Using CBD for anxiety has become more popular around the globe. As Australian laws opens up to medicinal cannabis, this trend is likely to increase.
What is anxiety?
At its core, anxiety is your body’s physical reaction to threat. It is important to note that everyone feels anxious at times. As such, certain levels of anxiety in particular situations can be considered normal. In most cases, symptoms usually subside once the stressful situation has passed. However, anxiety becomes a concern when the feeling stress or nervousness persist and begin to negatively impact your everyday life.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 14.4% (2.3 million) of Australians currently suffer from anxiety. Furthermore, one quarter of all Australians experience anxiety during their lives. As a result, anxiety is the most widespread mental health issue in Australia.
The most common anxiety disorders include:
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- PTSD or Post traumatic stress disorder
- OCD or Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Separation anxiety
- Agoraphobia or other phobias
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder,
- Medication-induced anxiety
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety is more than just feeling worried or stressed. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you may experience a number of different symptoms. Also, different types of anxiety disorders have varying symptoms that are either physiological, psychological or behavioural. Common symptoms include:
- Sweating and/or shaking
- Feeling weak
- A racing heart and/or sensation of a tight chest
- Rapid breathing/trouble with breathing
- Obsessive and excessive thoughts that instil fear
- A sense of impending doom or danger
- Hot and cold flushes
- Troubled sleep
- Stomach pains and/or digestion issues
- Feeling tense and wound up
- Avoiding situations that make you feel anxious
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety is caused by a range of factors ranging from family traits to social or environmental conditions. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to understand the underlying causes of an anxiety disorder, as each person is different.
The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown. However, Research at the National Institute of Mental Health, shows that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may play a role as well as brain chemistry.
Currently, the most common known causes of anxiety include:
- A history of family mental illness
- A history of physical or sexual abuse
- Various personality factors
- Ongoing stress
- Physical health problems
- Substance use
- Other mental health conditions
Traditional treatments for anxiety
Neurotransmitters in your brain play a role in your state of mind. As such, you can have normal states and anxiety states. Resultantly, a traditional treatment for anxiety includes cognitive-behavioural intervention, as outlined in The journal of Pharmacy and Therapeutics.
Common medicines for treating anxiety include:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s)
- Serotonin–Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRI’s)
- Antiseizure Medications
- Hydroxyzine (Atarax, Pfizer)
- Mirtazapine (Remeron, Organon)
- Nefazodone (Bristol-Myers Squibb.)
Many of these medications can cause undesirable side effects. For example, Benzodiazepines have been known to cause:
- Overdose (especially if you mix it with alcohol or opioids)
- Impaired cognition
- Impaired coordination
- Memory loss
- Withdrawal symptoms (which can be potentially fatal)
More general side effects of most anxiety medication can include:
- Weight loss or gain
- Reduced sex drive or performance
It can often take time before patients find a suitable and effective medication. Also, in some cases, anxiety disorders can be resistant to treatment. This has lead to many searching for alternative medicine as a way to manage anxiety.
Cannabis and CBD for anxiety
Cannabis has been used throughout history as a treatment for anxiety. When exploring its history, cannabis can be traced back to 2000 BCE, where it was employed as Ayurvedic medicine in India. When administered, Cannabinoids interact with the numerous and diverse receptors that regulate feelings of fear and anxiety in the human body.
CBD for anxiety
CBD is a cannabinoid that works by interacting and stimulating your endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a central regulatory system within your body that helps you maintain homeostasis. This system affects a wide range of biological processes, including involvement in regulating your mood and emotions. As such, CBD plays a role in the alleviation of anxiety.
More recently, global regulations around medicinal CBD are relaxing. Consequently, CBD is receiving more research attention. To date, the majority of cannabis research focuses on treatment for pain and a range of physical conditions. However, early research into the potential of CBD in the field of psychiatry is promising.
Research involving CBD for Anxiety
Research shows that CBD works to improve anxiety and depression. A study from Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, showed that low and high doses of CBD may have anti anxiety effects.
Furthermore, a study from the British Journal of Pharmacology illustrated that CBD, along with other minor cannabinoids allow anandamide to last longer in your system, leading to a reduction in anxiety symptoms.
Literature reviews involving CBD for anxiety
A study published by NCBI looked at Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. The research assessed 49 existing pre-clinical, clinical and epidemiological studies focussing on the potential risks and benefits of CBD. Furthermore, the study examined neuro-imaging research that documented results from anxiety-inducing tasks or resting neural activity. The study found that found the existing pre-clinical evidence strongly suggests acute administration of CBD as a treatment for:
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder and
- Panic disorder
Overall, the study was able to validate the potential and necessity for further study of medicinal CBD as a treatment for anxiety.
There are several studies that echo this same conclusion. The Social Science & Medical Journal conducted a systematic review and analysis of patients who self-reported use of medicinal cannabis for various health issues. The study found that half of the participants claimed to use medicinal CBD for anxiety. The study also reported that participants’ anxiety symptoms were reduced when they treated themselves with medicinal CBD. Thus, the findings suggest that medicinal cannabis is anecdotally effective.
More literature reviews involving CBD for anxiety
Another literature review conducted by BMC Psychiatry located 13 existing studies human studies examining the potential of medicinal CBD for anxiety. Of the 13 existing studies, one focussed on the usage of medical cannabis for social anxiety disorder. The research involved administering an acute dose of CBD (600mg) or matching placebo, an hour and a half before a simulated public speaking test. The findings strongly suggested that CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, discomfort relating to social anxiety in front of an audience and hyper-alertness in their anticipatory speech. The placebo group suffered higher levels in each category.
In addition to this, neuroimaging research reveals that patients diagnosed with social anxiety may have their cerebral blood flow altered by using CBD. This particular research involved patients swallowing 400mg CBD. The results indicated that CBD was associated ‘with significantly decreased subjective anxiety, with blood flow being modulated in the brain.
Does CBD for anxiety help?
Various studies show that medicinal CBD may reduce anxiety symptoms across stress-induced anxiety, panic disorder, compulsive behaviour and most notably, contextual fear conditioning. CBD is shown to reduce contextually conditioned fear responses. This means CBD may reduce or remove the anxiety you feel from a particular stimulus.
Most research conducted on medicinal CBD as a treatment for anxiety is based on existing research. This does not take away from the findings. In fact, it appears to highlight the neglect of necessary research needed to further understand the connection between medicinal CBD and the evident reduction in anxiety.
Due to the lack of up-to-date, objective and clinical research involving CBD and anxiety, in conjunction with the ambiguity and variations of anxiety disorders themselves, conclusive evidence is still limited. However, preclinical research and an abundance of anecdotal evidence supports usage of medicinal CBD for anxiety.
What about THC for anxiety?
Ultimately, THC is not advisable for people who suffer from anxiety. A study in Psychopharmacology found that high doses of THC can result in increased anxiety. Consequently, many doctors choose to prescribe high CBD products instead. An additional benefit is that you can still legally drive in Australia whilst taking CBD for anxiety.
Final thoughts on CBD for anxiety
Despite the fact that the way CBD works to treat anxiety is not comprehensively understood, it has not deterred millions of people from trying it. It is reported that around 14% of Americans use CBD, and 37% of those CBD users use it as a treatment for anxiety. In Australia, there is a more conservative approach to medical cannabis and you should always speak to your doctor before taking any cannabis medication.