There’s little doubt that CBD is an excellent supplement in the daily fight against stress, particularly in this time of pandemics and disorders. But not a lot is known about exactly why and how CBD is so effective. These are questions science is providing insights into, allowing us to better understand this miraculous molecule that’s improving the lives of thousands of people every day.
“Can CBD help me with my anxiety?” is probably a question you’re asking yourself even more now in this strange and unprecedented time where we’re dealing with pandemics and disorders. At the best of times, there is a clear link between ongoing stress and everyday mild anxiety and now, more than ever, it helps us to have options in our toolbox to better cope with the effects of everyday anxiety and stress.
Of course, there’s a lot of evidence that shows CBD can act to relieve stress, but there is still a lot to learn through ongoing research. Keep up with the latest research developments with our free CBD and cannabis news app.
Understanding the Types of Anxiety CBD Is Effective Against
In general, feelings of anxiety can be an understandable response to many of the stressful events that life throws at us. The results of stress can also have effects on the body, including headaches, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping.
Mild, everyday anxiety is complex and there is no single solution, but a growing number of early-stage studies of cannabidiol (CBD) bode extremely well for its use as a supplement for people suffering from everyday stress and anxiety.
To date, most of the research on CBD and anxiety in humans has focused on social anxiety disorder (SAD), but we can learn a lot from the research literature that helps support the idea of using CBD to manage the stress of casual anxiety, which is the focus of this article.
Why Is CBD Useful for Anxiety?
Our own endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a key role in modulating how we respond to anxiety and fear, and how we manage stress. In fact, the ECS appears to be like a conductor, overseeing and directing many other physiological systems in our body to work in harmony to maintain a dynamic and optimal balance.
However, prolonged exposure to stress can have a detrimental effect on the ECS. Over time, prolonged stress will impair the activity of CB1 receptors involved in how we process emotions. It will also increase levels of the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) enzyme, which breaks down the endocannabinoid anandamide, so we have less of this useful natural substance in our system.
When the ECS is not functioning optimally, it can make us feel anxious and unable to let go of negative memories or experience pleasure. One study even found an inverse relationship between anandamide levels and the severity of anxiety; namely, the lower the levels, the worse the anxiety. It’s not a big leap then to think that raising low levels of anandamide could potentially help us feel less anxious. This is the case, at least in one animal study, where researchers found that blocking FAAH in mice whose anandamide levels were depleted due to stress-induced anxiety reversed the deficiency and reduced anxious behavior. Our friend CBD has been shown to keep anandamide in our system longer using similar mechanisms.
The more we know about ECS, the more important it seems to be. ECS not only functions via activation of its CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptor sites, but it has useful ways with other neurotransmitter systems. For example, low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are associated with both depression and anxiety. And research suggests that CBD interacts with receptors that support normal serotonin levels. In addition, a study in mice shows that anandamide works closely with oxytocin, the natural substance known to enhance our propensity for participation and social bonding, behaviors often unimaginable when we feel anxious.
While CBD is useful for helping everyday common stress, it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Learning More about CBD Research for Anxiety
CBD has been studied for its effects on anxiety for many years. Most studies are pre-clinical or animal studies, but human studies on CBD and anxiety have increased significantly in recent years, and the evidence is positive.
A 2015 scientific review concluded that CBD has considerable potential to help with daily or occasional anxiety. The amygdala is an area of the brain known to be crucial in processing intense experiences that trigger our fight or flight response. Sometimes we are not able to fully process frightening experiences that have occurred in the past, and we may become more vulnerable to anxious feelings in the future even in the absence of an obvious trigger. One study showed that increased levels of anandamide in the amygdala of mice helped them forget frightening events. Furthermore, CBD had the same effect in humans in a study of 48 volunteers.
The potential of CBD for anxiety extends beyond the endocannabinoid system itself. Animal studies indicate that CBD interacts with the serotonin neurotransmitter system in various ways and also blocks the negative effects of frightening memories through this mechanism. In one study, CBD also supported normal heart rate and reduced stress levels in stressed rats. This has led researchers to suggest that there is substantial evidence to consider using CBD as an adjunct to anxiety and daily stress in humans.
Several studies show that CBD can support the normal formation of new neurons in the hippocampal region of the brain, which may further enhance its beneficial effects on anxiety.
Results from brain imaging studies confirm that CBD supports areas of the brain associated with emotional and cognitive processes and memory. Brain images of healthy subjects who have received CBD suggest that the reported feeling of relaxation correlates with activity in limbic and paralimbic regions of the brain. In another study, similar changes were observed on brain imaging in anxious subjects who received CBD. They also reported anxiety. Subjects receiving placebo did not show the same effects on brain imaging and did not report significant changes in casual anxiety. Again, CBD was found to influence both limbic and paralimbic regions of the brain.
A randomized controlled trial conducted in 2011 recreated a situation that is likely to induce anxiety in most people, namely public speaking. Participants were divided into CBD or placebo groups. Their situational anxiety levels were measured using self-reported and objective physiological measures (e.g., heart rate and blood pressure). The CBD pre-treatment group showed significantly less anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort with public speaking than the placebo group.
How Much CBD Oil and How Often?
CBD studies tend to use isolated forms. This makes it difficult to translate the quantities used in research into something practical and applicable to full-spectrum CBD-rich hemp extracts. It is known that much higher amounts of CBD isolates are needed to achieve the desired effect. This was verified in a meta-analysis of trials using high CBD extracts versus CBD isolates. The results showed that patients successfully controlled their stressful moments with much lower amounts of CBD when CBD is part of a full spectrum hemp extract.
Animal studies have shown significant benefits of CBD at a particular amount used, with little benefit at lower or higher amounts. In effect, this means that once you have found the serving size that best suits you and your lifestyle needs, you do not benefit much from taking more or less than that amount. We each have a personal ‘sweet spot’ based on our own body chemistry and finding that spot creates the basis for a beneficial CBD wellness routine.
Next Steps in CBD Research for Anxiety
A 2017 review of preclinical and clinical trials investigating CBD for various forms of situational anxiety confirmed how promising the data is and also declared the need for further clinical trials. Most clinical studies of CBD for situational or casual anxiety have been small and short-term, but the results have been compelling enough to inspire more clinical trials. At present, several such studies are underway. One is examining the efficacy of using 25 mg of CBD from a full-spectrum hemp extract in softgel form over a twelve-week period.
Another will evaluate the effects of CBD on casual anxiety using a sublingual (under the tongue) tincture of whole plant-derived CBD three times a day for four weeks. In addition, a phase II clinical trial will examine CBD for social anxiety and changes in endocannabinoid levels.
Summing It All Up
CBD research for situational and casual what has been known for some time about the endocannabinoid system, i.e. that one of its main purposes is to maintain physiological balance by helping us recover from the effects of stress of all kinds. Multiple studies show that the ECS communicates with areas of the brain that modulate mood, motivation, memory and how we experience stress. CBD appears to support all of these activities. It also helps promote optimal ECS function in several ways, including influencing FAAH, the enzyme that breaks down anandamide, our own endocannabinoid, when our supply of this natural “feel good” substance has been depleted. Beyond ECS, CBD supports the serotonin neurotransmitter system and the activation of the “social-binding” substance oxytocin.
For all these reasons, trying CBD-rich full-spectrum hemp extracts for occasional anxiety can be an excellent approach to self-care, especially when it’s part of a comprehensive plan that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress-relieving practices.
(Featured image by CRYSTALWEED cannabis via Unsplash)
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