Anxiety isn’t something that anyone wants to experience. However, it actually plays an essential role in our lives by working as an adaptive response to critical threats to our own safety and wellness. It may also function in the case of a family member or friend’s threatened well being. In short, anxiety helps to recognize and avoid any threats as well as motivate us to improve our situation.
Certainly, this response has been cited as helping people to work harder at their jobs, pay off bills, and improve other areas of their lives. However, when anxiety is uncontrolled, it can have a negative effect on our lives by damaging our personal and professional lives. Over time, uncontrolled anxiety may lead to a Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Anxiety-related disorders are common in society and affect 40 million adults in the United States today. This represents about 18% of the population. Pharmaceutical companies have developed medications designed to treat these disorders from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac and Zoloft to tranquilizing medications such as Valium and Xanax.
Can CBD (Cannabidiol) Be Used for Anxiety and Does it Work?
Although some of the frequently prescribed medications for anxiety are effective, not everyone sees the beneficial results. Some people may see only a small amount of improvement and others may not be able to handle the side effects. Additionally, the tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax can be addictive. In light of this, alternative treatments have been tried. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the non-psychoactive compound that’s present in cannabis and has been known for providing an alternative option for the anxiety medications.
Recently, CBD has grown in interest for consumers, clinicians, and scientists. The evidence suggests that CBD can counteract many of the undesirable effects of THC and has been studied in multiple animal and human trials. In experimental, clinical, and epidemiological studies, CBD has been found to have anti-anxiety properties. When CBD is taken during an acute situation, it appears to be safe and beneficial in treating a range of anxiety-related disorders. The conditions where CBD can be beneficial include the following:
* Panic Disorders
* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
* Social Phobias
* Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
* Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
* Mild to moderate depression
How Does CBD Work?
The mechanism of CBD is not entirely known but it has been shown to have several effects on the brain which may be why it is effective in treating anxiety. Keep in mind that most of the research which has been done to explain the mechanism of CBD is preclinical and based on animal studies. Since humans have different metabolisms than animals, all of the results from animal studies may not transfer directly to human treatments. However, the results from the preclinical studies provide insights which are still useful.
The serotonin system of the brain is a target for many anxiety treatments since anxiety and depression are often caused by disorders in serotonin production or receptors. A subtype of the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A can be targeted with the SSRIs such as Prozac and Zoloft. These medications have an effect by blocking reabsorption of serotonin which increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. This increased amount of serotonin allows the brain to have greater signaling which can then reduce anxiety and boost a person’s mood. However, the full understanding of how this process works is not completely understood.
Just like SSRIs, CBD may work in a similar way by boost signaling through serotonin receptors. In an animal study, Spanish researchers found the providing CBD enhanced 5-HT1A transmission and may actually affect serotonin levels faster than SSRIs.
The increased speed of CBD and its anti-anxiety effect could be beneficial at solving the current limitations of antidepressant medications available now.
CBD and Depression
The hippocampus is an area of the brain that plays a crucial role in a variety of functions. It’s most well-known for playing a role in the formation of memories. In brain scans of people who suffer from depression, they often have a smaller than normal hippocampus. After successful treatment of their depression, there will be an increase in hippocampal neurons, also known as neurogenesis.
An animal study with mice found that continued administration of CBD may stimulate neuron genesis in the hippocampus which can be a treatment for anxiety and depression. The studies have shown that both SSRIs and CBD may promote neurogenesis. Since impairments in the number and function of neurons affect suicidal behavior, these findings are significant. Further studies comparing the action of CBD and SSRIs effects on neurogenesis are needed to understand depression and how it can be treated effectively.
How does CBD Treat Anxiety?
Although there is a strong foundation of animal studies, human based research has just recently started to demonstrate that CBD can improve many of the symptoms related to anxiety disorders including acute stress and anxiety.
A study in Brazil involved a small group of patients in a double-blind study. All participants were diagnosed with Generalized Social Anxiety. After receiving CBD, participants reported a significant decrease in anxiety. In order to ensure that their results were valid, each person underwent a brain scan that demonstrated blood flow patterns which demonstrated lower anxiety levels.
In another human study, individuals who had Social Anxiety Disorder were asked to speak in public. Individuals who received CBD reported lower levels of anxiety which were supported by tracking their heart rate and blood pressure which were also lowered.
The study indicated that CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort related to speech performance. However, the placebo group had higher levels of anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort.
The evidence gathered from animal studies has started to demonstrate how CBD works in the brain. Additionally, the small number of human studies of people with and without anxiety disorders are also validating CBD as a treatment for anxiety. Since anxiety disorders in the United States come at a huge social and financial cost, CBD has the potential to play a role in effective treatment.
In order to determine the long term effects and potential for CBD usage, additional research and large randomized controlled trials need to be performed. However, the current evidence points to having an effective and safe effect when compared to current medications and that it can be an alternative and adjunct treatment for anxiety disorders.