CBD for Anxiety: Can Hemp Extract Treat an Anxiety Disorder?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 40 million adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders. That’s 18.1 percent of the population. Of those, less than half are receiving professional treatment. A significant portion of the people who suffer from anxiety would likely say that it affects the quality of their life. To make matters worse, many of the people who are receiving treatment would likely say that their anxiety isn’t fully controlled. You’re here because you’re considering trying CBD for anxiety. Our job is to help you determine whether CBD is the right product for you. We’re going to do that by describing CBD’s mechanism of action and explaining how CBD could play a role in a regimen for holistic natural anxiety treatment.
CBD for Anxiety: Our Top Pick
We know you’re busy. In case you don’t have time to read this article in its entirety, we’ll cut to the chase and recommend the best CBD product for anxiety.
Our readers and review panel have experienced exemplary results using BioMD+ CBD for anxiety. We love BioMD+ for several reasons. Across the entire product range, BioMD+ uses nothing but organic Colorado-grown hemp – so there’s never any need to worry that you’re paying a markup for inexpensive hemp imported from China.
The greatest aspect of BioMD+, though, is the fact that they blend nature and science in ways that other CBD companies don’t. All BioMD+ hemp oil products are enhanced with a blend of natural terpenes designed to provide maximum support for the effectiveness of the cannabinoids. BioMD+ Mint Hemp Oil, for example, includes terpenes selected because they promote relaxation and calmness while helping to relieve worry and stress.
What Is an Anxiety Disorder?
The Mayo Clinic defines an anxiety disorder as “intense, excessive and persistent worry” about what others would consider common and normal situations. Those who suffer from persistent anxiety may find that their constant fear and worry prevents them from living fully and enjoying the moment. Some anxiety sufferers experience panic attacks with symptoms including heavy sweating, elevated pulse, physical illness and uncontrollable terror. Some people respond to anxiety by isolating themselves from others and avoiding social situations. Others spiral downward into clinical depression.
Common Types of Anxiety Disorders
One of the challenges of finding an effective way to treat anxiety for individual patients is that fact the term “anxiety disorder” actually spans a wide range of conditions that manifest themselves in different combinations and are often comorbid with one another. Some of the most common anxiety disorders include:
- Agoraphobia: Sufferers tend to establish personal “safe zones” and will do almost anything to avoid leaving those zones. Places and situations outside those safe zones tend to cause extreme fear or panic.
- Generalized anxiety disorder: Sufferers feel intense fear about even the most ordinary life situations. Their fears tend to be completely out of line with the actual importance of those situations.
- Health anxiety: Sufferers feel symptoms – real or imagined – and automatically associate those symptoms with severe and life-threatening health conditions.
- Panic disorder: Sufferers experience frequent panic attacks with symptoms such as those described above. Those who experience panic attacks may go on to avoid situations that they believe could cause further attacks. Avoidance of those situations often leads to those suffering from panic disorder developing additional anxiety disorders.
- Social anxiety disorder: Sufferers avoid social situations because they fear humiliation, embarrassment or being looked down upon by others.
Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorders
In some cases, anxiety disorders manifest themselves while the sufferers are still children. In other cases, otherwise normal individuals may experience the onset of anxiety disorders due to triggering events or other risk factors. Some of the most common risk factors for anxiety disorders include:
- Onset of a long-term medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain or cancer
- Hormonal imbalance
- Drug or alcohol abuse or withdrawal
- Experiencing a traumatic event
- Ongoing worry due to stressful life events
- Presence of other mental health disorders
- Genetic predisposition
Why Are Anxiety Disorders So Difficult to Treat?
