CBD for Anxiety and does it work?
More than 260 million people around the world suffer from anxiety disorders. In the United States, a huge segment of our population — 40 million adults (18%) age 18 and older – are afflicted with anxiety-related conditions.
Those who suffer from anxiety often have to endure a lifelong cycle of sleepless nights, panic attacks, extreme phobias, and even depression. The symptoms can be debilitating which is why anxiety-inducing situations must be avoided as much as possible.
The pharmaceutical industry has developed numerous drugs to treat anxiety-related disorders. These include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – the most popular of which are Prozac and Zoloft. Some physicians also prescribe a class of tranquilizers called benzodiazepines, also known as Valium or Xanax.
While many patients attest to the efficacy of these drugs in treating anxiety, some fail to respond favorably. There are people who do not experience any improvement at all while others cannot simply tolerate the side effects. Tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax are known to be highly addictive – which creates a whole new set of problems.
So what is the alternative ?
Cannabidiol (CBD) – a non-psychoactive compound of cannabis – has been touted as the next big thing in anxiety treatment. Can it really provide a viable alternative for pharmaceutical anxiety medication?
Cannabidiol has generated a tremendous amount of interest in recent years not just among consumers but scientists and doctors as well. Numerous animal studies and evidence from human experimental, clinical, and epidemiological studies suggest that CBD has powerful anti-anxiety properties minus the adverse effects of THC. When administered as needed, CBD is well-tolerated and may be beneficial in treating the five types of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social phobia
What is CBD?
The cannabis plant has more than 100 natural compounds called cannabinoids. Two of the most popular cannabinoids are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC has psychoactive effects that can get you high. Add to that a feeling of paranoia and a patient already suffering from anxiety will only get worse.
CBD, on the other hand, is considered non-psychoactive. Part of its appeal is that it has the same anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and antiepileptic qualities of cannabis but without the mind-altering side effects of THC-laced marijuana.
As more states are legalizing medical or recreational cannabis, interest in CBD continues to grow. According to the latest data from Hemp Business Journal, the market for CBD has doubled in size over the past two years – amounting to $200 million today. The hemp CBD industry is projected to be worth $646 million by the year 2020.
Early research shows promising signs that a cannabis extract known as cannabidiol (CBD) oil may help relieve anxiety and even depression. CBD is found naturally in hemp plants.
Know more about the potential benefits of CBD for anxiety and whether it could be a treatment option for you.
The human endocannabinoid system
To understand how CBD might help treat anxiety, we must first look into how cannabinoids work in the human body. The human endocannabinoid system is a vast network of chemical compounds and receptors. The primary function of this physiological system is to regulate a multitude of functions, including moods, immune response, pain and inflammation regulation, neurogenesis, and neuroplasticity.
When our endocannabinoids fit into CB1 and CB2 receptors, they cause various responses throughout the body. One of the endocannabinoids produced by the human body is anandamide which is similar to the cannabis compound THC. Anandamides create a feeling of ease and relaxation – the same effect when people inhale cannabis smoke or ingest edible cannabis. When anandamides and THC fit into the CB1 receptor, they modulate the central nervous system and affect brain function.
How CBD for anxiety works
Receptors are tiny proteins that are attached to your cells. They receive chemical signals from different stimuli and make your cells respond accordingly.
CBD affects the brain receptor called CB1, although the exact way it works is not yet fully understood. One theory is that CBD alters serotonin signals. Serotonin is a chemical that plays an important role in mental health. Having low serotonin levels can cause anxiety and depression in some patients.
THC fits directly into the receptors of the human endocannabinoid system. CBD, however, interacts indirectly with CB1 and CB2 receptors as well as 5HT1-A.
The 5HT1-A is a serotonin receptor that is related to mood and brain function. It is found in high densities in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala – brain components that are related to emotions, moods, memory, perception, cognition and awareness.
CBD is a 5HT1-A partial agonist, which means it binds to the receptor but does not fully stimulate it. This stimulation is enough to produce an anti-anxiety effect.
Drug companies that produce Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac and Zoloft specifically target the serotonin system. SSRIs work by blocking the absorption of serotonin in the brain. With more available serotonin, brain cells transmit more serotonin signals that can help boost mood and reduce anxiety.
Just like SSRIs, CBD may boost serotonin signals. In an animal study in 2016, Spanish researchers found that CBD enhances 5-HT1A transmission much faster than SSRIs can. The quick onset of the CBD antidepressant action solves some of the main limitations of current antidepressant therapies.
Studies also suggest that CBD has the ability to promote hippocampal neurogenesis. The hippocampus is a major brain area responsible for memory, emotion and cognition.
Patients who are suffering from anxiety or depression often reveal a smaller hippocampus in brains scans. There is also evidence that severely impaired neuronal plasticity may influence suicidal behavior. This is why treatment is often associated with creating new neurons or neurogenesis in that part of the brain.
Research shows that both SSRIs and CBD may promote neurogenesis. A study of mice in 2013 found that repeated administration of CBD may help regenerate neurons in the hippocampus. Comparing the effect of CBD and SSRIs on neurogenesis in future research could help clinicians better understand depression and how to effectively treat it.
As mentioned earlier, the human endocannabinoid called anandamide keeps the body more relaxed and at ease. Unfortunately, anandamide is broken down naturally by an enzyme called Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH). CBD is capable of inhibiting the production of FAAH so there are more bountiful levels of anandamide in the body to boost your mood.
What does science say about CBD for anxiety?
Research on the medical benefits of CBD is mostly based on animal studies. Although lab rats have yielded tremendous insight into human immunology, mice are not men, and results do not always apply to humans.
