When you have a disease, disorder or condition that affects your health, you can go to a doctor and receive advice, medication or some form of conventional treatment.
However, what happens when regular therapy or medication no longer helps? Or what if you prefer to explore natural options?
Anxiety is one common condition that often prompts people to look for alternative remedies. CBD oil is not the only option, there are hundreds of natural plant medicine options which claim to help with anxiety.
But in the vast alternative medicine field, you will often encounter medication with little to no scientific testing to support its efficacy. In the case of plant-derived products, the issue becomes more widespread.
Fortunately, this is not the case for CBD oil.
Almost everyone has heard about CBD!
Cannabidiol (CBD) is extracted from the hemp plant, (also known as marijuana or cannabis Sativa L).
This controversial plant has been in the spotlight for the past five decades due to its well known psychoactive effects which have made it extremely popular for recreational use.
The psychotropic action of cannabis is mainly due to a cannabinoid called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). For many years THC was the most well known of the 112 hemp cannabinoids, but for the past decade, the scientific community has been focusing a lot of their efforts on understanding the effects of another cannabis compound, cannabidiol (CBD). It has been the subject of extensive research in order to discover any potential medical benefits.
Partly due to the extensive and widespread research, the popularity of CBD has snowballed over the last few years. It now seems like everyone has heard about cannabidiol, demand has shot up rapidly, and new types of CBD products are being created at a breakneck speed to satisfy growing demand.
Products being offered include CBD oil, CBD capsules, sprays, vape oil, and body creams. It is even possible to purchase CBD lollipops and even gummy bears!
The most common way to use cannabidiol is by ingesting CBD oil, which is widely available both in health food shops and online. You can make CBD oil at home (although it's not advised), or you can easily purchase it in one of the hundreds of online stores that have sprung up on the internet over the last couple of years. In the UK and most other countries, the production, sale, and use of cannabidiol is legal because CBD doesn’t get you “high”; however, it is often a non-regulated marketplace so the percentages that are printed on the product label may not be accurate.
CBD is currently being researched to evaluate its efficacy for treating a multitude of diseases and disorders including epilepsy, chronic pain, anxiety and depression. There are many studies in this field – many of which are still ongoing – so if you are planning to start your CBD journey, be aware that a lot of vendors are making outrageous claims for cannabidiol which are not backed up by legitimate research.
In this article, we are going to take a brief look at some recent research relating to the potential use of cannabidiol for treating anxiety.
What is anxiety?
There isn't a simple definition of anxiety because the word is often used to describe a wide variety of different disorders that cause fear, apprehension, worrying and nervousness. Anxiety, based on its effects on the sufferer, can be defined as (according to the American Psychological Association) “an emotion that produces feelings like worried thoughts, tension or physical changes like high blood pressure”.
As we previously mentioned, the term "anxiety" can be used to describe the symptoms of multiple disorders, but it is essential to define the difference between temporary "normal" anxiety, which can be caused by a stressful situation and prolonged anxiety disorders that require medical treatment. Here is a brief overview of the most common types of anxiety disorders:
• Panic disorders: Patients with panic disorder usually experience a feeling of terror, possibly combined with a fear of imminent death. It strikes at random, and is extremely unpleasant, to say the least! Common symptoms include palpitations and chest pain so it can also be confused with a heart attack. Panic attacks are usually unexpected, and they can last up to 30 minutes; however, in some cases, they can last for hours. The attacks can be caused by a stressful situation but they can also occur without a trigger, and they are usually treated with a combination of medication and therapy.
• Phobias: Phobias are defined as an excessive and irrational fear of a situation, activity or object; this type of anxiety disorder is connected to a specific cause because the sufferer will not experience anxiety unless the cause of the anxiety, i.e. a spider, is present, and the person becomes aware of it. The problem is that even if the sufferer realizes that their fear is irrational, they are unable to control it. Phobia anxiety is usually impossible to predict and the symptoms can seriously interfere with (and even prevent) normal activities.
