The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “...an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Many things can spark feelings of anxiety - major life changes, such as starting a new job or moving to a new house, and even minor things like being stuck in dense traffic when you’re in a hurry. It’s a normal part of life that all of us experience from time to time.
While all of us experience anxiety to some degree, some people - roughly 18% of the adult U.S. population - suffer from anxiety disorders. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder (PD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are among the most common and well-studied types of anxiety disorders. For those who have an anxiety disorder, the anxious thoughts and feelings may not be temporary and can interfere with everyday life. Activities such as going to work, dating, or even grocery shopping can be extremely difficult.
Cannabidiol (CBD), a highly-utilized canninoid naturally found in the cannabis plant, is well-known for its usefulness in treatment plans. The beneficial biological processes activated by CBD have been reported to offer therapeutic potential and relief for those with health conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and - you guessed it - anxiety. So, what is it about CBD that may be helpful for people with anxiety?
Anxiety + The Brain
In order to understand how CBD alleviates symptoms of anxiety, we must first look at what’s going on in the brain. As we mentioned previously, temporary anxious feelings are a normal part of life for us all. Anxiety becomes unhealthy when it is no longer temporary and begins to impede on day-to-day life, often the result of improper brain communication. Anxiety affects everyone differently, but research has found similarities among areas of the brain for those with anxiety disorders.
To sum it up, there are multiple brain regions responsible for producing anxiety - what we refer to as the cognitive and emotional brains. The cognitive brain, or the frontal lobe, facilitates voluntary movement and language as well as cognitive skills such as planning, problem-solving, and self-monitoring. The emotional brain allows us to feel and perceive emotions so we can react to events, primarily through a small structure called the amygdala. Using brain imaging technology, researchers can see activity in these regions among people feeling anxiety. The general understanding is that the cognitive brain region becomes overwhelmed by the emotional brain which intensifies or restricts certain signals. The result of this dysfunctional communication within the brain is unhealthy anxiety or anxiety disorders marked by symptoms such as rapid heart rate, weakness, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping.
The Endocannabinoid System
The reason why many people manage their anxiety with CBD largely has to do with our body’s endocannabinoid system, a regulatory system responsible for balancing a variety of physiological processes - many of which play a role in anxiety experiences. Our endocannabinoid system uses endocannabinoid molecules to activate our CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors help regulate processes like mood and memory in the central nervous system while CB2 receptors expressed in the immune system impact processes like inflammation. When CBD is absorbed into the endocannabinoid system and metabolized, it activates these receptors and helps to alleviate certain symptoms.
CBD + Anxiety
Prescription drugs such as SSRIs, SNRIs, and benzodiazepines like fluoxetine (Prozac), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and clonazepam (Klonopin) are effective in managing anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, antidepressants are often accompanied by a range of negative side effects including nausea, insomnia, and weight gain. However, natural, plant-based CBD may be viewed as a great alternative or supplement to more traditional anxiety disorder treatment plans as it has less side effects and is generally tolerated very well among humans.
Based on what we know about the endocannabinoid system’s interaction with CBD, this substance may effectively alleviate symptoms of anxiety - most of which are involved in the same processes that the system works to balance. The therapeutic properties of CBD have demonstrated the ability to improve mood, sleep, and concentration as well as relieve nausea and pain associated with anxiety disorders and antidepressant side effects. While research on CBD’s interaction with the body is ongoing, the general understanding among the scientific community asserts that it presents vast potential for anxiety management.
Despite the variety of noted health benefits, it is important to keep in mind that CBD is not guaranteed to cure, treat, or prevent any illness or ailment. Combatting anxiety with the help of CBD is best done in combination with other treatment options, such as therapy and practicing a healthy lifestyle. We encourage you to consult your physician before adding CBD to your anxiety treatment plan to make sure that the substance is right for you.