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Anxiety affects almost every single one of us, even if only in a small way. Before doing something new, or giving a speech for example, many of us feel unprepared, unsure, or even nervous. These feelings may manifest into physical symptoms like headaches, clammy hands, or shortness of breath.
However, for those who experience panic attacks or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, anxiety entails a lot more than just feeling overwhelmed. It can be completely debilitating. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 18% of Americans have experienced the symptoms of an anxiety disorder over the last 12 months, making anxiety the most common mental illness in the United States.
Typical treatments for anxiety include medication, therapy, or both. These consist of medications like antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and beta blockers, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy or talking therapy.
But, over the last few years, CBD has taken the world by storm. CBD is one of at least 113 active cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, and it has no psychoactive effects, meaning that it won’t make you high. CBD is available in oil, ointments, creams, and can even be used in vape pens. The best part is that studies have found CBD to be a natural anxiolytic, meaning that it’s an anxiety calmer, and is also effective in treating anxiety.
The Science Behind CBD and Anxiety
It all starts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is perhaps the most important physiologic system responsible for establishing and maintaining human health. The natural ECS is present in each cell of the human body which is responsible for managing a number of body capacities including sleep, mood, appetite, and perception of pain. CBD is thought to interact directly with the ECS to relieve the body of stress and anxiety.
Naturally occurring receptors for CBD are found all throughout the body; in the organs, glands, immune cells, brain, and connective tissue. CBD works with the brain receptors, which are small proteins attached to the cells with the purpose of receiving chemical signals from different stimuli and helping the cells to respond. CBD works by altering the hormonal signals, which means it can play an important part in regulating mental health.
The 5-HT1A agonist is a subtype of the serotonin receptor, and anxiety and depression can sometimes be treated by using medication that targets the serotonin system. This is the reason that drug companies have developed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Zoloft and Prozac. SSRIs work by obstructing the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain, and this increases the level of serotonin available in the synaptic space. This helps the brain cells to transmit more serotonin signals, thus reducing anxiety and in some cases improving the overall mood.
CBD can also help to alter the low levels of serotonin which causes anxiety in humans. Here are some of the other ways that researchers suggest that CBD works to treat anxiety:
- Consuming CBD can change the way that the brain receptors respond to anxiety hormones.
- By reducing stress levels, CBD reduces anxiety, decreasing the physiological effects of anxiety like an increased heart rate.
- CBD also helps to improve the symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and helps the individual sleep well in cases of insomnia.
What scientific evidence says
Most scientific studies done on CBD and anxiety are preclinical, meaning the studies are based on animal research rather than on humans. Nevertheless, most of these studies have found that CBD appears to function in a similar way to the commonly prescribed SSRIs (pharmaceutical drugs) – by encouraging serotonin receptors to act better on the brain. Both CBD and SSRIs seem to promote the regeneration of the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain that plays a part in both depression and anxiety.
The hippocampus is most well-known for its role in memory formation and cognition. Brain scans of patients who are suffering from depression or anxiety usually show a smaller hippocampus, and successfully treating anxiety and depression is linked to the birth of new neurons (neurogenesis) within this region of the brain.
In a survey review of 34 studies – which did include human subjects – CBD showed promise in being able to help with various conditions, ranging from social anxiety to bipolar disorder. Overall current evidence seems to suggest that CBD has high potential to treat multiple anxiety disorders.
At the end of the day, animal studies have started to characterize exactly how CBD acts on the brain, and human studies are starting to validate the efficacy of CBD as an anti-anxiety treatment. Although a lot more research still needs to be done on CBD and anxiety, by all accounts it seems to have shown some promising results. Be sure to get your hands on the best CBD oil for anxiety if you really want to see what it can do.