• Social anxiety disorder: it is also known as social phobia and consists of the fear of being embarrassed or judged in social situations. People with this disorder try to avoid social contact and tend to be loners because they don't want to feel uncomfortable.
• Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): OCD is an anxiety disorder that causes people to experience unwanted thoughts, sensations or ideas. The intruding thoughts can frequently that make them feel driven to complete an action or ritual as the result of an impulse (compulsions). This disorder can severely interfere with the normal activities of the sufferer, it can affect work, going to school, relationships, and other interpersonal relations. People affected by OCD do not usually feel that they are ill, and typically feel joy when completing their necessary actions.
• Separation anxiety disorder: Separation anxiety is most common in children, and is usually caused by physical separation from a parent, sibling or carer; however, it can also affect some adults during separation from a child or partner.
• Illness anxiety disorder: Also called hypochondriasis, the symptoms consist of fear of developing a medical illness. People with this condition may be completely healthy, but may convince themselves, and others, that they are ill. The disorder can be triggered by something as simple as reading about a disease or seeing an infected person. The anxiety produced by this disorder usually exacerbates the condition.
• Post-traumatic stress disorder: PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by traumatic events such as traffic collisions, assault, crime, violence, wars and other extreme events; Symptoms can include disturbing thoughts, personality or behavioural changes, and even dreams about the cause of the stress.
How to diagnose anxiety and how to treat it?
This is undoubtedly not an easy task. Anxiety diagnoses are more complicated than what you would expect because specific steps need to be taken before determining that someone has an anxiety disorder. For instance, a physical examination, mental health evaluation, psychological questionnaire, and urine or blood tests are often needed. After the diagnosis is made, physicians will likely recommend a treatment course that may include medication and a visit to a counsellor, psychologist or a psychiatrist.
However, anxiety can be treated in many ways. Some patients will only need a lifestyle change and require no medication while others might benefit from standard drug therapy with benzodiazepines or another sedative.
On a larger scale, anxiety treatments are classified into two types: medication and psychotherapy.
When anxiety is treated by medication, the patient may receive sedatives and antidepressants; these drugs balance brain chemistry and reduce or mask symptoms to prevent upcoming anxiety events. Beta blockers are also widely used for anxiety due to their ability to block the effect of adrenaline on the central nervous system.
The second treatment option doesn't involve the use of medication but instead focuses on talking therapies and appointments with a psychologist or therapist. These approaches work by providing the sufferer with tools or strategies that they may use to help remain calm or if necessary, to cope with an anxiety attack.
There are other alternatives besides sedatives, antidepressants, beta blockers and talking therapies. Alternative therapies focus on approaches that are natural or related to alternative medicine, such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation.
Plant medicine is also becoming popular, with traditional calming and balancing plants such as ashwagandha, valerian, passiflora, hops, and chamomile being amongst the top choices.
The most recently discovered plant compound thought to hold potential for the treatment of anxiety is cannabidiol (CBD)
CBD oil for anxiety?
Now that we have looked briefly at the various types of anxiety disorders, you'll likely be surprised to hear that CBD oil is being researched for every single one!
In a 2015 study titled "Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders", scientists focused on determining the mechanism of how CBD oil could function as an anxiolytic drug. However, it should be said that this study was made at a preclinical level and based on animals, which means that the effects may not be the same in the human body.
The serotonin system is frequently used to treat anxiety disorders through medications that affect the brain cell's intake of serotonin. The leading actor of the mechanism is a serotonin receptor called 5-HT1A and drugs such as Prozac are widely used as they block serotonin reabsorption. This has the result that the brain is able to transmit even more serotonin signals and has the effect of reducing anxiety in the patient.
