What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a psychological response to stress that causes fear, discomfort, and apprehension. It typically occurs before an event, but that event isn’t always significant. Situations that are unfamiliar, concerning, or dangerous often invoke anxiety. Anxiety is an entirely normal biopsychological response that helps us stay alert. However, when episodes of anxiety occur more frequently and more severely, an anxiety disorder may be present.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders can be debilitating, preventing sleep, work, socialization, or someone from leaving their house. When anxiety becomes irrational, severe, and out of proportion to the situation, that may be an indicator of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can induce overwhelming panic attacks that exhibit physical symptoms such as shaking, nausea, sweating, tension, or hyperventilation. It’s important to recognize that while anxiety is a psychological response to perceived stress or danger, it produces real physical effects that aren’t made up or exaggerated.
Numerous disorders involve anxiety, but anxiety disorders are primarily split into three categories:
1. General anxiety disorders
GADs are usually characterized by uncontrollable and constant worrying or fear that occurs without a specific trigger. It’s often always present to some degree, with symptoms becoming more severe before an event. Those with GAD are constantly battling psychological stress as they struggle with relatively basic tasks, like taking the trash out or getting out of bed to start the day.
2. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders
OCD-related anxiety disorders usually involve obsessive, unwanted thoughts that demand specific compulsive behaviors such as washing the hands three times or organizing a cabinet in a precise way. These thoughts overwhelm the person and are perceived to be only relieved by completing a specific behavior or action. OCD disorders can cause severe emotional and behavioral stress and often leave a person feeling like they have no control over their actions or thoughts.
3. Trauma disorders
These types of anxiety disorders often stem from a trauma such as the death of a loved one, sexual assault, or violent abuse. Stressors that trigger traumatic symptoms range from guilt due to spilled milk to more significant events like a divorce, moving to a different area, or reflection about the trauma.
Social Anxiety Disorder
SAD is characterized by irrational worry about being embarrassed or humiliated while socializing. Those with SAD often present distinct avoidance behavior and may be severely apprehension of engaging in any social situation such as talking to the clerk while getting groceries or even spending time with their best friend.
Obsessive Compulsive-Phobia Disorder
Oby patterned and irrational fear or worrying about a specific object or situation such as bugs, traveling by plane, water, blood, or heights. This anxiety is triggered by being near or expecting the phobia, and sudden panic attacks may occur if exposed to the phobia. The reaction is irrational to the danger or concern presented by the object or situation.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is the most common anxiety disorder related to trauma and stressors. PTSD often develops due to past trauma such as sexual assault, the death of a loved one, wartime action, or violent abuse. Symptoms are usually made worse by specific stressors that vary based on the trauma and are subjective to each individual.
Panic disorders Care characterized by sudden and overwhelming panic attacks that appear with or without specific triggers. Those with panic disorders frequently experience reoccurring panic attacks that can last up to an hour.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is a well known psychiatric disorder that is distinctly recognized by intrusive and fixated thoughts that are best described as obsessive and are usually only relieved by performing specific actions known as compulsions. Obsessive thoughts are often unwanted and uncontrollable, making a person a hostage until they perform the compulsive behavior. Common obsessions could be severe worrying about getting sick or dirty by germs, fear of harming self or others if something isn’t done a certain way, or that forgetting to do something may cause adverse consequences. Compulsive behaviors could repeatedly be ensuring the doors and windows are locked, washing hands a particular number of times, or by saying a phrase out loud numerously. Other disorders involved with OCD are skin picking, hoarding, body dysmorphia, nail-biting, hair pulling, and more.
What Is CBD?
CBD or cannabidiol is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid derived from cannabis that holds therapeutic potential in treating symptoms from a variety of conditions like pain, inflammation, and anxiety. Cannabidiol comes from industrial hemp (cannabis that produces minimal or no THC). It’s then processed into oil and sold as is or infused into various products ranging from topical creams to food and beverages. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound in cannabis that’s responsible for the “high” or euphoria produced by consuming cannabis or marijuana. CBD differs from THC in several ways, with the most obvious difference being that cannabidiol doesn’t provide a distinct high or any intoxication for that matter. This is appealing because one of the most commonly reported side effects of consuming cannabis is paranoia or anxiety. CBD may offer anxiety relief without impairment or adverse side effects.
