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Anxiety is a common disorder causing excessive mental stimulation and feelings of fear and worry. It can become debilitating when it interferes with daily activities. CBD offers a number of benefits for anxiety — here’s how it works.
Stress is a natural process designed to keep us safe and give us the best chances of survival when faced with a dangerous scenario. In many people, this natural stress response becomes hyperactive — interfering with their ability to perform normal daily activities.
Anxiety belongs to a spectrum of different medical disorders involving a dysfunctional stress response. The reaction to stress may be excessive, too frequent, or last for too long.
In recent years, CBD — one of the active, non-psychoactive compounds in the cannabis plant — has been shown to offer widespread benefits toward symptoms of anxiety. It’s used to manage common side-effects such as insomnia and muscle tension and even offers benefits to the underlying causes of anxiety itself.
Here, we’ll discuss why CBD is gaining popularity as a natural treatment option for anxiety, and how you can start using it to alleviate your most concerning symptoms.
There are many different causes for anxiety — and the best way to eliminate it is to address the problem at its source. This may be nutritional deficiencies, unresolved traumas from the past, or medication/drug use.
CBD is also beneficial on top of other treatments thanks to its powerful array of anxiolytic benefits.
Anxiety is a normal — even healthy — emotion, but it can get out of control and become damaging to our health.
“Healthy” anxiety is designed to protect the body from danger. We might feel anxious when standing high up on a ledge. The nervousness and unease are meant to keep us attentive so we don’t slip and fall off. Additionally, we may experience anxiety when we come face to face with a hungry animal — the anxiety helps us fight or run away.
However, disproportionately high levels of anxiety can begin to cause serious problems for some people.
As a medical disorder, anxiety is characterized by feelings of excessive nervousness, fear, and worry. Physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, high blood pressure, a fast heart rate, muscle twitches, and shallow breathing are also common during anxiety “attacks.”
Unhealthy anxiety forms as an overreaction to normal stresses in our environment. Things such as going to public events, looming deadlines, or financial instability are common causes of clinical anxiety. Our standard stress response is amplified — causing widespread negative side-effects that do nothing to help the situation.
A key element in treating anxiety is to improve the way our brain reacts and responds to stress.
Stress is a crucial element of anxiety. When something threatens us, a particular region in the brain known as the hypothalamus steps into action. The goal of the hypothalamus is to react to stress appropriately so we can manage the situation.
The hypothalamus controls the intensity of stress by stimulating the release of hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine that cause physical changes to the body. The hypothalamus is responsible for controlling the intensity of the stress response so that it best matches the level of danger we’re facing.
For minor concerns (such as getting caught in a traffic jam), the appropriate response would be only a small amount of stress. We don’t need to shut down our immune system and digestive function to handle this kind of stress.
For larger concerns (such as being held at gunpoint), the appropriate response is far more intense. In this case, it would be beneficial for us to maximize our chances of getting out alive by supplying the muscles with more energy (increased blood sugar) and heightening our level of awareness by releasing stimulating compounds in the brain such as orexin, histamine, and norepinephrine.
In many people suffering from anxiety, the hypothalamus overreacts to the situation. Minor stress — attending a public event, for instance — results in a full-scale stress response, producing what we characterize as anxiety.
Anxiety can vary from one person to the next but tends to follow the following general stages.
The first stage of anxiety is the trigger — this is the event or thought that causes the stress response. There are many different triggers, and everybody has their unique triggers.
Some people’s anxiety is triggered by irrational fears, called phobias. There are many reasons why someone might have these fears, but the most common is a past traumatic event involving the specific trigger.
The first step toward treating anxiety is to identify your triggers. It helps to keep track of when your anxiety appears and what events or thoughts may have led to that reaction.
No matter what the trigger for the anxiety, the next stage involves the response from the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus can be thought of as the “master controller.” It reacts to stress by delegating other organs to take action.
When it perceives stress, it sends hormones to the adrenal glands to start releasing the primary stress hormones — cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These hormones tell the nervous system how to respond (stage 3).
In many people with anxiety, the source of the problem arises in the hypothalamus itself. It responds to small stresses as if they were significant and life-threatening. CBD is exceptionally helpful in this case because it acts on the hypothalamus directly, making it less sensitive to minor stresses (more on how this works below).
There are two sides to our nervous system — the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the part of the nervous system responsible for what we experience as stress. It’s activated by cortisol and norepinephrine.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the opposite — it’s responsible for inducing relaxation and recovery once the stress is over.
