Yes, CBD holds promise to be a natural anxiety solution, but more studies need to be done before we can make any claims.
Are Anxiety & Stress Wrecking Your Life? CBD May Help You Cope
If you’re here, anxiety and stress are probably messing with your life, and you’re looking to cope with your everyday worries. You may have heard all the chitchat surrounding CBD and its anxiolytic action, so it’s easy to wonder what’s behind the hype.
The popularity of CBD products is skyrocketing for a reason. CBD is shining because of its safe nature. Side effects are low risk, it doesn’t get you high, and there’s no way you could overdose.
So far, it sounds like a great option to take as part of a comprehensive anxiety plan, right?
Well, there’s much more you need to know. In this article I intend to shed some light on how stress and anxiety affect your life and how CBD may or may not help.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Anxiety & Stress Are Your Friends
Life happens and feeling overwhelmed in certain situations is expected; it’s part of being human.
Stress is the way your body reacts to life’s challenges. Small doses of stress can help you keep focused and motivate you to do your best.
A bit of stress can help you perform better, but long-term stress is not cool. When your stress hangs around for the long haul, your mind and body pay the price, and stress becomes chronic.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is your internal alarm system that rings to lets you know something is wrong. Anxiety is normal and critical for survival.
It can also be helpful to protect you from risky or reckless behavior, like when you´ve been binge-watching your favorite Netflix show for hours and your internal alarm makes you worry about that report you need to finish.
But if you’re an anxiety-prone type like me, this alarm rings too loudly or for too long. Thoughts of worry don’t go away; they just get worse and irrational. Even in normal situations, the chaos doesn’t stop, and it ends up affecting the quality of life.
Chronic Stress Affects Your Body
Your brain can’t differentiate between emotional and physical threats. If you are stressing over a pile of bills, your mind will respond in the same way as if a bear is chasing you. We’re hard-wired to avoid danger above all else.
In this fashion, your mind responds by producing adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones tell your body to set up for the “fight-or-flight” reaction, a survival mode that allows us to escape physical danger.
This genetic makeup helped our ancestors to survive, but in the modern era, physical survival is not our major concern. Our focus today is on being successful, find our purpose and living meaningful lives.
This puts a lot of psychological and emotional stress on us. Each and every mental or emotional threat can put your body in survival mode, and we’re not designed to live in this state perpetually.
Over time, the build-up of stress hormones can cause illness and disease. Your body prioritizes the fight-or-flight response, leaving other important functions like metabolism and immune system without enough resources to run optimally.
Subtle signs tell you that you’re stressed—headaches, mood swings, poor sleep, tense muscles, lagging sex-drive—but these signs are easy to ignore.
Survival mode becomes constant and unrelenting. It creeps up on you, and you’re not aware of those silent things making you sick until it’s all out of control and it contributes to worse conditions, like increase risk of heart disease, anxiety and depression.
Stress also Screws Up Your Brain
Do you feel like you’re forgetting little things on a daily basis? Do you often forget where did you put your keys or forget to take your birth control pill? Chronic stress could be affecting your brain.
Long-term stress can change your brain and affect memory. During stressful situations, stress hormones tell the brain to “be ready and able to fight.” If this message is always on, your brain will rewire its networks to tune it out.
Harvard Medical School professors Dr. Kerry Ressler and Dr. Jill Goldstein found that these rewires make some areas of the brain shrink.
When one area becomes hyperactive, the other may not have the energy to perform well, so they stay hanged and then atrophy.
Chronic stress has been linked with the shrinking of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that encodes memories of facts and events.
On top of that, high-stress situations also change the levels and interactions between neurotransmitters, like serotonin, dopamine, and anandamide, in the brain, disrupting our ability to experience pleasure and stay motivated. When we’re stressed, we become tense, hyperresponsive, and easy to irritate.
Anxiety on the Rise
Many of us are acquainted enough with how anxiety feels because anxiety is rampaging through society like the plague.
Statistics show it’s truly become a silent epidemic, affecting around 40 million people in the US alone. That’s almost the entire population in Spain.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, today, “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States” ―and women are twice as likely as men to have it.
