CBD and Anxiety

April 30, 2021

CBD has been praised for its therapeutic effects on many different chronic conditions and disorders, but how does it work for people suffering with anxiety? Does CBD offer a solution for those stressed out or experiencing panic, and how does this substance actually work to manage symptoms? Today is all about the answers.



Why Choose CBD?

Each year in England, one in four people struggle with their mental health, experiencing disorders like body dysmorphia, depression, OCD, PTSD, and anxiety. As the global pandemic has placed increased pressures on the public and added further hardships, the percentage of people impacted by mental health issues is expected to rise even higher. Yet, despite the numbers, studies show only one in eight seek help.

Part of the reason for this is the amount of barriers to overcome, from lack of understanding and cuts to services to stigma and limited time. However, while people may be hesitant to reach out to medical establishments, one industry has succeeded in making mental health aids accessible.

Sales of CBD have surged, with the market valued at £300 million and estimated to more than triple by 2025. While no definitive explanation is attributed to this growth, the widespread understanding of the therapeutic properties associated with cannabidiol is certainly an answer. Plus, with the population becoming more anxious and struggling to cope since Covid-19 and the UK-wide lock down, it comes as no surprise that CBD was chosen as a countermeasure. With over 8 million CBD users in Britain, those seeking relief from mental health struggles seem to have found their solution.


CBD and Anxiety:

CBD is used for a wide array of reasons, but one of the most common is to manage anxiety. As endocannabinoids are able to impact mood and cognition, the increase in use of CBD as a way to regulate or assist disorders stemming from mental health is not unexpected.

While formal case studies remain limited, there are countless detailed personal anecdotes available that praise CBD for its therapeutic properties and claim that regular use helped alleviate persistent symptoms. Furthermore, the research that is available suggests a link between a recurring dose of the substance and improved mental health conditions.

It has been suggested that CBD may be particularly effective for panic disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). As a form of therapy, CBD holds a lot of promise and many who suffer from chronic conditions such as anxiety are hopeful that relief may be in sight.


How Does CBD Help Anxiety?

While many may think CBD is a quick fix, the science behind why the substance works to relieve so many symptoms is actually pretty complex. As discussed in previous blog posts, CBD is a cannabidiol not unlike those found in the human body. Biologically, the natural chemical compound plays a significant role in maintaining homeostasis and is part of a trio that makes up the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system is responsible for keeping physiological and cognitive processes balanced, and this includes areas that can impact anxiety like mood and sleep. As the human body produces its own type of cannabinoid, it is able to recognize CBD thanks to its series of receivers in the cells (primarily cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2) which identify the molecules and synthesize them through specific metabolic enzymes. In this way, CBD can be activated, broken down, and utilized in a way that can influence the same areas that natural endocannabinoids regulate.

Further research is required, as the impact of CBD on the body’s cannabinoid receptors is not fully understood, however many believe it has a significant impact on the way neurotransmitters are received. For example, initial studies suggest that CBD may be able to bind with neurotransmitters resulting in an impact on cognition. Natural chemicals like serotonin and dopamine which are essential for maintaining a balanced mood and a healthy sleep-wake cycle are two of the signals that may be influenced, and this is crucial for understanding how cannabinoids can benefit anxiety disorders.

Serotonin in particular is vital for mental health, and low levels are often associated with people who struggle with anxiety, depression, poor quality sleep, and migraines. When a deficiency is detected, the first course of action is often a prescription for a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (or SSRI) like Prozac or Zoloft. This type of treatment can have debilitating side effects, so an alternative course is preferred by many sufferers.

The use of CBD as a way to balance or supplement serotonin levels (specifically the 5-HT1A receptors) is one of many potential avenues of research that needs further examination as it poses great value to medicine and psychology. The substance is suggested to alter signals from neurotransmitters in such a way that reduces physiological responses to anxiety such as increased heart rate and blood pressure during panic attacks, and it has also been shown in pre-clinical trials to improve anxiety induced insomnia.

Additional research implies that the limbic and paralimbic brain areas (both of which are linked to anxiety disorders) are where the action of CBD occurs. It has also been suggested that the substance functions as an allosteric receptor modulator, meaning it can influence how signals are interpreted by the body. When cannabinoids are introduced, the brain’s GABA receptors (or Gamma-aminobutyric acid) are activated which leads to inhibition of stress hormones otherwise released by the nervous system. This essentially acts as an amplifier for the natural calming effect of such receptors, and provides a feeling of sedation. In turn, a person is able to feel more relaxed and less anxious.

However, the results may depend on the dosage provided. One source claims that “cannabinoids induce diverse responses on anxiety- and fear-related behaviors. Generally, low doses tend to induce anxiolytic-like effects, whereas high doses often cause the opposite. Inhibition of endocannabinoid degradation seems to circumvent these biphasic effects by enhancing CB1 receptor signaling in a temporarily and spatially restricted manner, thus reducing anxiety-like behaviors.”



Anxiety and CBD Case Studies

The use of CBD as an alternative or supplementary treatment for anxiety disorders continues to grow in popularity, yet controlled studies remain limited. As such, researchers are working to determine the efficacy and efficiency of CBD as a remedy for mental health problems.

In 2011 a trial was conducted on patients suffering with generalized social anxiety disorder who were instructed to give a speech. The group discovered that pretreatment with CBD was effective, highlighting it “significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and distress during speeches by patients with generalized social anxiety disorder, and significantly decreased alertness in the anticipatory period before the speech.” Following on from these early findings, a 2019 trial examined 57 healthy adult males who were tested under the same conditions. The conclusion confirmed the findings of previous research and showed results that “indicate that acute doses of CBD can decrease anxiety.”

Further examples demonstrate similar effects, with one published case examining CBD as a treatment option and recording a reduction in anxiety with 79% of participants.  The article goes on to state that CBD was shown to be “better tolerated than routine psychiatric medications,” presenting valuable avenues for future work.  As science continues to work on illuminating the effects of CBD on various conditions, the potential of CBD as a wellbeing aid remains promising.

With health services struggling to keep up with demand and the public facing a massive mental health crisis after the global pandemic, millions have turned to CBD as a solution for their struggles. Since studies continue to show promising potential when the substance is taken therapeutically, especially for anxiety disorders and issues with insomnia, the public’s desire to turn to CBD for answers is only natural. Now is the time for increased studies, and with the industry booming it can be expected that further evidence supporting the benefits of cannabidiol will be supplied in the near future.

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