Evidence based

CBD for Stress Relief: Does Hemp Oil Help You Relax?

Being ‘busy’ and ‘stressed out’ all the time isn’t healthy.

Learn how to manage stress with proper lifestyle, diet, and a little bit of CBD.

Article By
Justin Cooke , last updated on October 22, 2020

We’re always glorifying busyness and doing very little to take care of our stress levels. 

Stress can take a real toll on our health if we allow it to persist in our lives.

Here, I’ll breakdown how CBD can be used to support chronic stress, along with some tips on what kind of CBD to use, and what other steps you should be taking to keep stress levels in check. 


    Abraham Benavides, M.D., Medical Doctor

    Updated on October 22, 2020

  • Table of Contents

The Best CBD Oil for Stress

Here’s a few quick recommendations to get you started if you’re just looking for a CBD oil to help with stress. Keep reading to learn how CBD is thought to reduce stress and what dose to use.

When looking for a CBD oil to use for stress, it’s crucial that you find something high in CBD, but that also contains all the other terpenes and antioxidants contained naturally in the plant.

For this reason, we consider the best CBD oils for stress to consist of high-quality full-spectrum hemp oils available in relatively high potencies.

Top-Rated CBD Oils for Stress

What is Stress? Why Do We Feel Stressed Out?

Our ancestors evolved the stress response as a way to get us out of a bind.

Imagine you came face to face with a saber-toothed tiger. It’s hungry, and human meat is undoubtedly on the menu.

In our normal state of mind, we might be able to fight the tiger off, but it’s unlikely we’ll be successful.

Luckily we have the stress response (also called “fight or flight response”).

Parts of our brain (the hypothalamus and pituitary) immediately recognize the threat and release hormones that travel to our adrenal glands sitting above each kidney.

These glands then start pumping out stress hormones like cortisol, which travel all around the body through the bloodstream to produce what we identify as stress.

This system is designed to give us a boost physically and mentally to help us either fight off the tiger or run away to safety.

Changes During Acute Stress Includes:

  1. The airway widens to allow more oxygen into the lungs
  2. Our heart rate speeds up to pump nutrients and oxygen faster and deeper into the muscles
  3. Our liver dumps glucose into the bloodstream to provide a boost of power to the body
  4. Our digestive and immune systems shut down to allow the body to focus the energy to the muscles and brain instead
  5. Our blood vessels tighten to push blood into the tiny capillaries more efficiently
  6. Neurotransmitters like norepinephrine are released to stimulate the brain and heighten awareness

All of these changes give us a temporary advantage over the tiger to help us get away from danger.

We become sharper, more aware of our surroundings, our muscles are stronger, we have more energy, and we become numb to pain and discomfort.

In this context, stress is extremely valuable. It can make the difference between life and death.

There are plenty of reports of people doing crazy feats of human capability while under the fight or flight response.

How Stress is Harmful to Our Health

In an encounter with a saber tooth tiger, stress helped us out. We were able to fight the tiger off or run for cover. Mission accomplished, we live to see another day.

Now the body needs to reverse the changes that occurred during the stress response and return to normal. We call this the “rest and digest” response.

Our adrenals stop producing cortisol, our blood sugar returns to normal, the heart rate slows, blood pressure declines, and our digestive and immune systems come back online.

This is how it’s meant to be, but it’s not always the case these days.

Most people these days are stressed about non-life-threatening activities like whether we’ll have enough money to buy that new pair of shoes, or if a relationship isn’t the way it used to be, or that we have too much work on our plates.

These types of stress don’t tend to go away. We never fight the tiger and get far enough away to slow down again. So we remain in a hyperstimulated state of stress.

This has many negative effects on the body long-term.

Common Side-Effects of Stress Include:

  1. Our adrenals burn out and stop producing the hormones we need to regulate our sleep-wake cycle
  2. Our immune systems are suppressed to the point where we seem to catch every cold or flu that comes our way
  3. We develop the metabolic disease when our blood sugar levels remain high for weeks or months on end
  4. Our suppressed digestive system makes it difficult to absorb the nutrients we need and starts to become inflamed
  5. Our blood pressure remains high, and our arteries start to harden
  6. We develop neurological conditions such as anxiety and depression from the constant state of hyperstimulation

There are many more examples of problems that can arise when we’re in a state of stress for too long, without effectively winding down and recovering.

Therefore, learning to use tools such as CBD oil, along with some other useful techniques that we’ll get into detail about later, are going to go a long way in helping us stop the constant state of stress, give our body’s time to recover, and ultimately avoid the long list of negative impacts stress has on the body.

