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Cannabis contains over 85 chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Of these, the most popular is THC thanks to its profound influence on the mind and body. Because of THC’s interaction with various brain regions, users may experience feelings of euphoria, creativity, hunger or even fear and anxiety due to THC’s interaction with the amygdala.
Though some levels of anxiety are beneficial in that they promote caution, excessive anxiety levels can have a negative impact on one’s health and overall quality of life. Using THC-filled cannabis on top of pre-existing anxiety disorders can therefore be somewhat dangerous, especially after consuming large amounts of THC.
Now for the good news: cannabidiol (CBD) can reduce feelings of anxiety whether or not they have been caused by THC. Furthermore, CBD has been shown to reduce stress and improve alertness when used alone or in conjunction with small amounts of THC.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a product of our evolution designed to keep us safe when danger strikes. It occurs when the amygdala perceives a potential threat -- often as a result of latent memories stored in the hippocampus -- and responds by releasing adrenaline in preparation to either flee or fight it out. This “Fight or flight” reaction can be caused by external factors or by internal emotions (and the memories connected with them), with more profound symptoms resulting from memories of emotional trauma (1).
Though some anxiety can be beneficial, chronic anxiety can have a negative impact on the body causing things like increased blood pressure, decreased motivation and an inability to concentrate. Unfortunately, a lack of concentration can lead to increased anxiety levels as external stressors (like an ever-expanding to-do list) compile with internal feelings of anxiety which might only exacerbate the problem.
How CBD Can Help Treat Anxiety
Though low levels of THC have been shown to dull anxious thoughts, high levels of THC can increase anxiety because of its interaction with various parts of the brain. Because there is such a high concentration of CB1 receptors in these areas, THC can easily overpower the brain causing thoughts of fear, increased anxiety and the common “stoner paranoia” that some of us are accustomed to.
Using CBD in conjunction with THC, however, can significantly reduce anxious tendencies by counteracting the THC. That’s because CBD interacts differently with cannabinoid receptors, essentially blocking them from interacting with excessive THC.
Interestingly, CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety when administered alone, as well. In a study published in the Journal of Neuropharmacology (2), researchers found that patients suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) had reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and general discomfort when pretreated with CBD before a simulated public speaking performance compared to a control group with similar qualifications.
Other studies have also shown CBD to have a calming effect. For example, in 2013, a parental survey (3) showed that an overwhelming majority of parents who chose to use CBD to treat treatment-resistant epilepsy in their children believed that CBD did, in fact, reduce seizure frequency, improve mood, promote rest and increase alertness. Though there are biases in this report (subjects were found through a CBD-friendly Facebook page so there could be a placebo effect), it does suggest that more research into the positive qualities of CBD should be explored.
It’s happened again. CBD has proven itself an invaluable cannabinoid for helping regulate our systems. In this case, CBD has been shown to decrease anxiety and improve focus. This is especially promising for those who suffer from diseases like ADHD and anxiety, but can benefit just about anyone given the right set of circumstances.
Do you think that CBD is a viable option for treating anxiety? Why or why not?
(1) How the Amygdala Affects Anxiety. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2015, from http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/amygdala
(2) Bergamaschi, M. M., Queiroz, R. H. C., Chagas, M. H. N., de Oliveira, D. C. G., De Martinis, B. S., Kapczinski, F., … Crippa, J. A. S. (2011). Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(6), 1219–1226. http://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.6
(3) Porter, B. E., & Jacobson, C. (2013). Report of a parent survey of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis use in pediatric treatment-resistant epilepsy. Epilepsy & Behavior : E&B, 29(3), 574–577. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.yebeh.2013.08.037