You’re here right now reading about CBD for anxiety because you feel your anxiety disorder is poorly controlled. Medical science tells us that traditional methods are effective in treating anxiety – so why are so many anxiety sufferers spending so much time looking for better options? One reason is because traditional anti-anxiety medications introduce undesirable side effects of their own. A popular drug such as alprazolam (Xanax) can be an effective treatment for anxiety. Just look, though, at its side effect profile:
- Irritability, sadness and drowsiness
- Clumsiness and uncoordinated movement
- Slurred speech and trouble speaking
- Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
These aren’t the rare side effects of Xanax – they’re the common ones. The less common side effects are far, far worse. What’s the use of taking a medication for your anxiety disorder if it only causes other problems that make your life even more difficult?
Some people avoid seeking treatment for their anxiety disorders because they fear the stigma of doing so. Some avoid it because the idea of seeking treatment is itself an anxiety trigger. Some people experience adverse side effects from anti-anxiety medications and opt not to pursue further treatment. Proper diagnosis of an anxiety disorder is almost more of an art than a science. Choosing the correct medication or combination of medications to reduce anxiety without causing intolerable side effects is even more difficult.
What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid extracted from industrial hemp plants. Hemp – also known as cannabis – is the same plant as marijuana. Marijuana contains a high concentration of the cannabinoid THC – that’s the chemical that makes you feel high – while industrial hemp does not. If you smoke industrial hemp, you will not get high. The CBD in an extract of industrial hemp interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system. You can enjoy the effects of cannabidiol without feeling euphoric and without worrying that you’ll be impaired as you go about your daily business.
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system is like a short-range messaging system that your body’s cells use to communicate with one another. It’s a relatively new discovery. Although humans have known about the effects of cannabis for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 20th century that researchers began to isolate different cannabinoids from the plant. CBD, for example, was first isolated from hemp by a team of researchers from the University of Illinois. They published their findings in 1940. In the 1960s, researchers began to discover the chemical structures of various cannabinoids.
In the 1980s, there was another breakthrough in cannabis research as scientists discovered the body’s endocannabinoid system. The body generates its own endocannabinoids to regulate things like inflammation response, appetite, brain function, sexual reproduction and much more. From that discovery, we now know that cannabis interacts with the body by activating cannabinoid receptors.
THC – the most common cannabinoid – triggers euphoria when it activates the cannabinoid receptors. CBD, on the other hand, isn’t psychoactive and doesn’t produce overt physical sensations. It’s obvious that CBD can benefit people with certain conditions. The FDA has already approved a prescription medication based on a natural CBD extract for the treatment of certain rare seizure disorders. Researchers continue their attempts to discover the compound’s other benefits.
Scientific Studies About CBD and Anxiety Disorders
Researchers have studied the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids on anxiety for many years. While doctors are far from actually recommending CBD as a treatment for anxiety, many studies have produced promising results. We’ll discuss some of those studies here.
- In 2018, Frontiers in Neuroscience published a review of human and animal studies examining the effect that CBD may have among those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies suggest that when CBD is administered immediately following a traumatic event, it seems to help prevent the brain from creating a long-term fear association with the memory of that event. CBD may also affect long-term fear conditioning by facilitating the extinction of traumatic memories.
- In 2004, Neuropsychopharmacology published the results of a double-blind human study examining the brains of volunteers receiving CBD or a placebo. By studying changes in cerebral blood flow, the researchers determined that CBD appears to reduce anxiety by stimulating areas in the amygdala-hippocampal complex and the left posterior cingulate gyrus. Those taking a placebo showed no increased activity in those areas.
- In 2017, Current Neuropharmacology published a review of human and animal studies examining the effect that CBD may have among those suffering from anxiety and panic disorder. The review found that studies have consistently shown CBD to have an anxiolytic effect without the anxiety-inducing properties that THC sometimes has. The authors of the review concluded that it would be prudent to undergo human clinical trials examining the effectiveness of CBD in the treatment of panic disorder.
- In 2011, Neuropsychopharmacology published a study examining the effectiveness of CBD administration among 24 volunteers who had social anxiety disorder and had never before received treatment. Half of the group received CBD, and the other half received a placebo. All volunteers then took a simulated public speaking test designed to provoke anxiety symptoms. Those who received CBD had reduced anxiety and were able to speak with less difficulty.