How Does CBD Work?
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
We aren’t entirely sure how CBD works. However, we do know that CBD indirectly interacts with the cannabinoid receptors belonging to the endocannabinoid system (ECS). They’re called CB1 and CB2 receptors and are found throughout the entire body via the peripheral and central nervous systems. This may explain how CBD appears to affect so many different conditions that originate from different locations and don’t share similar symptoms.
To be brief, the ECS is a vital biological system responsible for regulating homeostasis. It is involved in numerous biological functions, including pain sensation, memory, appetite, sleep, mood, immune function, and more.
Studies appear to suggest that CBD binds to several serotonergic receptors, inhibits the reuptake of noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and anandamide. Preventing reuptake means CBD stops the body from breaking down neurotransmitters would otherwise be recycled. This causes an excess that travels throughout the entire body via the bloodstream, where they bind to their respective receptors. This may explain CBD’s ability to produce a positive mood (noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin), decreased anxiety (GABA), and pain relief (anandamide).
GABA and Anxiety
GABA is the body’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter that’s responsible for reducing brain activity. Depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines directly bind to GABA receptors to exert their effects. Alcohol and benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium) have a high potential for abuse and addiction. What’s even worse is that doctors frequently prescribed benzos for anxiety, but they can actually make anxiety worse when misused or used for long periods of time. This is because the brain starts creating fewer GABA receptors for benzos to bind in an attempt to maintain homeostasis.
When medication stops, the brain takes a long time to restore these GABA receptors, resulting in fewer receptors for GABA to bind to, thus leading to an increase in anxiety and excitatory behavior in the brain. Benzodiazepines withdraws can also cause severe seizures and death, making them drugs with some of the most life-threatening and severe withdrawal symptoms known today.
To summarize, CBD is a potent endocannabinoid modulator that demonstrates anticonvulsant, muscle relaxing, anxiolytic, and antipsychotic effects by increased the concentration of naturally produced endocannabinoids found in the body.
Studies On CBD For Anxiety
Studies on CBD are still limited, but there is a growing body of clinical evidence demonstrating the anxiolytic effects of CBD. One study found that after reviewing studies using animal models, CBD appears to produce an anti-depressant and anxiolytic effect when performing several evaluations such as the forced swimming test, elevated plus maze, and the Vogel conflict test. We’ll briefly reiterate the findings of several studies investigating CBD’s efficacy in treating symptoms of anxiety while providing links to each study for you to check out for yourself.
A review article points out that clinical studies researching CBD on psychiatric disorders are limited and primarily focus on schizophrenia and anxiety disorders like SAD. The report calls for more studies on other prominent psychiatric disorders such as depression, OCD, and PTSD.
A different review article notes that some studies found that CBD reduced intense episodes of anxiety and psychotic-like effects when combined with THC, in addition to lowering emotional and reward process blunting.
A study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Fort Collins found that CBD oil relieved anxiety and improved sleep in a young girl with PTSD from sexual abuse and child neglect.
A study from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil found that CBD decreased symptoms of anxiety and produced neurogenesis (the generation of new neurons in the brain) in mice that were subjected to 14 days of sudden and unexpected stress.
A comprehensive review article published by the School of Psychology from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom found that CBD produces a notable reduction in learned fear expression when administered during fear memory reconsolidation. This suggests a potential role in treating those with PTSD, a disorder that causes distinct hyperactivity of the amygdala, the brain structure directly involved in fear and memory.
Research on CBD is still limited, and there needs to be further studies on its efficacy in treating symptoms relating to psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and schizophrenia. However, the current body of evidence is extremely promising, with several studies suggesting cannabidiol as a safe and well-tolerated treatment option for anxiety. If you want to learn more, check out our article detailing everything you need to know about CBD.