Initial research has shown that the mechanism of action of cannabidiol is similar to existing serotonin reuptake inhibitors and it may, therefore, act in the same way as traditional medication. In animal studies, CBD has been found to increase 5-HT1A transmission at a faster rate than traditional medicines. This means that CBD has potential in the future to improve the limitations of conventional anxiety treatments.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of anxiety patients have begun searching online for CBD products to help with the symptoms of anxiety. Many are already incorporating cannabidiol into their daily routine. In spite of its popularity, we would recommend anyone planning to start their CBD journey to do two things. The first one is to consult with your primary physician about including CBD oil in your treatment plan so you can be completely safe and avoid any drug on drug interactions. The second is to check online for legitimate research related to your diagnosis.
There are literally hundreds of research studies available online with more appearing every week.
For those who do not have the time or inclination to spend hours reading research papers, you are welcome to read through some of the exciting studies listed below, all of which relate to CBD and anxiety:
One research study titled “Cannabidiol: Barriers to Research and Potential Medical Benefits” undertaken by Dr Nora D. Volkow and published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse discusses the general benefits of CBD. In the study, they mention that CBD can improve the social skills (public speaking) of patients with social anxiety disorder by concluding that the placebo group did not show any difference on the levels of anxiety while talking publicly while the CBD group did.
In 2015, a study titled “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders” made by Esther Blessing, Maria Steenkamp and others analysed the potential benefits of CBD for the treatment of panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic disorder and social anxiety disorder. The positive results of this research prompted hundreds of other researchers to look more closely at cannabidiol.
Why would someone choose CBD to treat anxiety?
We have looked at the possible mechanism of action for CBD to have anxiolytic effects. If CBD works to treat anxiety disorder then in the future it may be offered by your GP as an alternative to conventional medication. But, why would someone choose CBD oil to treat anxiety when there are so many existing medications available?
Many people are searching for natural, low-risk treatments, especially plant-based medicines. With all of the negative publicity surrounding big pharma and the current "a pill for everything" culture, cannabidiol is considered by many to be a safe option. CBD oil can be taken by mouth directly or just by mixing it with food or a drink. Another positive is that unlike cannabis, CBD oil does not need to be smoked, which is a plus for some who do not wish to be judged by others who may disagree with the use of controlled drugs.
Things to bear in mind before considering using CBD oil to treat anxiety
One of the significant concerns about medications (in general) are the side effects, and in the case of CBD oil, there is nothing to worry about given that CBD products have not shown any significant side effects. The primary side effect users usually describe dry mouth and slight sedation. Some users also experience mild stomach upset if they consume large doses.
It is strongly recommended that you speak with your doctor before using CBD to determine if you may have any medical reasons for not using it. If you are currently taking any other medication, it is vital that you speak with a health professional prior to trying any new medication.
Another important consideration before deciding to use CBD oil to treat anxiety (and maybe the most important factor) is the dosage.
Dosing CBD oil can be tricky because most commercial oils can have different concentrations of cannabinoids. CBD experts recommend a dose of 15 – 25 mg per day. If you don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder but would like to take CBD before or after a stressful situation, you could start with a smaller dose, and gradually increase the amount until you are happy with the results.
There are some guidelines regarding dosage for anxiety, for example, "if you had a stressful day and you feel anxious a little dose of CBD should be fine". This type of advice is very general and should not be taken as an authoritative instruction.
The best and safest method is to start with a low dosage and increase it gradually until you experience the effects you desire. There is no need to start off with a high dosage.
If you have an OCD, PTSD or panic disorder, you will need to speak with your GP as they may advise you to start with a medium to high dose if they consider it safe for you to do so.
Before you decide to buy CBD oil to treat anxiety is essential to check the legality, regulations and restrictions in your country as it can still be classified as an illegal drug in some locations. Also, be careful to check for the THC concentrations! Cannabis oil that is high in THC can actually worsen the symptoms of anxiety, so be careful with high levels of THC in the oil (it should have 0.2% THC or less).
In conclusion, CBD oil is one of many candidates with the potential to offer an alternative medicine solution for the treatment of anxiety disorders, but it is important to see more research and studies, especially human trials.