CBD’s reputation as an effective remedy for anxiety has huge momentum behind it and is supported by promising studies and countless user testimonials. According to a survey by Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, in 2018, “Almost 62% of CBD users reported using CBD to treat a medical condition. The top three medical conditions were chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.”
More and more people are adopting holistic approaches to their mental health, realizing that one method of treatment alone is less effective at mitigating symptoms than a combination of treatments - from medication to therapy and counselling to lifestyle changes and exercise. CBD (cannabidiol) is an easy to self-administer, non-habit-forming supplement that fits easily into any daily routine, which is why it’s seemingly boomed into our cultural consciousness so quickly.
While the effects of CBD on health really speak for themselves, academic research into the compound has had a tremendous surge in popularity recently. As our knowledge of CBD grows, so does our understanding of how it works to benefit our bodies. Today, CBD is being studied as a possible treatment for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
So, with all of this buzz around CBD and mental health, how does it actually affect our brains?
The thing is, the human brain is incredibly complex, and despite decades of research into its inner workings and mechanisms, there is a lot we still don’t know. But here’s what we do know: our brain cells, or neurons, work together to form complex neural networks which control every aspect of our body’s functioning and our thought processes. They communicate between each other by releasing specific chemicals called neurotransmitters.
These neurotransmitters control our moods, thought patterns, and emotional responses to external and internal stimuli. When these chemicals get out of balance, or no longer do their job effectively, we experience mental illness. When these chemicals are balanced and working properly, they are responsible for a huge array of emotions from making us happy to emotionally bonding us to our loved ones.
So how does CBD fit into this equation? Well, let’s focus on a specific example first: Serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, anxiety, pain perception, sleep, appetite and nausea. It’s a heavy hitter as far as its impact on our mental state goes, and it fulfills different roles as it interacts with different parts of our brain. Depression and anxiety disorders occur when Serotonin levels become imbalanced, which is why SSRIs, or Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, are a commonly prescribed antidepressant. CBD directly binds to the 5-HT serotonin receptor, which has the strongest role in anxiety and depression, and is the same serotonin receptor that SSRI’s target.
Another important neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid orGABA, works to inhibit brain cell activity. This means that it directly impacts the racing thoughts and exhaustingly overactive mindset that many anxiety sufferers contend with. The benzodiazepine class of drugs work to directly boost the effects of these GABA neurotransmitters, dialing down some of the mental chaos experienced during bouts of anxiety. Common anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Klonopin fall into this class of drugs. Excitingly, CBD has been shown to directly interact with GABA receptors in a way that increases the effectiveness of the GABA neurotransmitter.
Lastly, CBD can mitigate some of the profound damage chronic stress and anxiety can do to our bodies. Chronic stress essentially keeps your body and mind in a state of “fight or flight” for a prolonged period of time – something our body is designed to handle in small doses but can be dangerous the longer it lasts. Chronic stress is a killer. Plain and simple. It damages our bodies in physical ways, as well as mentally, and can manifest in a weakened immune system, digestive issues, and even heart disease.
Chronic stress not only impacts how our brain functions, but also the structure of the brain itself. Certain areas of the brain can become hyperactive while experiencing prolonged stress, while others can atrophy. Additionally, it increases our levels of the stress hormone cortisol, disrupts levels of important neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine), and our endocannabinoid system can also become imbalanced. Chronic stress ramps up the body’s production of an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (or FAAH). CBD can help to inhibit this enzyme, protecting your body from the negative effects of chronic stress.
While CBD oils, tinctures, supplements, etc., are not cure-alls, research indicates that it has the potential to help alleviate the symptoms of many mental illnesses.
If you’re interested in pursuing a CBD regimen, or just curious about learning more about this incredible compound, check out our Intro to CBD. It’s important to speak to your doctor or pharmacist before starting supplementation of any kind to avoid negative drug interactions.
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