What is CBD?
Similar to THC, CBD (or “cannabidiol”) is a cannabinoid compound found inside the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, however, CBD lacks any psychoactive components – Simply put, CBD cannot and will not get you high (1). And though CBD may not get you buzzed, this can be a good thing when exploring cannabidiol and it’s numerous potential health benefits.
Both CBD and THC are being researched for their medicinal benefits, but for those living outside of areas where cannabis consumption has been legalized CBD can offer some of the same medical relief as THC without any of the legality issues.
Some studies do point to the combination of THC and CBD having greater effects when used in conjunction than either compound has when used separately, but this doesn’t make CBD without it’s benefits, and for many living with anxiety and other neurological disorders CBD treatment has been effective, safe, and legally available.
Can CBD Be Used to Treat Anxiety?
Though general studies on the effects of CBD are still somewhat rare, using CBD as a treatment for neurological issues and anxiety disorders is one area where research seems to be fairly commonplace. Research shows that taking CBD may help with a wide variety of anxiety-related issues, including post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and even insomnia derived from anxiety.
How Does CBD Effect Anxiety?
Cannabinoids effect the human body’s endocannabinoid system, primarily by interacting with our CB1 and CB2 receptors. THC typically antagonizes our CB1 receptors, located in the brain, while CBD is more often shown as interacting with the CB2 receptors stationed at various points within our body (2).
When we take CBD one of the major influences it has is the release of serotonin; when interacting with CBD, our CB2 receptors trigger the body to release more serotonin, which in turn can act as a mood booster. Typically low serotonin is treated by prescription drugs known as SSRIs, such as Prozac or Paxil, but research shows that use of CBD oil can have similar benefits.
What Types of Anxiety Can CBD Help Treat?
Anxiety can come in many forms. For generalized anxiety disorder, medically reviewed clinical trials and animal studies have shown CBD as able to help reduce day-to-day stress. In an early example of research on CBD, a 1990 paper from the University of São Paulo, Brazil showed marked improvement in the stress levels of rats subjected to a testing maze (3); though not the same as running human trials this early research demonstrated a much lower stress level in its animal participants.
A more recent study from Brazil, completed in 2010, also demonstrated a lessening of behaviorally-conditioned stress responses in laboratory rats (4), with a 10mg/kg dosage ratio greatly reducing freeze-response tendencies and heart rate in subjects repeatedly exposed to a stressful condition (in this case an electrified flooring).
CBD and Social Anxiety Disorder
In human-based studies, again from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, researchers showed a direct correlation between CBD usage and the lessening of generalized social anxiety disorder (sometimes shortened to the acronym, and this is not a joke, “SAD”). In this trial a grouping of 24 patients, who had been diagnosed with generalized social anxiety disorder but not treated, were given a simulated public speaking test, measuring their anxiety when put in front of a crowd and directed to give a speech. (5)
Out of those tested, patients receiving CBD treatment showed “significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance, and significantly decreased alert in their anticipatory speech” over those who were untreated or treated with placebo medications.
Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) With CBD
Conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder have also shown promising results from being treated with CBD. A joint 2019 research paper from several Colorado universities undertook an eight week study on eleven adult patients who had been diagnosed with PTSD (6). Of the 11 patients, 10 showed significant decreases in their associated symptoms, including a sharp reduction in nightmares that are commonly associated with PTSD. This is consistent with the findings of a 2016 review, which showed evidence that cannabinoids may help reduce symptoms gained after PTSD develops (7).
Part of this may be due to how cannabinoids effect our brain’s memory centers. A 2018 paper postulated that taking cannabidiol directly after a traumatic event may help prevent the brain from creating memories related to that trauma (8), thus lessening the impact and potentially preventing the development of PTSD-like symptoms. This same study posits that this may be due to CBD’s interaction with the amygdala and hippocampus regions of the brain, as those with PTSD can show signs of hyperactivity in the amygdala, which is decreased by CBD’s interaction with the hippocampus.