Now let’s discuss CBD and the role it plays in the stress response.

What is CBD Oil?

CBD is short for cannabidiol.

It’s one of the primary constituents in the cannabis plant and is the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid in the plant.

Once inside the body, CBD is able to interact with a special set of receptors known collectively as the endocannabinoid system. This system plays an important role in modulating the nervous system by boosting communication from one cell to the next.

CBD comes in many forms, but the most common is an infused oil. To use CBD oils, hold a few drops below the tongue for a minute, and swallow.

What is The Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is sort of like the read receipts for the nerves.

When one nerve sends a signal to the next, the endocannabinoid system goes in the opposite direction to tell the original sender that the message arrived.

This may seem like it’s not that important, but this has serious implications.

The endocannabinoid system effectively provides feedback to other areas of the body to dial in communication channels. It makes sure everything functions within their limits, keeping the body as a whole in balance.

The easiest way to understand this is to think about balance.

The body always strives to maintain the balance of all its systems (homeostasis). It doesn’t want to be too hot or too cold, too dry or too moist, too awake or too sleepy. There’s always a balance the body strives to maintain, which of course can fluctuate throughout the day.

The endocannabinoid system essentially regulates this balance and makes sure we stay within the limits at all times. If we are not, it works to bring us back towards the centerline by helping the body communicate and work together.

This is very important to consider because when we’re stressed, we’re not in balance.

The Benefits of CBD For Stress

So how exactly does CBD help with stress you ask?

In total, the effects of CBD on stress include:

  • Improves hypothalamic function
  • Protects the body from oxidative damage
  • Promotes “rest and digest”

Let me explain this further.

As we’ve already gone over, stress relies on the hypothalamus in the brain, which then triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol. This hormone then goes on to tell the rest of the body to prepare for battle.

A logical place to start with stopping or slowing the stress response is with the hypothalamus.

1. CBD & The Hypothalamus

This specialized region of the brain has a series of receptors on its surface that scan the blood for cortisol levels.

Normally, when there is an influx of cortisol in the blood, these receptors respond by feeding back to the adrenal glands to stop producing stress hormones.

When we’re chronically stressed, the hypothalamus becomes less sensitive to cortisol, meaning that we need much more cortisol to elicit the same response. This effectively allows us to remain stressed for long periods.

CBD boosts the hypothalamus’ ability to sense cortisol, triggering the shut-off valve much sooner and preventing stress from lingering for too long.

2. CBD & Oxidative Damage

One of the main ways stress causes so much destruction is through something called oxidative damage.

Higher blood sugar and increased metabolic activity stress causes can lead to a buildup of free radical products which can damage tissues all over the body.

Normally this is cleared up when we enter the rest and digest mode in a state of relaxation, but of course, when we’re stressed for long periods of time these free radicals persist.

CBD oil is high in antioxidant compounds [1] that help neutralize free radical molecules and protects the body from their damaging influence.

3. CBD for Rest & Digest

When we’re stressed, cortisol causes norepinephrine to take control inside of the brain. This leads to the involvement of other stimulating neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate.

It causes us to enter a state of fight or flight where brain activity increases dramatically.

The opposing force to this system is another neurotransmitter called GABA.

We need GABA to act as the brake pedals in the brain, telling it to slow down and relax. This is one of the primary neurotransmitters involved with the “rest and digest” nervous system and holds the key to turning down the stress response.

Many of the best anti-anxiety medications work by boosting GABA activity in the brain to essentially slow us down, and help us relax.

In a recent animal study, some mice were given a compound that blocked GABA, and this caused them to go into hyperactive seizures. CBD was found to completely inhibit these effects, suggesting its ability to regulate GABA and promote relaxation even under direct chemical exposure to GABA inhibiting drugs [4,7].

Many of the terpenes also present in the plant have been shown to increase the activity of GABA as well, including borneol [3], and limonene [2].

CBD Oil Dosage for Stress

Dosing CBD oil isn’t an exact science. Everybody responds differently to CBD products, so the dose is different for everyone.

In general, the dose of CBD for managing stress is around 10 – 50 mg per dose. Some people take one dose per day, others two or three.

The best way to find the optimal dose for your body individually is to take a very small amount as a starting dose (around 5 mg of CBD equivalent) and increase gradually by 5 mg every day until you find a dose that works for you.

Keep in mind, the effects of CBD for stress are subtle, and will likely take a few days to appear. Be patient and persistent.

If you experience any side effects, it means you’ve taken a dose that’s too high for your body. Reduce the dose the next time to the last dose that didn’t produce side effects — this is your maximum dose.

