Magnolia Bark: Uses & Benefits for Anxiety Treatment

Magnolia Bark

Nearly half of all cancer patients experience abnormally high levels of anxiety after their diagnosis. Although anxiety is a normal response to a threat, it can lead to debilitating complications, such as nausea, irritability, insomnia and palpitations.

Doctors usually prescribe benzodiazepines to manage these complications by altering GABA receptors – the parts of the brain that regulate mood, sleep and anxiety. The pills are fast-acting and effective, but they are also associated with severe symptoms, including:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Muscle weakness
  • Confusion
  • Aggression

In some cases, benzodiazepines can even worsen insomnia or intensify a patient’s depressive symptoms.

To avoid these side effects, some patients turn to natural health alternatives. One such alternative is magnolia bark, a powerful botanical that has long been a staple in Chinese medicine.

Magnolia Bark and Honokiol for Anxiety

Magnolia bark is known for its antidepressant, anti-nausea and antibacterial properties. Most of these benefits are attributed to honokiol, a woody substance found in the bark and cones of magnolia grandiflora.

This bioactive compound is also a powerful anxiolytic (antianxiety) agent. In one study, rats received daily injections of honokiol or diazepam (Valium) for seven consecutive days. Both treatments were similarly effective at relieving the rats’ anxiety. Interestingly, the dose of honokiol was only half the dose of diazepam required to produce the same results.

Honokiol works by activating the same GABA receptors that certain antianxiety pharmaceuticals target. Many naturopaths use magnolia bark compounds to treat generalized anxiety, anticipatory anxiety, panic disorders and other similar conditions.

Studies also indicate that honokiol is less likely to cause negative side effects than prescription antianxiety medications. In one comparison of honokiol and diazepam, lab rats treated with diazepam experienced hyperactivity, disrupted learning, abnormal sleepiness and muscle relaxation. Honokiol-treated rats did not experience any of these symptoms. The researchers from this study also suggested that honokiol was less likely than the diazepam to induce dependence, amnesia or depression.

As an added bonus, some studies have shown that honokiol can induce programmed cell death in several cancers, such as lung cancer. In some cases, this may even help improve a patient’s response to treatment. One Chinese study found that lung cancer patients who took honokiol throughout their chemotherapy regimen responded more positively to cisplatin than patients who did not take the compound.

Honokiol and magnolia extract pills are available over the counter in several different forms. Honokiol is available on its own or as part of a general magnolia bark supplement. Magnolia bark is also one of the ingredients in Hange-koboku-to and Saiboku-to (all-natural remedies that combine five and 10 different herbs, respectively). Although these remedies are available without a prescription, patients should always consult with a naturopath or oncologist before adding them to their treatment regimen.

Since your diagnosis, have you tried any natural approaches to managing anxiety? Let us know on Facebook or in the comments below.


After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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