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CBD and Anxiety: Will CBD help my anxiety symptoms?

In a world filled with ever-increasing stress, chronic anxiety has become commonplace. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety is the most common mental health concern in the United States with over 40 million Americans (or 19% of the population) suffering from an anxiety disorder.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a persistent and excessive feeling of worry, nervousness or unease. Anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions characterized by persistent, excessive fear or worry in non-threatening situations. Emotional symptoms associated with anxiety include feelings of apprehension or dread; feeling tense, restless, and irritable; and anticipating the worst case scenario. Physical symptoms of anxiety may include sweating, tremors and twitches; a racing heart; shortness of breath; and/or headaches, fatigue or insomnia.

There are many different types of anxiety disorders characterized by different symptoms. For instance, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by chronic, excessive worry about everyday life that can cause an individual to become exhausted by worry and experience physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a type of anxiety in social situations that is more extreme than just shyness; it is often driven by extreme irrational fear about humiliation in a social situation and may drive an individual to not take part in social events or even experience panic attacks when social interactions are forced. 

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by sudden and regular attacks of panic and fear in non-threatening situations. Another type of anxiety-related disorder that may include symptoms of panic is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which typically develops when an individual experiences or witnesses an especially terrifying event. An individual living with PTSD may experience flashbacks, nightmares or uncontrollable anxiety when faced with triggers or memories associated with the original anxiety-inducing event. In addition to this, several other anxiety-related disorders have been identified, such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and separation anxiety disorder.

How can CBD help alleviate anxiety?

CBD has demonstrated a broad range of therapeutic effects for several neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depressive-like behaviors. Generally speaking, conditions associated with chronic stress (like anxiety) appear to be positively responsive to phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC. CBD interacts with the CB1 receptor, the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor and other receptors in the brain to regulate learned fear and reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Existing preclinical evidence strongly supports the potential of CBD as a treatment for numerous types of anxiety-related disorders. CBD works with the endocannabinoid system to produce an anxiolytic (or anti-anxiety) effect that decreases autonomic arousal and prevents long-term effects of anxiety-induced stress.

Animal studies suggest that cannabinoids like CBD prevent the effects of acute stress commonly associated with anxiety symptoms while enhancing neuroprotection and decreasing excessive neuroinflammatory responses. Evidence from human studies also strongly supports the potential for CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders, as CBD has been shown to reduce experimentally-induced anxiety in healthy control subjects and reduce anxiety in individuals with existing anxiety disorders. 

What types of anxiety-related disorders may benefit from CBD?

Overall, preclinical evidence supports CBD as an acute treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), panic disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety-induced insomnia.

Because CBD has been shown to reduce both behavioral and physiological measures of stress and anxiety, CBD may be beneficial for those experiencing generalized anxiety or GAD. The National Institute on Drug Abuse even reports that CBD has been shown to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety in animal studies, thus suggesting CBD may be beneficial for those living with GAD. 

A 2010 study examining the effects of CBD on SAD also found that participants who received CBD treatment reported reduced anxiety levels. This study demonstrated that 300 to 600 mg of CBD reduced anxiety levels in patients with SAD. However, more research is necessary to determine the proper dosing necessary to alleviate specific symptoms of anxiety.

CBD has also demonstrated its therapeutic potential for those living with PTSD. Several studies indicate that CBD regulates learned fear by modulating the extinction and reconciliation of conditioned fear memories. This suggests that CBD can actually disrupt the reconsolidation of newer and older fear memories, which may help regulate the negative effects of fear-based memories associated with PTSD. A CBD treatment regimen has also been shown to decrease the intensity and impact of symptoms typically associated with PTSD, such as feeling intense anxiety in stressful situations.

CBD may also help alleviate symptoms of panic disorder. CBD works with the endocannabinoid system to inhibit a broad range of actions relevant to multiple system domains that triggers an anti-anxiety, anti-compulsive and anti-panic effect that simultaneously decreases autonomic arousal. Because panic disorder commonly triggers panic attacks in non-threatening situations, CBD can help relax the autonomic nervous system to reduce physical symptoms like accelerated heart rate and difficulty breathing.

Because anxiety and insomnia often go hand-in-hand, one case study examined how CBD affects anxiety-induced insomnia, or chronic sleeplessness that results from chronic anxiety. This study concluded that anxiety decreased in nearly four out of five participants while sleep improved in about two out of every three participants, indicating that CBD may be beneficial for those experiencing anxiety-induced insomnia.

Mounting evidence supports the potential of CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders. CBD oil tinctures are a popular option for individuals looking to include a CBD regimen in their daily lives, but there are numerous other methods of consuming CBD to unlock its therapeutic benefits. While there is no universal CBD dosing protocol to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, clients are encouraged to try different methods and doses to determine what works best for them.

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