Do you use CBD, officially called cannabidiol, for anxiety? Have you thought about it? One of the most common reasons people seek out CBD is to help with anxiety symptoms, and early scientific research has shown CBD has great anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties.
CBD is quickly becoming the cannabis medicinal du jour, best known for its non-impairing (or what some refer to as non-psychoactive) properties while still being able to pack a powerful medicinal punch.
And CBD is being packed up into all manner of delivery methods, including high-CBD flower strains, CBD oil extracts, decarb CBD pills, vape cartridges, coffee, gummies, tinctures, topicals, transdermal patches, and even treats for your pet.
So what is CBD and how does it work? And why is it effective for anxiety?
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid, one of hundreds of different active compounds found in cannabis and hemp.
While most people know tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) when it comes to cannabinoids, much scientific and public attention has been given to CBD in recent years because of its amazing ability to help treat intractable seizure disorders, its powerful neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects, its ability to help with addiction recovery, and to treat anxiety—among several other possible medicinal uses.
How CBD Works
THC, CBD, and all other cannabinoids work in our bodies through the endogenous cannabinoid system (endocannabinoid system, or ECS). The ECS is a natural system found in all mammals—and many other living creatures too—that makes use of both the body’s own naturally occurring cannabinoid-like substances (endocannabinoids) along with the cannabinoids that come from cannabis, hemp, and other plants (phytocannabinoids).
The endocannabinoid system works to maintain homeostasis (AKA balance) in our bodies despite constantly changing internal and external conditions. Martin Lee, journalist, cannabis advocate and co-founder of Project CBD, explains the ECS as a master regulatory system, with an extensive collection of levers that can be kicked on or off to activate or slow down the body’s response to stressors.
CBD and other cannabinoids act as neurotransmitters in our bodies, working on the cellular level to communicate messages throughout the body via cannabinoid receptors that live on our cells. CBD provides therapeutic effect in many different ways, which is why it is being investigated for so many different applications. CBD works via the ECS and its receptors, but it also interacts with other important systems in our bodies like the serotonin and vanilloid systems.
In recent years, research has suggested that cannabinoids like THC and CBD might work more effectively together, and might work even more effectively along with other active compounds in cannabis and hemp (like terpenes) in a theory referred to as the “entourage effect.”
The theory proposes that the active compounds in cannabis and hemp like cannabinoids and terpenes work synergistically together to provide specific effects or relief. The entourage effect is why some people prefer “whole-plant” or “full-spectrum” products that work to preserve terpenes and other active compounds during extraction, and why more and more consumers are becoming interested in product “terpene profiles” to provide specific experiences and effects.
How CBD Works for Anxiety
Initial research is supporting CBD’s potential for a variety of anxiety-related conditions:
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Social phobia
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Mild to moderate depression
CBD works with the 5HT1A serotonin receptor and acts in a similar way as prescription serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft to increase the availability of serotonin the brain, which can reduce anxiety and boost your mood. In one 2016 animal study, Spanish researchers found that CBD may affect serotonin levels in the brain faster than SSRIs.
In another human study, Brazilian researchers did a small double-blind test with patients suffering from generalized social anxiety. After consuming CBD the participants reported a significant decrease in anxiety. Researchers validated the patient reports by doing brain scans, and the scans showed cerebral blood flow patterns consistent with an anti-anxiety effect.
Researchers found that patients suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder who performed a simulated public speaking test after being given CBD reported significantly less anxiety. These findings were supported by anxiety indicators like heart rate and blood pressure. CBD has been shown to be very effective for stress-related anxiety.
CBD and Terpenes
Let’s not forget those terps! Terpenes like limonene and linalool have also been shown to have anti-anxiety effects, so look for strains that have them if you’d like to up the calming effects of CBD.
As CBD’s popularity continues to grow, expect to see more and more products and formulations hit the shelves, from both hemp and cannabis-derived sources.
Even with legalization of cannabis-derived CBD just around the corner, with the questionable legal status of (and therefore regulation of) hemp-derived CBD, consumers need to do their homework. Ask producers where they source their CBD from, and ask for lab tests to evaluate the quality and safety of any products you’re interested in.