CBD For Anxiety
What is anxiety?
Forty million Americans suffer from anxiety. Anxiety is a state of worry that can be experienced in varying intensities. Mild anxiety can be characterized by that feeling of having butterflies in your stomach and is generally considered normal. However, anxiety can often be debilitating to a person impacting their social, professional, and personal lives. Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term, describing conditions where anxiety interferes with a person’s everyday life. Phobias, social anxiety, panic disorder and even obsessive-compulsive disorder are considered anxiety disorders. Common symptoms of anxiety include dizziness, panic, insomnia, tingling hands or feet, shortness of breath, nausea, and tense muscles. For many, anxiety is a driving force behind how they live their everyday lives and people are increasingly turning to CBD and other natural remedies to find relief.
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Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness affecting American adults. Anxiety and depression are often co-occurring and pharmaceutical companies have developed several prescription drugs to treat these disorders.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) like Celexa, Lexapro, and Zoloft, are primarily prescribed to treat depression. They work by preventing serotonin from being absorbed by the brain, increasing its availability. SSRIs are popular antidepressants that can be used long-term and are commonly prescribed to those who suffer from anxiety as well.
Benzodiazepines, sometimes called “benzos,” like Xanax and Valium, are anti-anxiety drugs that treat anxiety directly by working with neurotransmitters to suppress nerves and reduce the physiological responses in the body. Benzos work short-term and tend to be prescribed for a brief amount of time because they are habit forming.
Those suffering from anxiety often undergo therapy to treat the condition as well. Cognitive-behavioral therapy gives people different ways of managing and coping with anxiety and teaches them the skills to help them identify and handle the root causes of their stress. Therapy combined with medication has proven to be a very effective way of treating anxiety disorders.
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Can CBD help anxiety?
Animal studies have shown that CBD can be effective in treating anxiety. Research on CBD is still limited, but the early results are promising. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worrying and irrational fear. In a 2011 study, researchers found that participants with GAD experienced a significant decrease in anxiety after consuming CBD. Brain scans backed up the findings that were reported by the patients.
In another study, participants suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder found that they experienced significantly less anxiety and were better able to take a public speaking test when consuming CBD first. This study was also backed up by examining the participants’ blood pressure and heart rate.
Researchers backed by the National Institutes of Health are about to begin a clinical trial to test whether people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who also have alcohol use disorder can be helped by CBD. The aim is to see if the participants who take CBD will experience a decrease in PTSD symptoms and/or will drink less.
Dr. Esther Blessing, a researcher, and psychiatrist at New York University recently told NPR, “I think there’s good evidence to suggest that CBD could be an effective treatment of anxiety and addiction. But we need clinical trials to find out.”
How CBD treats anxiety
CBD is one of the 80+ cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that when consumed, bind to receptors in the body producing varying effects. CBD is non-psychoactive, unlike THC, the more popular cannabinoid known for the “high” feeling. You won’t get high from consuming CBD alone. The body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a natural, biological system that regulates the body. It’s made up of receptors and it regulates many cognitive and physiological aspects of the body including pain, memory, mood, appetite, and fetal development.
There are two types of cannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors are located in the central and peripheral nervous system and are credited with creating homeostasis with health and disease. CB2 receptors are located in the immune system, gastrointestinal system, and the brain. In a 2001 study, researchers from Vanderbilt conducted a study on mice to search for CB1 receptors in the central amygdala — an area of the brain associated with anxiety and stress responses. They found the presence of receptors in the mouse brain and furthermore, discovered that when endocannabinoids interacted with them that the excitability of these brain cells decreased. Further studies are needed to prove this finding.
Recently, the FDA approved the pharmaceutical drug, Epidolex, to treat seizures. Epidolex is a synthetic version of CBD used to treat Dravet syndrome, Infantile Spasms, and other severe seizure disorders. The approval of the drug could lead the FDA to open more doors for cannabis research looking further into its effects on the brain.
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CBD and THC
You may be familiar with a concept called the entourage effect. The entourage effect states that cannabinoids work better together than they do alone. In essence, CBD is more effective when combined with other cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, THC, and so on than it is in isolation. The terms “full-spectrum” and “whole-plant” are alluding to this concept.
Biologically, a person gets high by having THC bind to CB1 receptors in the brain. CBD also binds to CB1 receptors in the brain and has been shown to actually counteract some of the effects of getting high by blocking the activation of THC in CB1 receptors. CBD changes the shape of the receptor so that there is less room for THC to bind to. CBD has even been shown to decrease the heightened heart rate that you feel from getting high. Therefore CBD can even have an impact on the anxiety that comes from the psychoactive effects of THC.
Further Reading: Understanding Full Spectrum CBD
CBD for Anxiety – Is it for me?
Many people turn to CBD in order to escape the intense, sometimes addictive effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Benzos are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety in the short term but don’t provide the patient with longer-term options. CBD products can often cost less than pharmaceutical drugs and work naturally with the body’s endocannabinoid system.
CBD is found in both the cannabis and hemp plants. Hemp-based CBD is available nationally and can be found online, regardless of your state’s cannabis laws. However, CBD coming from the cannabis plant is more likely to have a robust cannabinoid profile, playing into the entourage effect which may be more impactful.
It’s important to talk to a doctor regarding your own experience with anxiety. Anxiety is experienced on a spectrum from mild to intense and proper treatment needs to be catered to the individual.
American veterans have been vocal in the discourse regarding medical marijuana. Scientists found that people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are deficient in endocannabinoids. They also found that CB1 receptors signal the deactivation of traumatic memories. PTSD is increasingly popping up on states’ lists of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. In June 2017, Colorado added PTSD to its list making it the ninth and most recent qualifying condition. New York added PTSD to its tightly controlled program this year after pressure from veterans groups made its way to the governor. Those affected by PTSD often suffer from extreme anxiety, drastically impacting their life and ability to interact with others.
As more states legalize cannabis and as more people turn to plant-based treatment for their conditions, more information regarding CBD and its effects is being produced. Talking to others, advocating for research, and learning about the different products on the market are all ways to further your own personal understanding of CBD.
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