Effects of short-term cannabidiol treatment on response to social stress in subjects at clinical high risk of developing psychosis

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Stress is a risk factor for psychosis and treatments which mitigate its harmful effects are needed. Cannabidiol (CBD) has antipsychotic and anxiolytic effects.


We investigated whether CBD would normalise the neuroendocrine and anxiety responses to stress in clinical high risk for psychosis (CHR) patients.


Thirty-two CHR patients and 26 healthy controls (HC) took part in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and their serum cortisol, anxiety and stress associated with public speaking were estimated. Half of the CHR participants were on 600 mg/day of CBD (CHR-CBD) and half were on placebo (CHR-P) for 1 week.


One-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed a significant effect of group (HC, CHR-P, CHR-CBD (p = .005) on cortisol reactivity as well as a significant (p = .003) linear decrease. The change in cortisol associated with experimental stress exposure was greatest in HC controls and least in CHR-P patients, with CHR-CBD patients exhibiting an intermediate response. Planned contrasts revealed that the cortisol reactivity was significantly different in HC compared with CHR-P (p = .003), and in HC compared with CHR-CBD (p = .014), but was not different between CHR-P and CHR-CBD (p = .70). Across the participant groups (CHR-P, CHR-CBD and HC), changes in anxiety and experience of public speaking stress (all p’s < .02) were greatest in the CHR-P and least in the HC, with CHR-CBD participants demonstrating an intermediate level of change.


Our findings show that it is worthwhile to design further well powered studies which investigate whether CBD may be used to affect cortisol response in clinical high risk for psychosis patients and any effect this may have on symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1121-1130
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Early online date8 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • Cannabidiol
  • Psychosis
  • Trier Social Stress Test
  • Ultra-high risk


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