CBD, also known as Cannabidiol, is one of the chemicals derived from the cannabis plant and could potentially be used therapeutically to help with a wide range of ailments, including anxiety, insomnia, and epilepsy. CBD has shown promise as a treatment for anxiety in clinical studies but is not yet officially manufactured as an anti-anxiety drug. It may reduce anxiety because of the drug’s effect on the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, though further research is needed to understand this.
What is CBD?
CBD is one of the dozens of cannabinoids produced by hemp plants that have different properties and effects. CBD interacts with the body through the endocannabinoid system and unlike other types of cannabinoids, it has therapeutic properties without psychoactive side effects.
What causes anxiety?
Levels of anxiety and stress are controlled by complex processes in the brain, which involve neurotransmitters such as dopamine, cortisol, and serotonin. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow signals to pass through the brain to the body. Depending on which neurotransmitters have high or low levels it changes which signals are sent, and how your body reacts.
When levels of serotonin and dopamine are high, you feel relaxed and happy and your body is in a rest state, so your heart rate and breathing are slow. However, when the brain perceives a threat, it increases levels of a different neurotransmitter, cortisol. Cortisol reduces the levels of the “happy chemicals” serotonin and dopamine and causes the stress response in the body. This means your breathing and heart rate increase because the body is getting ready for “fight or flight” to either run from or defend against an attacker.
While this is an essential mechanism for survival against predators, the brain doesn’t understand the difference between a psychological threat and a physical one and will generate an unwanted stress response even if there is no reason to get your body ready for a fight, resulting in things like panic attacks.
Can CBD ease anxiety?
CBD is chemically very similar to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which means that when CBD passes the “blood-brain barrier”, i.e. it crosses from the blood system into the brain, it creates the same effects as serotonin would. This means when the body is experiencing the stress response, taking CBD can fool the brain into reacting like there is more serotonin and creating a relaxed response in the body. This is why trials indicate that CBD could be a good potential treatment for forms of anxiety such as PTSD.
What evidence is there that CBD actually works?
One study looking at the effects of CBD on sleep and anxiety found that 79.2% of participants reported that anxiety levels decreased while they were taking CBD. Additionally, one of the benefits of CBD is that it has been found in studies to reduce short-term or “acute” anxiety while not increasing base level anxiety, i.e. the anxiety level you feel day to day for extended periods. Another study that looked at many different studies to evaluate the evidence for CBD alleviating anxiety found that CBD “consistently demonstrated an acute reduction in anxiety-related symptoms in patients” and that it also had “minimal adverse effects compared with existing pharmacotherapy”.
However, researchers still need to do more research on things like optimal doses, dosing strategy, and whether it should be used to treat acute or chronic stress before it can be approved as an official treatment for anxiety.