Approximately 40 million adults in the United States suffer from anxiety or anxiety-related disorders, such as panic attacks. Anxiety can be a critical adaptive response that can help people cope with threats to them or their loved ones. This response helps people identify and avoid potential threats and can also help motivate them to take the best action for the situation (e.g., take care of bills, improve health, clean house for company, etc.). However, if not managed effectively, responses to anxiety can become maladaptive and negatively impact quality of life and relationships. Eventually, these responses can turn into clinically diagnosed anxiety-related disorders.
There are numerous drugs available to treat anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. These drugs range from tranquilizers, like the benzodiazepines Valium and Xanax, to serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac and Zoloft.
These drugs are sometimes effective for many patients, but some don’t respond favorably. However, many medications will leave the patient feeling foggy in the head or sedated. Also, while a small number of patients may be lucky enough to find the right anti-anxiety medication that will offer long-term results, for the vast majority of users, they will only experience temporary relief, followed by a gradual return of anxiety symptoms.
This is where supporters of cannabidiol (CBD) step in. CBD is a non-psychoactive constituent in cannabis and may provide an alternative relief to anti-anxiety medications.
CBD is just one of over 85 identified cannabinoids found in the plant cannabis. Each of the cannabinoids found in cannabis can elicit different neurophysiological effects. Most people are more familiar with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the predominant cannabinoid found in cannabis and is ingested by an estimated 230 million people each year as a psychoactive euphoriant.
CBD accounts for about 40 percent of all cannabinoids found in the cannabis extract, although it is not as abundant as the THC content. Whereas THC is psychoactive, CBD is non-psychoactive and is not typically ingested with the intention of attaining any type of psychological euphoria or “high.” Therefore, the medicinal properties of CBD are thought to exceed those of THC.
Research suggests that CBD may act as an anticonvulsant, antipsychotic, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antioxidant agent. Further evidence suggests that CBD oil may be an effective treatment for ongoing anxiety symptoms, such as panic attacks. Those who have anxiety disorders and who have not benefited from traditional medications or are unable to tolerate the side-effects of common pharmaceuticals may benefit from using CBD oil to treat anxiety on an ongoing basis.
CBD offers a novel approach to treating anxiety-related disorders. Said to be an anxiolytic agent, CBD is believed to modulate neurotransmission in a number of ways. For example, CBD can alter several receptor sites (mu/delta, CB1/CB2, GPR55, and 5-HT1A) while enhancing hippocampal neurogenesis at the same time. It is thought that the combination of these neurophysiological effects contribute to its effectiveness as an anti-anxiety agent.
One mechanism by which pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medications might decrease anxiety is thought to be through hippocampal neurogenesis (i.e., new neuron growth). Research has shown that the administration of CBD in animal models can induce hippocampal neurogenesis and the same is thought to be able to occur in humans. Specifically, research on rats showed that with chronic administration of tandospirone (5-HT1A), the biomarker of doublecortin could be increased, which indicated that new neurons had emerged in the hippocampus.
Researchers believe that such hippocampal neurogenesis could play a major role in decreasing symptoms of depression and/or severe anxiety.
While not all 5-HT1A partial agonists can induce hippocampal neurogenesis, CBD is believed to achieve just that.
A study that was published in 2013 reviewed the effects that CBD had on mice who were exposed to chronic stress. The study suggested that the administration of CBD caused an increase in neurogenesis in the hippocampal region. It was presumed that the hippocampal neurogenesis may have been caused by the CBD’s affinity for cannabinoid receptor CB1 and CB2.
Researchers believe that anxiety can be reduced through hippocampal neurogenesis. A study that was published in 2015 reported how increasing adult neurogenesis seemed to decrease the participants’ anxiety symptoms.
CBD Benefits for Anxiety
There are several different possible benefits of using CBD to treat anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. The agents found within CBD appear to be highly effective at reducing several different types of anxiety both when administered on an as-needed basis and through regular maintenance. In addition to helping decrease anxiety symptoms, CBD is thought to improve mood, act as an anti-inflammatory, have antioxidant properties, preserve brain function, and enhance sleep quality. In comparison with traditional anti-anxiety medications, CBD is not currently known to cause any negative side-effects or substantial contraindications, making CBD an appealing treatment worthy of further investigation.
As Needed: There is not a lot of research documenting the chronic administration of CBD in humans on an as needed, or acute, basis. Acute administration has be reported to provide significant anti-anxiety effects. Unlike SSRIs, CBD can provide fast-acting relief of anxiety symptoms without requiring daily administration or several weeks to start decreasing symptoms.
Adjunctive Option: Researchers speculate that CBD might assist the effects of pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medications. CBD has been found to have nearly zero negative interactions with other anti-anxiety medications. Therefore, someone who is taking pharmaceutical medications to manage long-term effects of anxiety, may benefit from additional administration of CBD to help combat short-term effects.
Antipsychotic: Some researchers believe that CBD can help reduce the anxiety symptoms of conditions such as schizophrenia. CBD has antipsychotic properties which might reduce psychotic symptoms, possibly by modulating dopaminergic transmission.
Anti-Inflammatory: Many people who have neuropsychiatric disorders also have severe inflammation, such as neuroinflammation. Neuroinflammation is thought to lead to cytokine and glial cell abnormalities, which can both contribute to anxiety disorders. CBD has been found by researchers to reduce neuroinflammation, which is believed to also reduce anxiety.
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