report that CBD takes the edge off and makes feelings of discomfort (whether physical or mental) feel more distant or less noticeable.
CBD is not psychoactive and will not get you high. Rather, it promotes mild mental relaxation and calming.
CBD may cause some adverse side effects:
- Dry mouth
- Reduced appetite
However, as with Zoloft, if you’re using CBD in the right doses, you’re less likely to experience as many or as severe side effects.
Now, with a clear vision of the options – Zoloft and CBD – let’s discuss the pros and cons of each.
Pros and Cons of Zoloft for Anxiety
Here’s what you need to consider when deciding whether to use Zoloft.
- Powerful – Zoloft produces noticeable uplifting, calming, and anti-anxiety effects, making it very effective at reducing anxious feelings.
- Science-backed – Clinical evidence suggests Zoloft is highly effective at reducing short-term anxiety.
- Many short- and long-term side effects – Zoloft can cause many side effects. Some of these effects, such as nausea or sweating, are short-term annoyances. But other risks, such as sexual problems, may persist long after you’ve stopped using Zoloft.
- May cause dependence – Although Zoloft isn’t addictive in the sense that users crave the drug (as with substances like Cocaine, for example), it can cause users to become dependant on it to feel normal. Additionally, it can cause withdrawal effects, inducing many users to “doctor shop” or obtain the medication illegally to ensure their continued access to the drug, even if it’s no longer required for their anxiety from a medical standpoint, to avoid withdrawal. According to Addiction Center, withdrawal effects of Zoloft include chills, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, irritability, and insomnia, among many others.
- Interactions – Zoloft may interact with other SSRIs, MAO inhibitors, NSAIDs, and many other types of medications, causing side effects ranging from increased risk of bleeding and bruising to fatal concentrations of serotonin (serotonin syndrome).
Pros and Cons of CBD for Anxiety
Here are the pros and cons of CBD for anxiety that you should consider:
- Research-backed – Multiple studies suggest CBD has potential as an anxiety treatment, and anecdotal evidence indicates it may be very effective at addressing anxiety. However, the amount of research backing the benefits of CBD is less than the amount backing Xanax, so it’s a less proven solution.
- Has fewer side effects than many prescriptions – The potential side effects of CBD include dry mouth, drowsiness, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and fatigue. Compared to the side effects of Xanax, these effects are very minimal (and often won’t be felt, assuming you take the right amount).
- Doesn’t require a prescription – CBD is an over-the-counter natural health supplement, so it’s great if you’re experiencing milder anxiety that you wouldn’t see a doctor for.
- Not psychoactive – CBD is not psychoactive, and it won’t get you high. It also won’t reduce cognitive functioning and create mental impairment as Xanax may.
- Limited clinical evidence – Although preclinical scientific research and anecdotal evidence suggest that CBD has potential for anxiety, there hasn’t been enough clinical testing of CBD done to determine whether it’s a reliable treatment for anxiety disorders.
- Poorly regulated – The CBD industry isn’t regulated by the FDA as the pharmaceutical industry is, and the vast majority of products you’ll find online and in-store have not been evaluated by clinical trials. While this doesn’t preclude the creation of safe, high-quality CBD products, it doesn’t ensure it. As a result, poor-quality products abound.
- Interactions – CBD may affect how your body metabolizes certain medications. While most interactions are nowhere near fatal, do not take CBD together with medications that have the grapefruit warning on them. Grapefruit is known to negatively interact with many prescriptions, and due to chemical similarities between CBD and grapefruit, CBD products may create similar interactions.
- Restricted in some states or territories – The purchase and use of CBD may be heavily restricted in some US states and territories.
When is Zoloft Right For Me?
While Zoloft has many side effects, it’s still the right choice in certain situations. If your doctor prescribes Zoloft to you, it’s because they believe it will help you, and will render minimal harm to you.
Due to Zoloft’s strength and mechanism of action, it’s commonly prescribed for more severe anxiety for which CBD and similar solutions may not work as effectively.
When is CBD Right For Me?
CBD is ideal for long term use, as it won’t cause damage to your body if used properly. It’s also good for milder mental discomfort and other lower-degree types of anxiety.
CBD also won’t get you high, so it’s right for anyone who needs to function at full mental capacity throughout the day while still addressing their anxiety.
Ensure that you only take CBD for anxiety after discussing it with your doctor first – they’ll be able to determine whether it’s safe for you, given your situation and the medications (if any) that you’re already taking.
Can CBD Replace Zoloft?
