Firstly…what Is Anxiety?
Anxiety, while a critical adaptive response that allows us to deal with threats, at its extreme it can hamper our ability to carry out even the simplest of tasks- and hence our lives. Anxiety disorders are characterized by feelings of extreme worry and fear, often associated with an increased heart rate and tremors. Such disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), specific phobia, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and panic disorder. It is thought that anxiety disorders affect the lives of 12% of the population at a given time, and that up to 30% of both men and women suffer from it at one point in their lives.
Anxiety disorders are traditionally treated with pharmaceuticals ranging from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to tranquilizers such as benzodiazepines. Such tranquilizers, however, are highly addictive and come with undesirable side effects.
CBD and Anxiety
Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, is one of 113 known cannabinoids found in cannabis, and only second to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in abundance. But unlike THC, which is responsible for cannabis’ mind-altering effects, extensive research suggests that CBD is not psychoactive. So unlike THC, which can at times make you more anxious, CBD has been shown to have a calming effect upon ingestion- decreasing your anxiety and thus making it an ideal anxiolytic agent.
Exactly how CBD affects anxiety remains a bit of a mystery, as it appears to act upon a wide range of brain sites. This is also not equating the fact that anxiety itself can be equally complex in its symptomology. Until recently, much of the research on the potentials for CBD to be used as an anxiolytic, were centered around the premise that it may be acting at one of the serotonin receptors, much like the medications generally prescribed. But recently, research has turned towards its possible effects on neuron regeneration (neurogenesis), as well as towards the body’s own endocannabinoid system and its response when faced with stress.
Similar to the pharmaceutical SSRIs, CBD appears to increase the signaling through the serotonin receptors, which may reduce anxiety and elevate mood. Specifically, CBD appears to do this by triggering an inhibitory response that slows down 5-HT1A signaling, a serotonin receptor responsible for anti-depressant effects. This creates an anxiolytic response, unlike with LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs which appear to activate the 5-HT2A receptor, thereby leading to an excitatory response.
Certain studies have centered around brain imaging as a way to measure anxiety and depression. The brain scans of those patients suffering from depression and anxiety, often present with a smaller hippocampus. It is thought that the successful treatment therefore lies in the regeneration of neurons (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus.
Natural neurogenesis, however, is thought to greatly diminish past adolescence. Therefore, providing a possible explanation for the degenerative nature of mood disorders. Additionally, there is enough evidence to suggest that suicidal behavior may be derived from a severely impaired neuronal plasticity.
CBD, however, provides beam of light in the field of neurogenesis. As preliminary studies on animals suggest that it may aid the hippocampus in its regeneration. Similarly, additional studies on animals also show that CBD improved neuroregeneration in the nerve system of adult mice, while THC had no effect. The study also concluded that CBD did not impair learning.
The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS), the body’s natural response to inflammation, is a complex physiologic network comprised of the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. Interestingly, these cannabinoid receptors are strategically found in areas of the brain known to control stress, fear, and ultimately mood and behavior. The ECS is ultimately involved in nearly everything the body needs to survive: from eating, sleeping and exercising, to giving birth. It fights inflammation throughout the body, and helps to maintain a balance in the metabolism, immune system, cognitive functions, and growing processes.
Inflammation and stress are perpetually linked, so it is no surprise that the key to combat anxiety lies in the ECS. Which is where CBD comes in as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent, acting upon the body’s endocannabinoid system and its cannabis receptors to fight inflammation. CBD it therefore capable of altering your body’s immune reactions, influencing white blood cell production and enhancing your resilience.
This is because even without ingesting any form of cannabis, when you are stressed, your internal cannabinoid system will use cannabis-like molecules in order to fight anxiety and stressful situations. As several studies have shown, CBD works by supporting your body’s natural system in its response to inflammation and stress, making CBD oil ideal in the treatment of anxiety-related disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder.
However, CBD does not interact directly with the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. Rather, it affects the signaling between the two receptors indirectly. This explains partly why CBD is not psychoactive, unlike its counterpart THC. Additionally, CBD has been shown to increase the body’s naturally produced endocannabinoids by inhibiting the enzymes responsible for breaking them down.
In the end, the findings of the scientific research available today all draw towards the importance of maintaining a healthy and balanced endocannabinoid system, in order to achieve resilience and hence a healthy stress response. The latest emerging human clinical trials appear to support the use of CBD and CBD extracts in order to achieve such a balance.
Various human trials have been conducted around the world, which show that after consuming CBD, subjects consistently show anti-anxiety effects. Clinical trials, however, are just touching the surface, as the processes around mood disorders are yet to be fully understood.
Given that CBD is able to act upon a wide range of brain sites, its exact workings as a potent anxiolytic are yet to be fully understood. However, current clinical trials and medical research appear to overwhelmingly support its use in treating anxiety disorders. The preference of using CBD oil versus existing pharmaceuticals, lies in the fact that it produces little to no side effects and none of the addictive behavior commonly associated with opioids. Additionally, CBD oil in spray form will provide almost instant results and some of the highest absorption rates out there.