Numerous studies have highlighted the anxiolytic effects of CBD, with only a few trials conducted on humans. The cannabinoid works on serotonin receptors and has also been shown to promote hippocampal neurogenesis—key factors in treating anxiety.
Early scientific research is showing that CBD may be an effective treatment for the symptoms caused by anxiety. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a compound derived from the cannabis plant that belongs to the class of chemicals known as cannabinoids. CBD is exploding in popularity as a natural substance used to treat a wide array of conditions due to its anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, neuroprotective, anticonvulsant, and anxiolytic effects.
As well as being an effective medicine, CBD is a popular element of the cannabis plant because of its non-psychoactive nature. CBD is the second-most abundant cannabinoid within cannabis, and makes up approximately 40% of the plant’s active substances. Cannabis is very often deemed a recreational drug, but this is because of the presence of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC. However, low-THC strains of cannabis and CBD extractions and isolates do not come with mind-altering side effects.
HOW DOES CBD WORK?
CBD is known to induce a sense of calm for some people, and experiments have found the compound to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. The exact mechanisms behind why CBD is effective in treating anxiety are not yet totally understood, although it appears to achieve similar effects to conventional anxiety medication.
Cannabinoids achieve effects on the body in part by activating receptors of the endocannabinoid system. This system is comprised of receptor sites found throughout the body, known as the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are able to interact with these receptors due to their similarity to molecules within the body known as endocannabinoids. CBD itself has a low affinity for both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, the molecule is an agonist for the 5-HT1A receptor.
The 5-HT1A receptor is involved in serotonin neurotransmission—a neurotransmitter that plays a fundamental role in mood. CBD’s effect on this receptor site may be responsible for the anxiolytic effects of the cannabinoid, as the 5-HT1A receptor plays a role in mediating anxiety and depressive behaviours.
CBD has also been shown to affect hippocampal neurogenesis. The hippocampus is a region of the brain that helps comprise the limbic system. It plays important roles within memory and navigation. Neurogenesis is the formation of new neurons in the brain. Both CBD and SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are known to promote neurogenesis. This is important, as increasing adult hippocampal neurogenesis is believed to be sufficient in reducing anxiety and depressive behaviours.
WHAT EXACTLY IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is among the most common mental health disorders, affecting a massive 40 million adults in the United States alone, equating to approximately 18% of the total population. Anxiety is a natural response to danger and stress, but becomes pathological and chronic when experienced for long periods of time. Common symptoms of anxiety include rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, restlessness, decreased concentration, and sleeping issues.
Anxiety can manifest in various different forms, and there are numerous types of the disorder. Social anxiety disorder is characterised by an immense fear of judgement and sensations of nervousness during social interactions. Individuals with social anxiety usually avoid eye contact and have a phobia of embarrassment.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is another form of anxiety that is defined by repeated behaviours and rituals such as obsessively checking door locks and light switches. People suffering from OCD may also experience intrusive and disturbing thoughts that they cannot control.
Hypochondria is another form of anxiety that involves constant or frequent worries about personal health. A person may experience slight symptoms and immediately assume the worst. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another type of anxiety that arises from traumatic events such as car crashes and war.
Panic attacks are a phenomenon that are also associated with many anxiety disorders. Panic attacks can be episodic and usually last only a few minutes. They bring about symptoms such as sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, abdominal distress, dizziness, and immense fear.
Although anxiety can be triggered by certain external events and conditions, it also has roots in neurochemistry. The four main areas that treatments and research are centered around are GABA mechanisms, the serotonergic system, noradrenergic mechanisms, and neuropeptides.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
Several studies have identified the anxiolytic effects of CBD. Human research offers a clearer indication of how CBD will work clinically and as a prescribed medication.
A paper published within the Journal of Psychopharmacology documents a study that investigated the effects of CBD on generalised social anxiety disorder. The authors of the study state that social anxiety disorder is one of the most common anxiety conditions.
The study involved 24 patients who were separated into 2 groups. One group received a single dose of CBD and the other received a placebo. All patients then performed in a simulated public speaking test, designed to induce anxiety. It was found that pretreatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort in speaking performance. Additionally, negative self-evaluation during public speaking was almost abolished by CBD.
The authors of the paper state that CBD has important advantages in comparison to the currently available pharmacological agents for the treatment of social anxiety disorder, such as early onset of action and lack of side effects. Furthermore, repeated administration of CBD does not develop tolerance or dependence, and possibly reduces drug-seeking behaviours. This is an important factor, as patients with anxiety often seek substances as a form of self-medication.