It’s a pretty anxiety-producing world out there, and anxiety disorders are becoming increasingly common. Whether it’s chronic anxiety, social anxiety, PTSD or just stress from daily life, many are searching for a safe and accessible option to tame their anxious emotions.
Thankfully, cannabidiol (CBD) can help. This natural cannabinoid is found in the cannabis plant. And while it won’t get you high, it can help calm an anxious mind and body.
Could CBD be the right option for you? Let’s explore this anxiety-reducing alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals.
Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a very real and present issue for many. We all deal with a normal amount of anxiety throughout our lives. But for some, anxiety can become so extreme that it’s detrimental to their ability to function.
More than 30% of Americans will suffer from an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. And over 19% of people suffer with one currently.
Anxiety disorders comprise a wide range of conditions including :
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Specific phobia
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
These conditions differ based on the objects or situations that induce anxiety, but have one feature in common—excessive anxiety, and the physical and behavioral disturbances that go along with it.
Anxiety disorders can be mild or severe, but they all interfere with daily activities like work, school and relationships—and can cause a variety of side effects.
Those with anxiety may experience:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Uncontrollable feelings of worry
- Sleep problems
- Heart palpitations
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
Anxiety disorders are usually treated with a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy or prescriptions like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or benzodiazepine medications. While therapy is usually a helpful option, unfortunately many patients have issues with the prescription medications. Both medication types can leave patients feeling emotionally numb and can be highly addictive. While they sometimes help at first, patients often adjust and need increasingly higher doses to keep getting the positive effects.
CBD Can Help Ease Anxiety
Thankfully, CBD can help with anxious situations. The science is still limited due to research restrictions on cannabis. But preliminary data and patient reports suggest big potential for CBD as an anxiety-reducing alternative to prescription medications.
Scientists have been looking at CBD’s anxiety-reducing potential for a while now, and say that we have good reason to believe CBD can help.
Studies show that CBD can actively reduce anxiety in humans. One 2011 study demonstrated this by testing subjects’ anxiety (and related factors) during public speaking. Public speaking is well known as the most common fear in humans—right above death—so it’s a great test for anxiety.
It turns out CBD made a big impact for those who took it right before speaking in front of audience. Compared to those who took nothing before the speech, those using CBD experienced significantly reduced anxiety as well as less cognitive impairment, discomfort in their speech and feelings of anticipatory alertness. This confirmed earlier studies, which had found similar results for both humans and animals.
Scientist believe that CBD is so effective at combating anxiety, because of the way it interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain. While the mechanism isn’t fully understood, scientists believe that anxiety and depression may be caused (at least in part) by a lack of available serotonin. At the very least, when more serotonin is available, anxiety and depression tend to ease up.
This is why SSRIs can help reduce depression and anxiety. SSRIs block the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain, making it more available in the synaptic space and boosting serotonin signaling.
CBD has something in common with SSRIs. CBD also boosts serotonin signaling through enhancing the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A.
In fact, CBD may have a leg up on SSRIs. Researchers noted that the antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects of CBD work much faster than SSRIs do, because they’re affecting the serotonin more quickly.
Research also shows that CBD, like SSRIs, can help regenerate neurons in the hippocampus. This promotion of neurogenesis is important as evidence suggests that impaired neuronal plasticity may be a contributor to suicidal behavior.
Tips for Taking CBD to Help Ease Anxiety
Thinking about taking CBD for your own anxiety? There are a few things to consider.
First, when it comes to consumption method, there are some great options to choose from. Vaporizers and sublingual options work great when you need anxiety relief quickly. These rapid-onset options will start working within minutes and stay with you for a few hours, making them perfect for when you need immediate relief.
Edibles can also be very helpful for managing anxiety. This option stays in your system longer, but will take an hour or two to start working. For this reason, edibles are better suited for pre-emptively maintaining a sense of calm on a daily basis than they are for reducing anxiety when it hits.
Finding a method may be easy, but when it comes to dosing, things can get complicated. “I think one of the hardest thing for people is going to be finding the perfect dose,” explains Jessica Tonani, co-founder of Basic Jane, the only cannabis company in the U.S. that holds a license to research CBD. “There is a bit of a Goldilocks scenario going on here, where low levels and high levels of CBD show no efficacy, but the mid-dose is perfect,” Jessica says.
In other words, when it comes to anxiety, CBD is dose-dependent. Research shows that too little or too much CBD doesn’t help, but something in the middle works well.
For example, in a 2018 study replicating the previous research on anxiety levels during public speaking, researchers found that 150 mg and 600 mg doses of CBD were ineffective at reducing anxiety compared to the placebo. But 300 mg doses lowered anxiety significantly.
Still, it’s important to note 300 mg is a very high dose when compared to the average dose in CBD products, so folks may need relatively high doses to achieve anxiety relief. The ideal dose can vary from person to person, so to find the best CBD dose for you, start low and slowly increase your dose each time you use it until you’ve found a helpful amount for your needs.
A final piece of advice is to check with your doctor before you begin a CBD regimen. “CBD can affect the metabolism of other drugs, and so it might mean you have to modify the amount of other medications you take,” cautions Jessica. “This is something you can work with your physician on.”
Photo credit: Andrew Neel
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