What is Anxiety & Stress
Everyone has experienced some sort of stress. Whether it’s a demanding job, a busy family, or just the burdens of modern life, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Often, stress is temporary and based around some sort of short-term situation. Once the situation is resolved, the stress will dissipate and life can get back to normal. However, when a person feels a sense of constant dread and uncertainty, they are experiencing something called chronic anxiety and it is a serious mental disorder.
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States that 40 million adults suffer from every year 1. Common symptoms of anxiety are excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry. These feelings can cause mental anguish and issues such as insomnia, depression, and social isolation. They can also cause physical changes in the body, including headaches, a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, upset stomach, increased blood pressure, extreme fatigue, and muscle aches. Let’s discuss which systems stress and anxiety affect the most.
Central Nervous System
When a person is stressed or anxious, the body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Biologically, the brain is sending these signals to the nervous system in an attempt to trigger our natural response to a threat. Under normal circumstances, or in cases of short-term stress, the brain releasing these hormones can be helpful. However, when a person has chronic anxiety the brain works overtime producing these hormones, resulting in frequent headaches, dizziness, depression, and even weight gain.
When a person is anxious, their heart rate can increase as their nerves do. This is another normal reaction designed to put the body into an emergency response mode. Someone suffering from chronic anxiety, however, will feel this increased heart rate for extended periods of time. It will not only increase the person’s heart rate, it can cause heart palpitations and chest pain. In addition, feelings of chronic anxiety can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, both of which will continue to be aggravated by the continued feelings of anxiety.
A nervous stomach prior to a big event is a common occurrence, but to those who suffer from anxiety it can mean chronic stomach aches, nausea, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. Research is still ongoing, but it is believed that there is a connection between anxiety disorders and the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) 2.
As mentioned earlier, the body reacts aggressively to stress and anxiety because the biological purpose of it is to activate the flight-or-fight response in humans, a life-saving response in early human history. When this defense is triggered, the body is flooded with a variety of hormones. One of those hormones is adrenaline. Adrenaline increases the pulse and breathing rates, allowing the brain to get more oxygen as it prepares itself to respond to the presented situation.
In situations of normal stress, after the cause of concern passes, the body returns to its normal state and homeostasis is achieved. For those with chronic anxiety, however, the body never gets the signal to return to its normal state. Instead it stays on alert, weakening the immune system and leaving a person more susceptible to viral infections and illness.
Feeling anxious can cause a person to have rapid and shallow breaths. This is dangerous for those with other chronic respiratory conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and puts them at increased risk of hospitalization if their anxiety causes breathing patterns to change dramatically. There is also an added risk for people with asthma.
CBD and ECS
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical compound found within the Cannabis sativa plant. It is one of the more than 80 cannabinoids found in marijuana and hemp plants and one of the most popular and researched. Studies have found CBD’s potential therapeutic benefits for a number of different conditions and ailments. From assistance in controlling epilepsy 3, to helping with pain 4 and inflammation 5, researchers are uncovering new possibilities all the time. While CBD research is relatively new, the results are encouraging for many who have tried other treatments without success.
What makes this compound so powerful? It happens at a molecular level and within the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) of the human body. The ECS is the system in control of homeostasis within the body. It’s where the body senses and corrects any type of disturbance that happens internally. The ECS functions using three primary elements called endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
The endocannabinoids are naturally occurring chemical compounds found within the human body. These compounds are very similar to the chemical compounds found in cannabis, otherwise known as cannabinoids. Since the two compounds are so molecularly similar, cannabinoids can easily attach themselves to endocannabinoid receptors.
The receptors within the endocannabinoid system are found on the surface of cells throughout the body. When endocannabinoid (or cannabinoid) compounds attach themselves to the receptors, it allows them to communicate with different systems, helping the ECS maintain homeostasis. The receptors and compounds stay attached to each other until enzymes are introduced to break the connection.
Enzymes within the ECS are introduced after the receptor and endocannabinoid have worked together to achieve the desired level of stabilization in a specific system. Once the flux in homeostasis has been corrected, the enzymes attach to the endocannabinoids and break them down.
Because the body’s natural endocannabinoids and the cannabinoids from a cannabis plant are so similar, CBD and other cannabinoids have an opportunity to interact with the human body in a special way. CBD can attach itself to the ECS receptors, effectively dampening or blocking some signals they are sending, or even using itself as a barrier between the receptor and the enzyme, protecting the endocannabinoid attached to it. In the next section we’ll discuss how this affects anxiety.