Suffering from anxiety can be extremely debilitating. It’s also costly to treat and can affect all aspects of your life. Anxiety can also be an early sign of dementia, Alzheimer’s and complete brain breakdown.
Do you know what’s making you anxious?
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety is born in your mind. you can have it with or without any external incident.
Each person’s triggers are different, and a lot of factors can work together to cause it. Identifying the reasons behind your anxiety is crucial to come to the right diagnosis.
Let’s explore its different causes:
Abnormalities in the performance of a gene called SLCGA4 causes fluctuations of serotonin levels. Both shortages and excesses of this neurotransmitter are linked to anxiety symptoms.
Low levels of serotonin and GABA are believed to play a role in anxiety, while excess norepinephrine may trigger it. This is controversial as there’s not real evidence that neurotransmitter levels take part in the development of anxiety disorders.
Many believe that brain chemistry is a marketing tactic made up by SSRI manufacturers to justify buying pills that help chemically rebalance your brain.
While not totally understood, anxiety is partially produced by the amygdala. Studies show that amygdala activation increases its disturbing effects, while amygdala inactivation produces soothing effects.
Severe trauma, such as child abuse, domestic violence or military combat, increases your risk of developing anxiety.
The Anxious Brain
The brain regions associated with stress and anxiety include the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus. They’re dynamically interconnected to one another.
This tiny organ in your brain works as the barometer that rules fear. The amygdala is the reason we’re afraid of things outside our control.
Studies in mice show that, when the amygdala is removed, fear disappears.
However, its purpose is not just to freak you out. It also works in collaboration with your fight-and-flight response when you face a real threat.
Experts believe this little anxiety-meter evolved mostly to help us connect the events and situations of life with appropriate emotional reactions.
But deep-rooting fears, neurotransmitter imbalances, traumatic experiences, genetic factors, and drug and alcohol abuse can push your amygdala’s buttons.
The hippocampus is arguably the most important area of your brain, located deep inside it. It works synergistically with the amygdala in the formation, organization, and storage of new memories.
In short, the hippocampus works as the warehouse of your memories. It receives and classifies them as short or long-term, making it critical for everything, from learning how to use your new smartphone to being able to think back on your life in vivid detail.
Recent research involves the hippocampus as a mood and emotions regulator. Actually, a study from 2018 found “anxiety cells” located in the hippocampus.
This study also suggests that altering brain activity in this region can reduce anxiety.
The hippocampus is also your brain’s built-in GPS, helping you remember your way around town.
THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX (PFC)
This is the area of the brain that organizes, processes, and selects all the behaviors we use when responding to stress. Here’s where you form judgements and make decisions.
The prefrontal cortex is what keeps anxiety in check, once stimulated by the amygdala, it determines what the best course of action is required to shut it up.
But if your PFC is dysregulated, it can make the amygdala go out of whack. New evidence shows that the circuits between these two brain areas are stronger in individuals with certain types of anxiety disorders. It seems like an anxiety disorder may have its roots in this strengthened signaling.
Anxiety Disorder Types
If you have anxiety you may find it difficult to make decisions, to complete daily tasks, or to interact socially. Anxiety comes in a lot of different shapes and forms.
When you know the specific type of anxiety you are dealing with and you recognize its causes and symptoms, you are more likely to find the best regimen for you, whether it’s lifestyle changes, prescription, therapy—or a combination of all.
Psychologists have created categories for each of the different types of anxiety. For reference here, I am listing the most common ones.
Western Drugs & Anxiety
Important note: I’m not a licensed professional, and this article isn’t medical advice. What I offer here is my personal testimonial as someone who has battled anxiety disorders most of my life.
Therapy helps. Meditation and self-care also help, but sometimes they’re not enough, and you think a “magic pill” will make you feel better.
Yes, effective anxiety medication exists, but everyone is different, and different outcomes are expected with these drugs.
In my case, I don’t think I ever found a drug that actually helped me. The awful side effects were too hard to bear, they were as bad as the anxiety symptoms.
For some people medication is life saver for others is a threat.
Medication won’t make your anxiety disappear, but it may help you cope with the symptoms, and it could take time to find the right prescription. Think of medication as another tool in your arsenal to find relief.
