Written by: Dagmara Mach
CBD or cannabidiol is a bioactive compound derived from the hemp plant. It is known for its impressive array of health benefits and may help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety with few or no side effects.
Clinical and preclinical studies have shown the therapeutic potential of CBD oil for anxiety, or the feeling of unease we experience when confronted with chronic or acute stressors. Anxiety can range from mildly uncomfortable to completely debilitating, and CBD, especially in the form of full-spectrum hemp oil which provides additional benefits associated with the entourage effect, has been shown to play an anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety, role in the body.
In this article, you will learn what anxiety is and how cannabinoids can affect the ways in which we experience its effects.
At its most basic, anxiety is a survival instinct that characterizes our body’s natural reaction to acute stress. As an adaptive response, anxiety helps us act when we anticipate a potential threat. Facing an approaching grizzly bear, for instance, will set off alarms in our bodies, triggering a “fight-or-flight” response, which in turn leads us to a heightened physical state that’s marked by an elevated heart rate and increased alertness. This enhanced state of awareness is what will hopefully lead our bodies and minds to act quickly and survive the threat.
Almost any acute or chronic stressor can trigger anxiety. Even things we normally love, like puppies who have suddenly escaped your clutches and are bounding towards a busy street. Happy situations can go from calm and pleasant to scary and stressful in the blink of an eye. When anxiety occurs in the context of life or death situations, like those involving puppies and oncoming traffic, the neurochemical processes set off by its experience are not only normal but potentially necessary for survival.
Not every situation in which we experience anxiety is life or death, however. While there are a variety of totally normal reasons behind why we feel anxious on a daily basis, they most often do not involve a legitimate survival threat that requires our initiation of the fight or flight response. Things like worrying about leaving our dog at home or feeling stressed at work before a big presentation can make us feel understandably anxious, overwhelmed, and uncomfortable. But just because these feelings seem like a natural response to outside stimuli, does not mean that experiencing them is conducive to our well-being. In fact, the chronic experience of anxiety, even when it’s generally mild, can be devastating to our minds and bodies.
Anxiety goes from helpful to pathological when its experience doesn’t aid us in survival. Characterized by feelings of restlessness, fatigue, nervous energy, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, irritability, problems sleeping or staying asleep, and difficulty controlling feelings of worry, anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million people in the United States. Once used to remain alive during saber-toothed tiger encounters, anxiety has more recently evolved into our country’s most common group of mental illnesses.
As civilization in the developed world progressed from living in caves to living in homes, most of our lives became safe, sedentary, and decidedly boring when compared to those of our ancestors who expended their anxious energy by clubbing down rivals and teetering on the brink of death. It seems that progress transformed anxiety from a survival driven adaptation to a life-draining and generally less than useful emotion that is doing the opposite of what it was originally meant to do.
Rather than aiding us in staying alive, persistent anxiety has been linked to serious negative health effects, including heart problems, skin problems, digestive issues, pain, and an increased risk for chronic illnesses, such as cancer.
In the modern world, anxiety tends to pop up under the most mundane circumstances, like thinking about our to-do lists, driving in traffic, buying a new house, speaking in public, and networking at events full of strangers. And while one might argue that stranger danger remains a legitimate threat, fight or flight induced sweating is unlikely to help us survive a meet and greet with potential clients. When the experience of anxiety begins to limit our ability to feel good, be productive, and function at peak capacity in our everyday lives, it may be time for an intervention.
That’s where CBD may help.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the major bioactive substance found in hemp. It is one of many cannabinoids produced uniquely by the cannabis family. Studies have shown CBD to play a broad assortment of therapeutic roles in the body, including as an anxiolytic, analgesic, antidepressant, antipsychotic, neuroprotective, neurogenic, anticonvulsant, antiemetic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic, and antineoplastic or antitumor agent. Its medicinal properties are widespread and promising in the treatment of anxiety.
Evidence from both human and animal studies suggests that CBD exerts a broad range of anxiolytic effects via an extensive pharmacological profile, which includes interactions with several receptors known to regulate fear and anxiety-related behaviors. By affecting neurotransmission in key brain areas related to defensive responses and memories, as well as by facilitating adult hippocampal neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, CBD is able to mitigate the negative effects of stress and chronic anxiety.
Functional neuroimaging research shows that CBD significantly decreases subjective anxiety and increases mental sedation by changing the neural activity of brain regions which normally mediate anxiety. Unlike its sister cannabinoid THC, the main compound in marijuana, CBD does not produce psychoactive effects like the high you feel when eating or smoking weed products. In fact, in humans, the administration of CBD appears to counteract the anxiety, panic, muscle tension, and paranoia experienced with too much THC.
CBD has the potential to interact with other drugs. Therefore, it’s important to consult your doctor if you’re adding CBD to an existing medicinal repertoire. As long as it does not interact poorly with your existing medications, the dosage can be flexible and based on your needs. A review of potential side effects in humans found that orally administered CBD was well tolerated at doses of up to 1500 mg/day, with no reported negative mood effects, vital sign abnormalities, or psychomotor slowing.
While more research is necessary to learn the pathways of CBD action, it is clear that in a time when there is no shortage of natural remedies for anxiety, CBD holds significant potential in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
In one study, CBD decreased defensive behaviors evoked by predator exposure in mice. So, if you’re walking down dark alleys at night or hiking through Glacier National Park where predator threats have real potential, it may be wise to lay off the hemp oil. In these cases, anxiety might be the tipping point between stopping in your tracks and walking into the path of two charging grizzlies. So, keep your wits about you, your bear spray on hand, and your fight or flight response geared up.
If, on the other hand, you’re feeling unnecessarily hyped up and nervous at your office job, you can likely enjoy the benefits of CBD without any negative consequences. A great natural alternative to Xanax smoothies, CBD is a research-backed herbal cure that has been shown to help calm the jitters, reduce inflammation, trigger cancer cell death, halt tumor formation, improve mood, boost metabolism and lead to homeostasis in our bodies.
Despite the impressive number of studies published in the past several years, there is still a lot we don't know about CBD’s mechanisms of action and how much of it we need to feel anxiolytic effects.
For instance, I weigh 100lbs and have a quick metabolism. I find that 15 mg doses help me feel awake and motivated when I’m working, while higher doses of 30 mg or more help alleviate my anxiety. Since, my day to day experience of anxiety isn’t chronic, but rather set off randomly by mundane thoughts like remembering that I need to pack the house I sold to move to Montana, I take a dose of CBD whenever invasive thoughts begin to raise my heart rate and discomfort. Whether its placebo or the real thing I cannot say. However, I find relief soon after consuming 20-30 mg of full-spectrum hemp oil.
Whether or not CBD is right for you and how much of it you need to consume to feel its positive effects without feeling sleepy and lethargic largely depends on your unique biological composition. Everyone is different and only by experimenting can you really know if hemp oil will help alleviate your symptoms.
Luckily, you have very little to lose and everything to gain by trying CBD as a means of anxiety relief.
Have you experimented with CBD for anxiety? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!