- In 2019, The Permanente Journal published a study evaluating the effectiveness of CBD in treating anxiety and sleep issues among 103 patients. While the study was not placebo controlled, 79.2 percent of patients reported a reduction of anxiety in the first month of treatment. In addition, two thirds of those surveyed reported improved sleep.
How CBD May Help to Combat Anxiety
People have long used cannabis as an aid for reducing anxiety, stress and restlessness. We have only just begun to understand, though, how external cannabinoids may reduce the brain’s anxiety response. In 2014, researchers from Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center published the results of a study identifying cannabinoid receptors in the amygdala of the rodent brain for the first time.
The amygdala processes the brain’s anxiety response. The researchers hypothesized that the cannabinoids in marijuana may bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the amygdala and interrupt the flow of endocannabinoids that would otherwise produce anxiety.
CBD vs. Medical Marijuana for Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common reasons why medical cannabis patients in the United States use marijuana. In 2014, though, BMC Psychiatry published an analysis of 31 studies with a total sample size of 112,000 patients. The analysis concluded that there is a positive link between marijuana use and anxiety.
There is also a correlation between recreational cannabis use and panic attacks. A study published in Human Psychopharmacology in 2004 examined the effectiveness of the prescription drug paroxetine (Paxil) in treating panic disorder. Nearly one third of the patients examined in the study experienced their first panic attacks within two days of using marijuana. Before using marijuana, none of those people had panic disorder.
A study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience in 2018 suggests that terpenes may play a role in marijuana’s ability to alleviate anxiety. To compile the study, researchers surveyed patients who used medical cannabis to control anxiety. In the survey, the patients were asked which cannabis strains they found most effective for anxiety treatment. The researchers found that the strains reported as effective tended to contain the terpenes trans-nerolidol, beta-caryophyllene and d-limonene.
While the long-term effects of using THC to combat anxiety are as yet not understood, there is no known link between CBD and anxiety or panic.
Ways to Take CBD for Anxiety
The most common way to use CBD for anxiety is by taking a dropper of hemp extract oil and holding it under the tongue for several seconds before swallowing it. Hemp oil is the most popular form of CBD because it undergoes less processing than other CBD products, resulting in a lower price per mg of CBD. Holding the CBD oil under the tongue before swallowing it allows the oral mucosa to absorb the CBD sublingually. The remaining CBD is processed by the digestive system. CBD oil therefore delivers a good balance between fast initial absorption and long-lasting relief.
For everyday anxiety prevention, some people choose to take edible products such as CBD gummies. An edible product is an easy and great-tasting way to take CBD. Edibles also ensure consistent dosages. The drawback is that the CBD may not enter the bloodstream through the digestive system for up to two hours.
Lastly, many people prefer to vape CBD oil to experience its anti-anxiety properties as quickly as possible. When inhaled, CBD enters the bloodstream almost instantly. While the effects of inhaled CBD may not last long, you may find it effective if you’re having a panic attack and need immediate relief. If you have a vape pen with a cartridge designed for oil vaping, you can actually vape the same CBD oil that you use orally.
Using CBD With Prescription Medication for Anxiety
If you’re already taking prescription medications for your anxiety disorder, you may wonder whether you can safely add CBD to your existing medication regimen. As yet, the potential interactions between CBD and prescription medications haven’t really been studied or documented.
According to the District of Columbia Department of Health, CBD inhibits the CYP3A4 and CYP2D6 enzymes. Those enzymes metabolize certain drugs. CBD, therefore, may increase serum concentrations of drugs such as benzodiazepines, SSRIs, antidepressants and antipsychotics. We recommend discussing CBD openly with your psychiatrist before using it with any prescription drug.