Diverse types of drugs are used to treat anxiety disorders. The most popular are:
- Benzodiazepines include drugs like Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin.
- Antidepressants, the most commonly prescribed for anxiety are Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, and Celexa.
If you’re considering adding CBD to your current anti-anxiety regimen, remember that it has shown negative interactions with many medications, especially antidepressants and benzos.
It’s not a good idea to forgo your medication all together because you want to try CBD. You will be exposed to adverse withdrawal symptoms if you quit cold turkey.
The best way to do it is by going over the possible risks and benefits with your doctor and taking his recommendations seriously.
Remember CBD is not a miracle drug, it has its place, as does Western drugs.
Now, let’s deep dive into the CBD world.
CBD to the Rescue
CBD advocates like me believe that this substance is the natural alternative in any anxiety regimen, because of the tremendous impact it has made in our lives.
But there’s a lot we still don’t know about CBD and how it affects the human body. There’s not enough published research data that reflects the potential long-term effects of this cannabinoid.
Scientists are still hard at work trying to decipher how it might help with anxiety and other conditions.
However current investigations and anecdotal evidence show very positive results when treating diverse types of anxiety and mental disorders in humans, such as general anxiety disorder, SAD, OCD and PTSD.
What Is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, the most exciting active compound in cannabis medicine nowadays.
There are over 120 of these compounds in the cannabis plants.
They’re called cannabinoids, and each one has a different effect on the human body. The most studied are THC and CBD. While THC gives you the highs and the munchies, CBD is a non-toxic, non-intoxicating cannabinoid.
The exact way CBD works in your body is not entirely understood yet.
What we do know is that many of its benefits are a result of how it interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a system found in humans but also in animals that was recently discovered by scientists.
This system plays a part in almost every aspect of our health, from the way we feel pain to hunger, emotion, mood, and so much more.
It helps all the other systems in your body to accomplish their vital functions.
The ECS is recognized as a prominent promoter of our emotional balance by mediating the effects of different environmental signals, including rewarding and stressing stimuli.
Emotions and behaviors, such as fear, anxiety, depression, stress-coping, and reward-driven behaviors, are critically modulated by the ECS.
Diseases and mental disorders happen when your endocannabinoid system is disrupted.
There are a bunch of receptors along this system classified in 2 subtypes:
CB1 and CB2.
As we already addressed, the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are areas of the brain crucial in the control of mood and behavior.
Researchers found plenty of CB1 receptors in these areas. They’ve also found activity of these receptors in the regulation of serotonin transmission.
It’s important to note that your body produces its own cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. They act in similar ways as phytocannabinoids. Think of them as a sort of bridge between body and mind.
They carry signals to the brain that make us feel good emotionally, but when our body lacks them, fear, worry and anxiety rise. There are 2 major endocannabinoids:
- Anandamide that performs like your body’s own THC with mood-enhancing properties.
- 2-AG that regulates appetite, immune system functions, and pain management.
CBD helps regulate the endocannabinoid system and enhance the production of endocannabinoids, which can slow or even stop disease progression.
CBD & Stress
When you’re under high stress, your system turns on its survival mode, and the adrenal glands in your body produce stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help you handle stress.
CBD, through the endocannabinoid system, nourishes and supports the adrenal glands, interferes with the secretion of stress hormones, and helps the body to balance out, thus handling stress better.
The gist of CBD is to calm down your entire system. When hormones are balanced, your risk of getting sick is decreased as a result of reduced stress.
As featured above, chronic stress can change and rewire your brain. It can impair neurons and even shrink the hippocampus. Diverse studies have demonstrated that CBD supports neural regeneration, specifically in this brain’s area.
Thanks to neuroscience, we now know that certain areas of the brain are able to regenerate. This is called neurogenesis.
Throughout our lives, we keep forming new neurons. These neurons make new connections, and more connections grow our brains—and CBD may promote this process, meaning that this cannabinoid could help to offset the brain damage caused by chronic stress.
Can CBD Help with Anxiety?
There’s a growing body of research that suggests CBD helps with anxiety and brain signals. CBD works in the different parts of the brain where anxiety starts—limbic and frontal regions—and helps you release your anxiety triggers.
