Although we don’t usually think of stress as being something that is desirable, actually it is a critical adaptive response that may help us with coping with threats to either our or another person’s welfare and safety. Those answers help us with recognizing and averting possible threat; and they may also help with motivating us to take action or improve our situation (improve relationships, pay bills, work harder, etc.). However, whenever we are unable to effectively manage those natural responses, they may become maladaptive and can impact our relationships and work. That can lead to anxiety-related disorders. All of us are familiar with the saying of, “stress kills.” It is true.
A high percentage of our population is affected by anxiety-related disorders – 40 million adults (18%) age 18 and older in the U.S. Big Pharma has responded by developing numerous drugs for treating anxiety-related disorders, ranging from tranquilizers (with benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium being the most popular) to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Zoloft and Prozac.
Although for many patients the drugs may be effective, some people do not have a favorable response. Some patient does not see a lot of improvement or are unable to handle the side effects. Also, tranquilizers such as Xanax and Valium may be highly addictive. Alternative treatments are warranted. Is it possible that cannabidiol (CBD), which is the most prominent of the non-psychoactive components in cannabis, offer a viable alternative to the anxiety medications that are currently available? It is quite possible!
How Cannabidiol (CBD) Works To Treat Anxiety
CBD in recent years has been generating lots of interest among scientists, clinicians, and consumers. Why is that? The evidence not only suggest that many of THC’s adverse effects are counteracted by CBD, but many animal studies as well as mounting evidence from epidemiological, clinical and human experimental studies have suggested that there are powerful anti-anxiety properties contained in CBD. When administered acutely (on an “as needed” basis) it appears to be well-tolerated, safe and might be beneficial for treating numerous anxiety-related disorders, including the following:
– Mild to moderate depression
– Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
– Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
– Social Phobia
– Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
– Panic Disorder
How Does CBD Work?
Several actions are exerted into the brain by CBD which explains why it can be so effective in the treatment of anxiety. Before diving in, it is essential to note that a majority of research that describes how CBD works is based on animal studies and is preclinical. “Mice are not men,” as the says go, so results coming from animal studies do not always transfer neatly over to human therapies. Preclinical studies, however, have provided insights for moving us in the proper direction:
5-HT1A agonist: 5-HT1A is actually a sub type of the serotonin receptor. The reason why this is so important is because depression and anxiety may be treated sometimes with medications for targeting the serotonin system. That is why SSRIs (elective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Zoloft and Prozac have been developed by drug companies. SSRIs work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin inside of the brain. This increases the amount of serotonin that is available within the synaptic space. It helps brain cells with transmitting more serotonin signals. This can help to boost mood and reduce anxiety in certain situations (although the entire biological basis is a lot more complicated and not completely understood).
CBD, similar to SSRIs, might boost signaling via serotonin receptors. Spanish researchers in an animal study found that 5-HT1A transmission is enhanced by CBD and might affect serotonin more quickly than SSRIs.
Hippocampal neurogenesis: One of the major areas of the brain is the hippocampus. It plays a crucial role in various brain functions. It is best known for its role in cognition and memory formation. Brain scans from patients who suffer from anxiety or depression frequently display a smaller hippocampus and successfully treating depression is associated with new neurons being born (neurogenesis) within the hippocampus.
There was an animal study that used mice that found that administering CBD repeatedly might help the hippocampus with regenerating neurons, which may be useful to treat depression or anxiety. Research shows that both CBD and SSRIs might promote neurogenesis. That is significant since it is suggested by the evidence that severely impaired neuronal plasticity might influence suicidal behavior. Research in the future that compared the effect of SSRIs and CBD on neurogenesis might open up new avenues that are quite promising in the way that we understand depression and the most effective way to treat it.
How CBD Can Help With Anxiety
Human studies are beginning to build on the foundation made by animals studies and are now providing evidence that demonstrates that CBD might improve many common anxiety-disorder symptoms, such as anxiety and acute stress.
Human Studies Show How Anxiety Is Reduced By CBD
A small double-blind study was conducted by Brazilian researchers of patients who suffered from generalized social anxiety. Participants reported having significant decreases in anxiety after consuming CBD. Patients’ subjective reports were validated by researchers through conducting brain scans that showed cerebral blood flow patterns that were consistent with having an anti-anxiety effect.
There was another small study where researchers had patients who suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder to a simulated public speaking test. It was reported by participants that they had significantly less anxiety, with these findings being supported by objective stress indicators such as blood pressure and heart rate.
The conclusion of the researchers was that CBD significantly reduced discomfort in speech performance, cognitive impairments and anxiety. On the other hand, the placebo group experience higher discomfort, cognitive impairment, and anxiety.
Evidence coming from animal studies has started to fill in the details of the way that CBD acts inside of the brain. Also, human studies with patients who have anxiety disorders and those who don’t have to started to validate the efficacy of CBD as an anti-anxiety treatment. Given the enormous financial and social costs of anxiety disorders within the United States, CBD can potentially play a very significant role in the treatment of various anxiety-related disorders.
Although additional research is clearly warranted, including larger randomized-control trial (RCTs) for examining the potential and long-term effects of CBD, the efficacy that it has demonstrated, and its very favorable safety profile (especially when it is compared with drugs that are currently available) make it a very viable adjunct or alternative to pharmaceuticals that are currently available.