CBD is a dietary supplement. With the exception of a single prescription medication used to treat certain rare seizure disorders, the FDA has not evaluated CBD’s ability to prevent or treat any condition. If you have an untreated anxiety disorder, we do not suggest taking CBD in lieu of seeking professional treatment.
How to Choose the Best CBD for Anxiety
With so many different CBD products available today – and its demonstrated effectiveness in one study after another – the challenge isn’t deciding whether to take CBD for anxiety. With virtually no reported side effects, you appear to have almost nothing to lose by trying CBD. The challenge is in determining which CBD product to buy. As mentioned in the 2018 Frontiers in Neuroscience study cited above, terpenes seem to play a role in the effectiveness of a given cannabis strain in treating anxiety. It’s therefore reasonable to conclude that the best CBD for anxiety should have those same terpenes.
The next decision you’ll need to make is whether to use a product with full-spectrum CBD or CBD isolate. On one hand, full-spectrum CBD will include naturally occurring terpenes. On the other hand, full-spectrum CBD oil can potentially also include trace THC. While trace THC isn’t enough to get you high, there’s a small chance that it could cause you to fail a drug test. Also, given the potential link between THC and anxiety, you may want to avoid it even in trace amounts.
What Other Natural Remedies for Anxiety Exist?
We strongly advise against attempting to treat an anxiety disorder without seeing professional help. That being said, it’s worthwhile to talk to your psychiatrist about natural anxiety remedies if your goal is to reduce or even potentially eliminate your prescription medication intake. Yoga, meditation and vigorous exercise, for example, cause the body to produce natural hormones and endocannabinoids that can help to reduce anxiety. It’s also wise to eat a balanced, healthy diet and avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. Some other natural anxiety remedies include:
- Kava: In 2018, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a review of studies examining kava’s effectiveness in treating generalized anxiety disorder. Although kava’s ability to provide short-term stress relief in normal individuals is well documented, the review found that clinical evidence supporting kava’s ability to treat true anxiety disorders is lacking. In addition, kava has side effects such as dermopathy that prevent long-term use from being feasible.
- Valerian: In 2011, Acta Médica Portuguesa published a review of studies examining valerian’s ability to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. The review concluded that, due to the low quality of the trials that have taken place, there is currently no evidence to support that valerian is effective in treating either condition. Valerian is a very safe herbal extract, though, and there is no known danger in taking it.
- Passion Flower: In 2001, the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics published the results of a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial examining the effectiveness of passion flower in treating anxiety compared to oxazepam (Serax, Alepam). The researchers conducting the study found that passion flower treats generalized anxiety disorder as effectively as oxazepam without oxazepam’s negative side effects.
- Chamomile: In 2016, Phytomedicine published the result of a five-year study comparing the effectiveness of chamomile in treating anxiety compared to a placebo. Over the course of five years, the researchers worked with 179 volunteers. The researchers found that chamomile treated anxiety more effectively than a placebo.
- Catnip: In 2008, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a study examining the use of catnip as a remedy for anxiety based on a rodent model of anxiety called the elevated plus maze. The researchers conducting the study found that, for the rodents, catnip treated anxiety as effectively as diazepam (Valium).
- John’s Wort: To date, there has been no clinical trial examining the effectiveness of St. John’s wort in treating anxiety despite the fact that many people do use it for that purpose. In 2002, though, the National Institutes of Health funded a placebo-controlled study analyzing the effectiveness of St. John’s wort in treating depression. The study also compared St. John’s wort to the prescription medication sertraline (Zoloft). The researchers conducting the story found that St. John’s wort was not more effective than the placebo in treating depression. Interestingly, though, the prescription medication used in the study also wasn’t more effective than the placebo.
- Lemon Balm: In 2011, the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism published a study examining the effectiveness of lemon balm in treating moderate anxiety and sleep issues. In the study, 19 of 20 volunteers reported fewer symptoms of anxiety while taking lemon balm.
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