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How can Cannabidiol (CBD) help my anxiety?

September 22, 2018

You're seeing it more and more everyday. In supplements, beauty products and even in candy bars, but what the heck is CBD oil and what's all the fuss? You think it has something to do with marijuana, or maybe it's a medicine... so is the wellness world just a bunch of potheads? Hardly.


CBD, short for cannabidiol is a cannabinoid compound found in hemp and marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana are part of the plant family known as Cannabis Sativa. The main difference between marijuana and hemp is the level of THC in each. THC, like CBD is a cannabinoid compound. There are 60 different known cannabinoids but THC is the most well-known. The reason THC is so famous is because it's associated with the psychoactive high that people experience after smoking or ingesting weed.


While the definitions of hemp and marijuana can get pretty confusing for the purpose of a simple explanation, cannabis contains high levels of THC and hemp contains low levels of THC.


Anxiety my....beneficial friend?!


While we don't normally think of anxiety as desirable it's actually a critical response that can help us cope with threats to our (or a loved ones) safety and well-being. These responses help us to recognize and avoid potential threats, they can also motivate us to take action to better our situation (pay bills, work harder, improve relationships etc) However, when we ignore these natural responses they can become maladaptive and impact our work and relationships. This can, in turn lead to a clinical diagnosis of any number of anxiety-related disorders. Have you heard the saying “stress kills” It's not a joke.

Anxiety and anxiety related disorders affect a huge segment of our population – some 40 million adults in the United States aged 18 and older. In response, Big Pharma has developed numerous drugs to treat anxiety-related disorders from SSRIs like Prozac and Zoloft to tranquilizers (the most popular class being benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax).


While these drugs can be effective for many patients, some don’t respond favorably. Certain patients don’t see much improvement, or they can’t tolerate the side effects. Moreover, tranquilizers like Valium and Xanax can be highly addictive. Clearly, alternative treatments are warranted. Could cannabidiol (CBD), the most prominent non-intoxicating constituent in cannabis, provide a viable alternative for currently available anxiety medications? Possibly!


Building on the foundation of animal studies, human studies are starting to provide evidence to demonstrate that CBD can improve many commonly reported anxiety-disorder symptoms, including acute stress and anxiety.


Human Studies Show How CBD Reduces Anxiety


Brazilian researchers conducted a small double-blind study of patients afflicted with generalized social anxiety. After consuming CBD, participants reported a significant decrease in anxiety. Researchers validated patients’ subjective reports by performing brain scans showing cerebral blood flow patterns consistent with an anti-anxiety effect.

In another small study, researchers had patients suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder perform a simulated public speaking test. Participants reported significantly less anxiety, findings supported by objective anxiety indicators like heart rate and blood pressure.

Researchers concluded, “CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort in their speech performance,” whereas the placebo group experienced “higher anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort.”


How Does CBD Work?


CBD exerts several actions in the brain that explain why it could be effective in treating anxiety. Before we dive in, it’s important to note that most research describing how CBD works is preclinical and based on animal studies. As the saying goes, “mice are not men” — and, results from animal studies don’t always neatly transfer to human therapies. However, preclinical studies provide insights that move us in the right direction:


5-HT1A agonist: 5-HT1A is a subtype of the serotonin receptor, which is important because anxiety and depression can sometimes be treated with medications that target the serotonin system. This is why drug companies developed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft. SSRIs work by blocking reabsorption of serotonin in the brain, which increases availability of serotonin in the synaptic space. This helps brain cells transmit more serotonin signals, which can reduce anxiety and boost mood in certain cases.


Similar to SSRIs, CBD may boost signaling through serotonin receptors. In an animal study, Spanish researchers found that CBD enhances 5-HT1A transmission and may affect serotonin faster than SSRIs. Researchers noted:


“The fast onset of antidepressant action of CBD and the simultaneous anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect would solve some of the main limitations of current antidepressant therapies.”


Hippocampal neurogenesis: The hippocampus is a major brain area, and plays a critical role in a variety of brain functions. It’s most famous for its role in memory formation and cognition. Brain scans of patients suffering from depression or anxiety often show a smaller hippocampus, and successful treatment of depression is associated with the birth of new neurons (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus.


An animal study using mice found repeated administration of CBD may help the hippocampus regenerate neurons, which could be useful for treating anxiety or depression. Research shows both SSRIs and CBD may promote neurogenesis. This is significant, because evidence suggests that severely impaired neuronal plasticity may influence suicidal behavior. Future research comparing CBD and SSRIs effect on neurogenesis could open up promising new avenues in how we understand depression and how to most effectively treat it.

The role of cannabidiol as a treatment for anxiety disorders remains unclear, as more long-term studies are required to assess the benefits and risks.




For people with anxiety who have gotten no relief from other treatments, however, CBD oil offers a potential alternative solution.


People considering CBD oil for anxiety should speak with a doctor to help determine the right treatment for them. People are also advised to research the laws in their area regarding the use of cannabis products.


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