CBD for Anxiety & Stress
CBD is thought to interact with two specific ECS receptors found in the central nervous system. Research is still ongoing, but studies show that CBD may alter serotonin signals, particularly the receptor that has the largest role in anxiety disorders 6.
As mentioned earlier, the endocannabinoid system and CBD work hand-in-hand and this is especially true when it comes to treating anxiety disorders. The ECS is responsible for regulating stress and anxiety levels in the body, so when the system becomes overloaded with too much stress, it is up to the ECS to make the needed adjustments. Researchers believe that cannabinoids in the ECS can have a positive effect on anxious behaviors 7.
Lastly, CBD is believed to assist in neural regeneration 8. Stress and anxiety for prolonged periods of time can cause damage to the neurons and the brain. In order to correct that damage, new neurons must be formed and new connections made. CBD helps boost this corrective process and stimulates growth of new neurons, resulting in reduced anxiety.
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is the persistent and excessive worry about a variety of things, from everyday stresses like finances and family, to more dramatic concerns like disasters. People who suffer from general anxiety disorder find it difficult to control their worries and find themselves in a cycle of chronic anxiety.
A recent study concluded that CBD was successful in reducing stress in rats, showing them to have overall lower behavioral signs of anxiety after CBD 9. They also concluded that the physiological signs of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, were also improved after ingesting CBD.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Also called social phobia, people who suffer from social anxiety disorder have a fear of being judged, evaluated, or rejected in social situations. They worry about how they appear to others, not wanting others to view them as boring or awkward and as a result often find themselves isolated and alone.
In 2011, researchers observed CBD’s effects on people with social anxiety disorder and learned that it was effective in reducing overall anxiety levels, helping them be in social situations with fewer of their usual nagging thoughts and anxious feelings 10.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
When a person has experienced traumatic events, it is not uncommon for them to have anxiety and worry, especially when there is an occurrence that triggers that bring back memories of the original event. PTSD can be a debilitating condition, often causing years of depression and anxiety.
Studies have shown that CBD can help those suffering from PTSD by reducing the frequency of nightmares and replaying of negative memories 11. By helping calm the mind and ease anxiety, studies also found that CBD can help those suffering from insomnia 12, a common disorder to those with PTSD.
Panic Disorder (PD)
Panic disorder is a condition in which people experience spontaneous and severe panic attacks for seemingly no reason. This also increases their chances of being anxious about possible future attacks, thus adding a chronic worry to the daily lives. Studies conducted on mice have shown CBD to be helpful in reducing panic, opening up the possibility of it being used for humans experiencing panic disorder 13.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is marked by obsessions and compulsions which can be intrusive and cause stress and anxiety during a person’s daily life. These can be behaviors that a person feels they must perform in order to ease the anxiety, or heightened concerns about things like hygiene or symmetry. Using mice for the study, researchers found that after administering CBD to the test subjects the mice were less likely to compulsively bury marbles, with effects staying stable for up to 7 days after the initial dosage 14.
Types of CBD
There are many ways people can ingest CBD:
- Tinctures: Also called CBD oil, tinctures are presented in a dropper bottle and dosage usually comes in the form of a designated number of drops on or under the tongue. CBD oil does have a distinct taste and texture that some may find unappealing.
- Edibles: This style is becoming more popular for those looking to add CBD to their daily routine. Often available in gummies, these products are easy to eat as they can taste like candy or other commonly consumed foods.
- Smokables: One of the quickest and easiest ways to get CBD into the system is by smoking it. CBD is easily obtained from hemp flowers, so the options for smokable CBD products can range from pre-rolls, to hemp sticks, to raw flower buds.
- Concentrates: These are pure and potent CBD products, mostly used as concentrated options for those looking to make their own edible CBD products.
Which Type of CBD to Choose
Choosing the best type of CBD will vary greatly from person to person. Some people find it easiest to use oil, while others prefer smoking hemp. As the popularity and availability of CBD continues to grow, the options become easier to test to see what works best for each individual.
Most retailers and CBD manufacturers are more than happy to answer any questions potential customers may have, and many are eager to assist customers in finding a product that suits them. Armed with the knowledge that CBD can help with anxiety, choosing which product to add is a personal choice for the user. Often, CBD users will try all types before settling on their favorite, or will use them all in a combination that works best with their lifestyle.