One of the most common reasons people give for using CBD oil is to reduce anxiety. We’re not talking about just a few herbal health fanatics here. We’re talking about thousands upon thousands of individuals who swear by CBD oil as a way to treat anxiety disorders such as OCD and PTSD, and prevent panic attacks.
Judging by the anecdotal evidence and the sheer numbers of people who report using CBD oil for anxiety, it would be very hard to dismiss the effect. But what does science have to say about this?
Before we delve into the biological mechanisms by which CBD might reduce the causes or symptoms of anxiety, let’s take a quick look at what exactly anxiety is, how it manifests physically, some of the causes of anxiety disorders, and how CBD might help.
Overview of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 40 million adults in the United States suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. That’s nearly 1 in 5 people.
Although anxiety disorders can be easily treated, about one third of sufferers never receive treatment. That said, people who suffer from anxiety disorders are up to six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders.
Anxiety is a normal physical response to the stresses of life. It was necessary for survival in the distant past. In stressful situations, the brain releases neurotransmitters – or signaling molecules – that cause changes in physiology such as increased respiration and heightened senses in order to prepare the body to deal with a threat.
Potential Causes of Anxiety Disorders
According to the Medical News Today Journal, there are a number of factors that contribute to anxiety disorders including environmental causes, medical issues, and even genetic predisposition. It is thought that even minor imbalances in brain chemistry, combined with the stress of everyday life, can lead to Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
External factors are thought to play a large part in triggering the development of anxiety disorders. Some of those factors include:
- Stress at work or school
- Strain in a personal relationship
- A painful breakup
- Financial stress
- Other Disorders/Diseases
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders manifest in a variety of psychological and physical symptoms that can seriously affect their everyday life. Some of these can be attributed to a patient’s existing medical conditions. Symptoms associated with anxiety disorders include:
- Bowel irritation
- Back pain
- Racing heartbeat
- Numbness and tingling in the fingers
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of focus
- Mood swings
- Sleep disorders
Diagnosing Anxiety Disorders
An individual may be diagnosed with anxiety disorder if their fears and worry start to impede their judgment and ability to function normally in everyday situations. Patients who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders often exhibit other issues such as chronic fatigue, mood swings, muscle pains, insomnia, and loss of focus. Anxiety disorder often goes hand in hand with clinical depression. Most of the time, patients are diagnosed with both conditions.
A variety of symptoms are taken into account with determining which type of anxiety a patient is suffering from. For example, if the source of anxiety is self-conscious feelings in social situations, then the patient is diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. If the anxiety is associated with a traumatic experience, the patient is diagnosed with PTSD.
Patients who suffer from anxiety disorders often respond quite well to medical treatment. Psychological counseling or medication are the two main tools used to treat anxiety disorders. Some of the more specific treatments include:
- Psychological counseling
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Prescription Drugs
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is not a singular disease. There are a wide variety of causes and symptoms. Every anxiety patient requires customized treatment. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services website, there are five major types of anxiety which account for the vast majority of cases. These are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
Let’s have a look at each one of these.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a common ailment that produces excessive worrying and tension without any apparent reason. Approximately 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the US population are affected by GAD. Often times those suffering with GAD don’t realize that their anxiety is unwarranted and caused by an easy-to-treat chemical imbalance. They believe that the things they worry about are the cause of the anxiety. Consequently, they fail to seek diagnosis and treatment. More than 4 in 10 sufferers never receive treatment. For unknown reasons, women are twice as likely to be affected than men.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, is caused by extremely traumatic experiences such as life-threatening situations, extreme violence, or physical abuse. PTSD is most common in victims of domestic abuse and rape. It’s also common among military veterans who have been in combat situations. It’s thought that a normal process called which allows people to put traumatic events behind them is suppressed in PTSD patients, possibly due to a chemical imbalance. Nearly 8 million adults, or 3.5% of the US population are affected by PTSD. And, again, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from this type of disorder.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, more commonly known as OCD, is characterized by obsessions, compulsions, and repetitive behaviors. Although the term OCD is commonly used jokingly to tease people who are compulsive about one thing or another, it’s no joke to patients who truly suffer with this disorder. In mild cases, it can result in repetitive worrisome thoughts. And in severe cases it can interfere with everyday home and work life. More than 2 million adults – about 1% of the US population – are affected by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD appears equally among men and women.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder is just what it sounds like. People with Social Anxiety Disorder find social situations stressful. They can become deeply self-consciousness in the best case and literally paralyzed with fear in a worst case scenario. Some experience anxiety when talking to others one-on-one. Others have trouble dealing with a group of people such as at a party. And in worst cases, it can cause sufferers to avoid social contact altogether. According to the ADAA, people with Social Anxiety Disorder often experience symptoms for many years before deciding to seek professional help. Nearly 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the US population, are affected by Social Anxiety Disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder appears equally among men and women.
