Stress vs Anxiety
We all know what it feels like to “stress out” before an exam or important event. But sometimes a challenging job, family demands, or just surviving the unexpected events of life can feel like a continual test. If that impending sense of disaster is never-ending it's a sign of chronic anxiety, and you might need an intervention to reset your baseline stress-response.
Unfortunately, the medical system’s solution to anxiety falls short for many people. If you struggle with chronic stress or anxiety, you may be considering supplementing your treatment with CBD oil, CBD vape pens, or CBD gummies. But what’s the evidence that CBD works?
The growing popularity of CBD products as anti-anxiety supplements is backed with plenty of convincing research, though there’s still a long way to go. Several clinical trials with humans are currently underway, but there is already good evidence of CBD’s usefulness for:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Evidence that CBD Soothes Stress & Anxiety
Beyond the glowing testimonials of individuals who successfully treat their anxiety with CBD oil, there is also a growing body of scientific evidence that CBD works. Most research has been done in rodents. A recent review discusses 32 different rodent studies that tested CBD’s effects on anxiety — and only one didn’t see useful results.
Human experiments are costly and legally complicated — which makes it no surprise that human studies are fewer and less conclusive. But overall, two exciting uses for CBD in anxiety have emerged for both rodents and humans:
- Less anxiety in response to stress. These experiments put test subjects in a stressful situation and measure their anxiety levels.
- Extinction learning: One way we get over anxiety is through “extinction learning,” or learning to let go of triggers when there’s nothing left to fear. These experiments often train test subjects to associate something harmless with something painful, and then measure how long it takes to stop fearing the harmless trigger after they stop delivering pain. This is particularly relevant for people suffering from PTSD:
- Human evidence: People have also been conditioned to expect an electric shock when they see a visual cue. Those who inhaled a 32 mg dosage of CBD during extinction training (without shocks) were less expectant of receiving a shock when tested two days later — long after the CBD had worn off.
How CBD Combats Anxiety
Cannabidiol has more than 65 targets throughout the body, which makes it difficult to pinpoint the sources of its many different therapeutic properties. Studies currently suggest that CBD counters anxiety by stimulating neurotransmitter systems and neural regeneration. Here’s the evidence:
- Serotonin: Most people associate serotonin with happiness. However, the role of this neurotransmitter is very complex, and its effects depend on where it is and what it binds to. (Contrary to popular belief, more serotonin is not necessarily better — dysfunction can stem from low or high levels of serotonin, as well as from malfunctions with their receptors.) Serotonin has at least 14 different receptors, but CBD specifically binds to 5-HT1A which is thought to have the strongest role in anxiety disorders. The anti-anxiety drug buspirone also binds to this particular receptor, which explains the anti-anxiety effects of CBD on rats exposed to stressful situations.
- Endocannabinoids: Your body naturally produces cannabinoids, which are used throughout your body and brain in the endocannabinoid system. This system can become dysregulated under chronic stress. However, CBD could help restore balance to the endocannabinoid system by preventing overstimulation of your CB1 receptors and by boosting your body’s production of endocannabinoids. Rodent experiments show that CBD relieves OCD and other anxious behaviours by acting on the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in processing and forgetting our fears — vital for extinction learning.
- Neural regeneration: Although chronic stress can damage neurons and even shrink brains, certain areas of the brain are still capable of regeneration. Throughout our lives we continue to form new neurons, make new connections, and grow our brains — and CBD apparently boosts this process. This means that CBD could help to counterbalance the brain damage caused by chronic stress.Numerous studies have proved that CBD encourages neural regeneration, particularly in the hippocampus. In fact, its ability to reduce anxiety in chronically-stressed mice comes from CBD’s power to stimulate the growth of new neurons. (For more on CBD’s role in neuroplasticity and neural regeneration, see our upcoming article on depression.)
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