Many people have replaced Zoloft with CBD products for their anxiety. However, based on the testimonies we’ve heard from customers and others, CBD won’t work the same for everyone, so you may find that you still need Zoloft.
But even if you can’t fully replace Zoloft with CBD, you may be able to supplement it and reduce the amount you take.
In either case, we have two pieces of advice. First, talk to your doctor and get their thoughts on using CBD in tandem with, or instead of, Zoloft. Second, wean off Zoloft very slowly – it’s a powerful medication with many withdrawal side effects, so you’ll need to gradually taper your usage.
CBD for Anxiety: Products & Dosage
If you’re going to begin using CBD for anxiety, whether or not you’re doing so in place of Zoloft, here’s what you need to know about product options and dosage.
- Oils/tinctures – CBD oils are a very potent product, because they’re taken under the tongue and absorbed into the blood vessels in your mouth. Since oils go directly to the bloodstream, they begin working in just 10-15 minutes. Oils are great for therapeutic use because you can measure very precise dosages.
- Edibles and drinks – Edibles and drinks offer a fun way to consume CBD. Edibles, specifically, are convenient for building a CBD routine, since they’re a fixed-dose consumption method. But since they have to be digested, edibles and drinks take about 1 hour to begin working.
- Capsules – Capsules, like edibles, offer a fixed-dose method of using CBD. They’re tasteless and quick, making them ideal if you’re not as interested in “ritual” of taking CBD. Capsules begin working in about 1 hour.
- Smokeables and vapes — There are a variety of CBD hemp flowers, vapes, and other smokable products on the market. Inhalation is the most potent way to consume cannabinoids, as they can be delivered through the lungs, rather than needing to be digested. Normally, we caution our customers against inhalable consumption due to the health risks, but for anxiety, using a vape allows you to take small doses of CBD throughout the day, which is a very beneficial dosing strategy. Inhalable products begin working in 5-10 minutes.
A note on product selection: Always opt for products containing full-spectrum CBD, unless restricted to THC-free options (i.e. broad spectrum CBD or CBD isolate) due to drug testing concerns. The array of cannabinoids included in full-spectrum CBD (such as CBG, CBN, and THC) makes its therapeutic effects the strongest of any type of CBD.
You can calculate your CBD dosage using this formula:
(0.1) x (your body weight in lbs.) = your daily CBD dosage in mg.
You can either take your dose all at once or in a few split-up doses. You can also microdose your CBD, taking very small amounts at many points throughout the day. Our customers have reported success with both approaches.
As you go, you can slowly adjust your dosage up or down based on how you feel. Keep in mind that CBD can take a few weeks to really begin rendering its effects – patience is required for the best results.
Can You Take CBD and Zoloft At the Same Time?
You should not take CBD and Zoloft at the same time. Doing so can create drug interactions, which may lead to increased feelings of fatigue, confusion, dizziness, and general cognitive impairment.
However, you can use CBD and Zoloft in conjunction – just be sure to use them on different days. Ask your doctor before using CBD if you’re already using Zoloft.
Conclusion: Is CBD An Alternative to Zoloft?
Although CBD may be beneficial for anxiety, and may be able to replace Zoloft for some, it’s not always a reliable replacement – it varies from person to person. More clinical research on CBD for anxiety is needed before we’re truly sure how well it works.
Still, CBD provides a natural supplement, if not an alternative, to Zoloft, that may give many of the same benefits without a fraction of the side effects.
CBD vs. Zoloft: FAQs
Here are some questions customers frequently ask us about CBD and Zoloft.
Can you take CBD and Zoloft for anxiety?
Although you can use CBD and Zoloft on different days, they should not be taken together. The CBD and Zoloft combination can cause your blood sodium level to become dangerously low, creating cognitive impairment, among other side effects.
Is CBD more effective than antidepressants?
While CBD may render many of the same benefits as antidepressants without as many side effects, it isn’t a replacement. Never stop taking prescription medications, especially antidepressants, without first talking to your doctor. This may result in serious side effects.
Can you take CBD instead of anxiety medication?
Although CBD may render many of the same benefits as anxiety medications like Xanax, Lexapro, and Zoloft, it’s not always a reliable replacement, but rather a supplemental solution. CBD needs more research before we know for sure that it can replace the function of anxiety medications. Never stop taking prescribed medications without first talking to your doctor.
Can you use CBD instead of SSRI?
CBD may render many of the same relaxing benefits as SSRIs without nearly as many of the negative side effects. Additionally, it does not cause users to build a dependency, as medications like Xanax might. However, you should not use CBD in lieu of any prescription medication without first speaking to your doctor.