Building on the foundation of animal studies, human trials are starting to demonstrate that CBD can indeed provide relief for many anxiety-related disorders.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that CBD can reduce stress and anxiety in a range of animal models. Subjects showed lower behavioral signs of anxiety and physiological symptoms such as increased heart rate also improved.
Apart from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), other forms of anxiety such as social anxiety disorder (SAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as insomnia, may also benefit from CBD administration.
In 2011, Brazilian researchers conducted a small double-blind study of patients afflicted with social anxiety disorder (SAD). Participants were separated into two groups: the first one took a placebo and the second one took an oral dose of 400 milligrams of cannabidiol. The second group reported a significant decrease in anxiety after consuming CBD. Researchers also performed brain scans and the results seemed to confirm the subjective reports: cerebral blood flow patterns reflected an overall reduction in anxiety levels. The study was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
That same year, a study was conducted on 24 people who were diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). They were asked to perform a simulated public speaking test in front of a large audience after taking either a placebo or CBD. The participants were not aware if they had been given the CBD or the placebo. Researchers then compared the anxiety levels of both groups and found significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, discomfort in their speech performance, and alert in their anticipatory speech in the CBD group. The placebo group demonstrated increased anxiety, cognitive impairment, discomfort, and alert levels. The subjective findings were supported by test indicators such as heart rate and blood pressure.
Another study published in 2011 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology tested 10 people suffering from SAD. Those who took CBD reported significant decrease in anxiety symptoms. Neuro-imaging confirmed how CBD affected activity in the limbic and paralimbic parts of the brain. The limbic system is the emotion center of the brain and is responsible for the formation of new memories.
There have also been studies on how CBD affected other neurological disorders. In 2016, Marc Fakhoury from the University of Montreal, Department of Neurosciences published a study on the antipsychotic benefits of CBD in schizophrenic patients. CBD showed great promise in the treatment of psychosis with fewer side effects than conventional antipsychotic drugs.
On the other hand, a 2017 review of six case reports and seven trials found inconclusive evidence on the effectiveness of CBD in treating depressive and bipolar disorders. The authors said more well-designed, randomized and controlled human tests are needed to assess the effects of CBD in psychiatric disorders.
So far, most of the evidence of the anti-anxiety effect of CBD comes from animal research. The available human studies suggesting that CBD exhibits anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties are were carried out on a limited number of subjects and in short periods.
Psychiatrist and New York University researcher Dr. Esther Blessing confirmed that "there is good evidence to suggest that CBD could be an effective treatment of anxiety and addiction but we need clinical trials to find out."
Dr. Blessing and her team have secured funding from the National Institutes of Health for a new clinical trial to test whether CBD can help treat people with PTSD and moderate or severe alcohol addiction. It will involve 50 participants who will be given a daily shot of a placebo or 400 milligrams of pharmaceutical-grade CBD. This type of CBD is more potent and guaranteed pure, unlike many supplements that are currently available on the market. The objective of the study is to see if CBD could lead to alcoholics drinking less and whether that provides relief for PTSD symptoms.
The potential benefits of cannabidiol in treating medical conditions and ailments are enormous. With more and more studies coming to light, cannabis proponents are hoping for a change in the legal classification of CBD.
Evidence from animal studies has already shown the therapeutic effects of CBD on the brain. Now human studies of actual patients with anxiety disorders are starting to validate the efficacy of cannabidiol as an anti-anxiety treatment.
Experts agree that more research is needed, including large randomized controlled trials (RCTs), in order to determine the long-term effects of CBD. But with available data, cannabidiol has already demonstrated a highly favorable safety and efficacy profile compared to currently available drugs – making CBD a viable alternative to anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals.
Given the huge financial cost of treating anxiety disorders particularly in the United States, CBD has the potential to change the life of so many people who have been long suffering from anxiety.
Side effects of CBD for anxiety
For some people who are suffering from anxiety disorders, CBD presents a safer, more natural, and more effective treatment method than SSRIs. Cannabidiol is generally safe for human consumption, but there have been reported side effects including:
- Dry mouth
- Mood changes
- Change in appetite
- Low blood pressure
If you are currently taking medication for a diagnosed anxiety disorder, do not stop taking them without consulting your physician first. While CBD may help relieve your anxiety, stopping your prescription medications without proper guidance from your doctor could result in the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Paranoia and fear
Talk to your doctor before making any changes to your treatment plan.
Is CBD for anxiety legal?
In the United States, some places allow CBD only for specific medicinal purposes. There are states that require a license from your doctor to be able to buy CBD from cannabis but hemp derived cbd is legal in all 50+ states in the USA.. If cannabis is legal in your state, you may be able to purchase CBD for anxiety from a dispensary or clinic but this is most likely going to have THC as well. CBD oil is also available online.
CBD oil is not regulated as medicine in the United States. Often CBD Tinctures are dispensed under the tongue with a dropper, it is considered a supplement and as such is not regulated as strictly as pharmaceuticals. The potency and purity of supplements vary from brand to brand and even from bottle to bottle.
How to take CBD for anxiety
CBD can be administered in a lot of different ways. The most common and most effective method is sublingual, or CBD drops under the tongue. CBD can also be administered through the mouth, through the skin, and even through the vagina or anus via a CBD suppository. CBD drops have been proven to produce long-lasting effects as they allow the body to metabolize the cannabidiol and deliver relief where it is needed.
Vaping CBD is another effective way to quickly get cannabidiol into your body. If you are about to have a panic attack, inhaling CBD from a vape pen is probably the fastest method to prevent it. The administration method you choose could mean the difference between a slight increase in stress and a full blown anxiety attack.
Although it is a fast and efficient way to take CBD for anxiety, vaping does not have the same long-lasting effects as other methods do. We recommend that you try different CBD delivery methods and choose the one that works best for you.