CBD has properties to bind a wide range of receptors within the body but shows fairly weak affinity to receptors of the endocannabinoid system. For example, it has a very poor affinity for CB1, meaning it doesn’t activate it, at least not in a direct way.
Your brain uses chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters, they are essential to your health, and imbalances are linked to many diseases and mental disorders.
CBD & 2-AG
A new finding published in the journal Neuron is shedding light on how the endocannabinoid 2-AG can reduce anxiety-producing connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. CBD boost the production of this molecule in the brain, which is another way this compound may assist in your emotional wellness.
Highlights of CBD Research for Anxiety
The ECS regulates anxiety and depression and modulates behavioral responses to stress and reward.
Thanks to research we now know there are cannabinoid receptors in the amygdala, the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, the parts of your brain involved in your anxiety responses.
CBD can inhibit the overstimulation of these receptors in your brain and prevent it from wreaking havoc.
If you’re like me and suffer from social anxiety, a lot of different situations can trigger your flight-or-fight response.
For example, being in a social event makes my body ramp up as if I were in a life-or-death situation, so to speak. Taking CBD can decrease this feeling. In fact, preliminary research is pointing to positive results of CBD as an anxiolytic.
These are the studies.
The first neuroimaging study conducted to investigate the effects of CBD in humans was done in Brazil in 2004.
Research was conducted on male patients and demonstrated how the participants who took oral doses of cannabidiol had their anxiety symptoms greatly improved.
Through brain scans, scientists noticed the regions of the brain associated with anxiety feelings, reported blood flow changes in all participants, and these changes led to anxiety relief.
Later, in 2011, another study was conducted to treat anxiety associated with public speaking.
Public speaking can be a nightmare for many, including those who don’t suffer anxiety. Participants were in groups of people with social anxiety disorder and people without anxiety disorders.
Researchers found that CBD improved performance for both groups of participants.
In a 2018 study by the Department of Psychology at the Washington State University, researchers analyzed 11,953 tracked sessions (3,151 for depression, 5,085 for anxiety, and 3,717 for stress).
Patients reported 58% better mood and anxiety ratings following a full spectrum CBD formula.
What’s more, patients experienced these results after just a single dose, reporting improvement 93% of the time.
A recent study published online on April 2019 reviewed the effect of CBD in patients diagnosed with PTSD as part of a case series that started with preclinical research on rodents.
This was the first clinical trial of the series where 11 Patients taking daily doses of oral cannabidiol over an 8-week period confirmed a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms, especially nightmares. Patients were also given psychotherapy and psychiatric drugs.
The participants reported that CBD helped them relieve the constant “I’m in danger, I gotta fight to survive” feeling that they face daily.
How to Take CBD to Cope with Anxiety
If you’re ready to incorporate CBD into your anxiety self-care treatment, you need to make sure of a few things:
Many believe that full and broad-spectrum formulas are better because of the entorage effect.
Last but not least…..
Regardless of how promising the clinical studies sound, they’re few and far between. Thus, for entities like the FDA, they’re not enough to prove the safety or efficacy of CBD products just yet, that’s why their legal use remains in limbo.
Nevertheless, lack of scientific evidence has not stopped people around the world—including me—from trying CBD. Testimonial evidence for anxiety relief is overwhelming.
In my case, CBD has been a life changer. On CBD, I don’t find myself consumed by my thoughts of what people think of me, or terrified to interact in social situations, something I couldn’t fully accomplish with therapy alone.
But remember, CBD is not a fix-all solution. Some get positive results while others may experience different outcomes. If you’re trying CBD for the first time to bear the burden of anxiety, keep your expectations low. It’s not a miracle drug.
Living with anxiety is not a life sentence. There are proven methods to keep it at bay, but you need to be proactive and consistent.
A therapist once told me the secret to overcoming an anxious mind is to keep it busy in the present. So, I’d like to finish this article with Amit Ray’s quote that is part of my healing arsenal when I’m feeling on edge.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
Here’s wishing you success on your journey to relief and well-being.
A Quick Recap
Over to you now. Are you ready to try CBD to deal better with your anxiety struggle? Already using it? It would be great if you share your experiences on how CBD is helping you cope. The space below is for you.