These two sides of the nervous system work opposite to each other — like yin and yang. When one side is active, the other is suppressed.
During a stress response or anxiety attack, the SNS becomes activated— resulting in most of the changes experienced during a stress reaction, including:
In some people, the SNS activation is exaggerated — causing significant changes to the body with even just a small change in SNS/PNS balance. CBD can support this through its ability to increase the PNS directly (through GABA and related neurotransmitters).
Once the stress is over, the body then needs to recover. This is when the hypothalamus stops secreting hormones and cortisol is eventually broken down by the liver.
As this happens, the shift in the balance between the SNS and PNS begins to change.
We become more relaxed, brain activity slows, the immune and digestive systems are stimulated, and blood glucose levels begin to drop back down to normal levels.
This is called the “rest and digest” response.
People with anxiety often have problems with this stage — they become unable to relax fully. Clinically, these people are “SNS-dominant” because the SNS side of the nervous system is active more often than not.
CBD can be used to give the PNS a boost — causing a change in the balance between the SNS and PNS.
|Physiological Process||During an Anxiety Attack||Effect of CBD|
|Blood Glucose Levels||↑↑↑||↓↓↓|
Let’s go over exactly how you can use CBD for alleviating symptoms of anxiety, how it works, and what dose to take.
Research done in the early 1980s highlighted the difference in effects between the main psychoactive cannabinoid, THC, and the primary non-psychoactive cannabinoid, CBD . Researchers in this study reported that CBD could resist the anxiety-causing effects of THC.
A double-blind clinical trial involving four separate groups of 10 people forced to speak publicly in front of a group of people measured the effects of three anti-anxiety medications. Subjects were given either 300 mg of CBD, 10 mg of diazepam, 5 mg of ipsapirone, or a placebo before the event. This research found that the CBD and ipsapirone group showed the most significant benefit in anxiety symptoms before and immediately after the public-speaking event .
Another study used functional neuroimaging to investigate how CBD affects anxiety in the brain . The study found that CBD effectively managed anxiety symptoms in the treatment group. Neuroimaging scans showed decreased blood flow in the parahippocampal and hippocampal regions of the brain — both areas known to be heavily involved during anxiety attacks. Researchers in this study suggested that the mechanism of action for CBD was upregulation of the endocannabinoid system in the brain.
CBD increases GABA activity in the brain [3, 5]. This is the primary neurotransmitter associated with reversing the stress and anxiety response. Many of the primary medications used to treat anxiety use this mechanism as well — including benzodiazepines and barbiturates such as Xanax and Diazepam.
There are so many companies in the CBD space at the moment that it can be hard to know which ones to buy. To make matters worse, many of the companies currently on the market are of poor quality. With the recent rise in the public interest for CBD supplements, it’s no wonder why so many companies are manufacturing sub-par products in an attempt to get their piece of the pie, without having to do the rigorous quality control processes necessary to make sure their products are safe and effective.
When it comes to anxiety, it’s especially important to make sure the products you’re using are of the highest quality possible — with no heavy metal, pesticide, or microbial contaminants. This is because any of these contaminants can cause anxiety. This isn’t something you want from a product used to alleviate symptoms of anxiety.
The only way to confirm none of these contaminants found their way into the final product is to take a look at the company’s third-party-testing reports.
If the company you’re researching can’t provide this — move along to the next one.
Without first confirming the products are safe, you have to assume it’s not. There are too many contaminated CBD products out there to take the gamble.
Dosing CBD can be a challenge for first-time users. To make this as simple as possible, we’ve included a basic dosage chart. Taking into account your weight and the desired strength, you can make a rough estimate regarding the amount of CBD needed to get the results you’re looking for.
Recommended strength to treat anxiety: mid to high strength
|Weight (lbs)||Low Strength||Medium Strength||High Strength|
As with many mood and neurological disorders, it’s wise to keep track of your symptoms whenever trying a new supplement or medication.
This gives you a starting baseline and helps you track your progress — both good and bad — to see how the new supplement or medication is working.
We recommend spending a few minutes before taking CBD to answer the following questions:
After a solid month of use, go back and answer these questions again. Are there any improvements? Is anything worse?
Some of the benefits of CBD supplementation may be noticeable right away, especially those related to insomnia and severity of anxiety attacks. You can expect to see the broader benefits after around a month or two. These may involve a reduction in the frequency of your anxiety attacks and improvements in associated conditions such as depression or fatigue.
There are plenty of benefits CBD has to offer people who suffer from anxiety — but there are also some situations where CBD use may not be appropriate.