Panic disorder is characterized by frequent panic attacks and intense fear. This can happen even in situations where there seems to be no danger of harm. Physical symptoms of panic include trouble breathing, hyperventilation, increased heart rate, chest pain or tension, and dizziness. In worst cases it can become so severe that it requires emergency care. More than 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the US population, suffer from Panic Disorder. These people are more likely to receive treatment because their symptoms are so prominent. As with GAD, for some reason, women are twice as likely to be affected by Panic Disorder as men.
Can CBD Be Used To Treat Anxiety?
Researchers only recently began looking into the possible mechanisms by which CBD may mitigate the causes and symptoms of anxiety disorders. Many researchers believe that CBD interacts with certain cannabinoid receptors in the brain. However, the exact mechanisms are still not yet clear.
One thing that is clear is that treatment with CBD oil can increase the levels of serotonin in the body. This hormone, which is responsible for switching off anxiety, is often very low in anxiety patients. Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that triggers the production of serotonin in the body. When the brain determines that a stressful situation has subsided it releases anandamide, which triggers the production of serotonin, inducing feelings of relaxation and safety. It’s thought that CBD mimics the properties of anandamide and also triggers serotonin production.
In Rio de Janeiro, at the Institute Psychology, a team of researchers in the Laboratory of Panic and Respiration studied CBD’s effects on anxiety in animal models. Their report, which was published in in 2009 in the British Journal of Pharmacology, states, “Studies involving animal models, performing a variety of experiments on [anxiety] … suggest that CBD exhibited anti-anxiety and antidepressant-like effects… CBD can attenuate acute autonomic responses to stress and its delayed emotional consequences by facilitating 5-HT1A receptor-mediated neurotransmission.” In other words, researchers determined that CBD does indeed have the ability to alter response to events, thoughts, and emotions which can trigger anxiety.
Another research study, also done on lab mice, showed that CBD prevented anxiety by increasing anandamide levels through the CB1 cannabinoid receptor. The researchers concluded, “Cannabidiol (CBD), the main non-psychotomimetic component of the plant Cannabis sativa, exerts therapeutically promising effects on human mental health such as inhibition of psychosis, anxiety and depression.”
And there is also preclinical evidence which suggests that CBD may be useful in reducing anxiety behaviors common to multiple disorders, including PTSD, GAD, PD, OCD, and SAD. Their report states that the study showed that “existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely.”
So, as you can see, there are some good reasons to suspect that, yes, CBD actually does work to reduce both the causes and symptom of anxiety.
Studies involving CBD in the treatment of anxiety
- Is there a role for cannabidiol in psychiatry?
- Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
- The Endocannabinoid System and Anxiety
- CBD regulation of emotion and emotional memory processing: relevance for treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorders
- The anxiolytic effect of cannabidiol on chronically stressed mice depends on hippocampal neurogenesis: involvement of the endocannabinoid system
Additional sources of information
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Project CBD: Anxiety
- Leafly: CBD For Treating Anxiety
- Medical News Today: Can CBD oil help anxiety? What you need to know
- Healthline: CBD for Anxiety