How to Make CBD Oil Even More Effective for Alleviating Stress

Although CBD oil will go a long way in lowering stress levels and helping you return to a better state of health both mentally and physically, you can make it even better by practicing other forms of stress-management at the same time.

Some examples of excellent stress-management techniques include:

1. Meditation

Meditation is by far the best way to relieve chronic stress. Many people give up after trying because they think they’re not doing it right because their mind remains busy while they sit there quietly.

This isn’t the case.

The most important step meditation takes to reduce stress is slowed, rhythmic breathing. You don’t actually need to enter a “meditative state” for these benefits. After just a few minutes of controlled breathing, your lungs will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system responsible for settling you down and combating the stress response.

It’s profoundly effective.

2. Exercise

Exercise is a great stress reliever.

It causes a surge of endorphins into the bloodstream that make us feel good and helps clear cortisol from the body faster.

As little as 10 minutes of moderate exercise such as jogging, skip rope, or weight training per day is all you need.

3. Identify and Eliminate the Source of Stress

No matter what you do to lower your stress, it will keep coming back if you don’t eliminate the source.

Whatever it is, you need to identify it and find a way to make it no longer a problem. There are a lot of services available to help you do this if you don’t know where to start.

Check this out.

4. Switch From Coffee to Tea

We all love our morning coffee, but what a lot of people don’t know is that the caffeine in coffee actually triggers the release of cortisol, making our stress even worse.

Tea also contains caffeine but it also has another chemical known as L-Theanine, which is an excellent anti-stress compound often used as a nootropic supplement to promote a calm, relaxed state of mind.

Making the switch from coffee to tea can go a long way in lowering your overall stress levels day to day.

5. Supplement with Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogenic herbs are herbs with specific benefits on the stress response system.

They usually work on the hypothalamus directly, but can also work by inhibiting the effects cortisol has on the body.The best one to get started with alongside CBD is a herb called Rehmannia. It primes the hypothalamus to become more sensitive, allowing it to shut off the stress response much faster when it’s no longer giving us any benefits.

There are plenty of other adaptogenic herbs that you can combine with your CBD supplementation as well as to lower the stress response. Some common examples include ashwagandha, ginseng, and licorice.

Key Takeaways: CBD & Stress

CBD oil is a great daily supplement. It has a long list of beneficial effects and can go a long way towards improving our overall quality of life.

One of the main ways it does this is by helping us cope with stress.

It works directly on the hypothalamus of the brain, protects us from oxidative damage, and tells our brain to slow down and recover when we’re running a hundred miles an hour.

Whenever using CBD oil for stress it’s important to involve other methods of stress reduction at the same time and to only use CBD oils made from organic, full-spectrum hemp products.

Sources Cited in This Article

  1. Hampson AJ, Grimaldi M, Axelrod J, Wink D. Cannabidiol and ()Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol are neuroprotective antioxidants. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1998;95(14):8268-73.
  2. de Almeida Costa, C. A. R., Kohn, D. O., de Lima, V. M., Gargano, A. C., Flório, J. C., & Costa, M. (2011). The GABAergic system contributes to the anxiolytic-like effect of essential oil from Cymbopogon citratus (lemongrass). Journal of ethnopharmacology, 137(1), 828-836.
  3. Granger, R. E., Campbell, E. L., & Johnston, G. A. (2005). (+)-And (−)-borneol: efficacious positive modulators of GABA action at human recombinant α 1 β 2 γ 2L GABA A receptors. Biochemical pharmacology, 69(7), 1101-1111.
  4. Consroe, P., Benedito, M. A., Leite, J. R., Carlini, E. A., & Mechoulam, R. (1982). Effects of cannabidiol on behavioral seizures caused by convulsant drugs or current in mice. European journal of pharmacology, 83(3-4), 293-298.
  5. R de Mello Schier, A., P de Oliveira Ribeiro, N., S Coutinho, D., Machado, S., Arias-Carrión, O., A Crippa, J., … & C Silva, A. (2014). Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of Cannabis sativa. CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-CNS & Neurological Disorders), 13(6), 953-960.
  6. Murillo-Rodríguez, E., Millán-Aldaco, D., Palomero-Rivero, M., Mechoulam, R., & Drucker-Colín, R. (2006). Cannabidiol, a constituent of Cannabis sativa, modulates sleep in rats. FEBS letters, 580(18), 4337-4345.
  7. Ranganathan, M., Braley, G., Pittman, B., Cooper, T., Perry, E., Krystal, J., & D’Souza, D. C. (2009). The effects of cannabinoids on serum cortisol and prolactin in humans. Psychopharmacology, 203(4), 737.

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