As laws and social stigmas change, the cannabis plant, namely its chemical compounds of cannabinoids, is gaining more notability for having effective anti-anxiety effects on people across the globe. In a recent study on cannabidiol (CBD) and neuropsychiatric, or anxiety, disorders, it was shown that preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for the following disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. There is a need for studies to investigate chronic CBD dosing and clinical populations, but this study used acute doses of CBD to explore the effects of cannabidiol to calm the fear response in the body.
Fear and anxiety, as adaptive responses that are necessary for coping with threats to survival, can easily get excessive or persistent and can lead to disability when systems are imbalanced. When this happens, people typically show a diminished sense of well-being, have a hard time in healthy relationships, are more prone to unemployment, and also exhibit an elevated suicide risk. So it’s no wonder that we are exploring CBD as a natural and healthy alternative to help combat these disruptive responses. In the United States, twenty-nine percent of the population has a lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders, the highest of any mental disorder. This in turn creates massive social and economic burdens as this large of a population struggles with day to day structures such as relationships and jobs. Currently, pharmaceuticals such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors are prescribed to treat these conditions, but sometimes, at a high cost. CBD, with further study, is showing excellent safety ratings for high doses, which is unlike many of the pharmaceutical options out there with high overdose and abuse rates. This study showed that CBD was well-tolerated across a wide dose range, up to 1500mg/day (orally), without any reported psychomotor slowing, negative mood effects, or abnormalities in vital signs.
The way CBD interacts with the brain’s chemistry has to do with the endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for the body’s way of maintaining homeostasis, or balance, as well as other diverse physiological functions such as caloric energy balance and immune function. Several of these receptors found throughout the endocannabinoid system are known to regulate fear and anxiety-related behaviors, specifically the CB1 receptor and the serotonin 5-HT receptor (joyfulness), among several other receptors throughout the body’s nervous system. A system that is healthy has a natural and balanced response to fear-triggering events, whereas one that is experiencing disorder, does not have that regulated response and creates a malfunction.
The way CBD can work on regulating this response has to do with the CB1 receptor – its activation has the ability to minimize conditioned fear responses and can prevent it from coming back unnecessarily, by releasing a hormone corticotropin, which has anti-anxiety effects. That said, when these receptors are activated on a consistent basis, it can help prevent the negative effects that fear has on the body, such as aging and stress. Chronic stress impairs the endocannabinoid system’s signaling to various parts of the brain (the hippocampus and amygdala), which leads to anxiety. Basically, cannabinoids have been shown to be activators for this balanced and natural response of the system to regulate fear, not block it.
Although this study had its limitations, as only experimentally-induced anxiety or fear was studied, it was shown that CBD reduced anxiety with a simulated public speaking test in healthy subjects and also those suffering from social anxiety disorder, and proved to be comparable to pharmaceutical medications in their efficiency. Taken at high doses ranging from 300 to 600mg, CBD was shown to reduce anxiety in healthy people without affecting baseline anxiety levels, or a balanced anxiety response, and also significantly reduced anxiety in patients with social anxiety disorder. This means that this evidence may support the use of CBD for aiding potential treatment for PTSD or enhancing cognitive behavioral therapy, which could change this problem in the United States.