Anxiety is a term thrown around a lot these days. Whether it’s because we live in a stressful world, or just because the term has become normalized, it feels like everyone describes themselves as anxious at some time or another.
However, anxiety isn’t just the feeling of worry or stress, it’s an actual medical condition with severe consequences. The more general variety, known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD, is far worse than could be possibly imagined, leaving sufferers feeling anxiety, worry, and fear on a day to day basis.
There is hope, however, as there are drugs available that can help with GAD, though they usually come with side effects or unpleasant consequences. Could we be using CBD to help treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder, instead of regular medicine? Let’s take a look.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
GAD is classified as a mental disorder that comes about either as a result of genetic predisposition, or as the consequence of a traumatic event in a person’s life.
Anxiety is generally described as the feeling of worry or stress at certain conditions in your life. You’ve likely felt it when you have a big presentation at work, or even just that familiar worry of leaving the oven on when you’re outside the house.
However, GAD goes way beyond that – sufferers of GAD experience these feelings of anxiety essentially all the time. Even mundane tasks or situations can cause near crippling levels of anxiety, causing the sufferer to either simply abandon the stressful situation or to just silently suffer.
Some might think this isn’t big deal – after all, why can’t they just deal with it and get over it? Well, these feelings of intense anxiety and distress can lead to suicidal thoughts and even suicide attempts. In a study by Nepon et al. for the publication Depression and Anxiety, researchers found that upwards of 70% of all listed suicides or reported suicide attempts were linked in some way to Anxiety disorders.
Helping people with GAD isn’t just improving people’s quality of life; it’s about saving their lives. So what can people do?
Typical treatments of GAD or other anxiety disorders include some form of anxiolytic medication. Anxiolytic means that it is designed to reduce feelings of anxiety. The problem with these medications is that they cause a wide range of serious side effects.
Anxiolytics are commonly also used as minor tranquilizers, meaning that the use of them can cause drowsiness or a lack of general awareness.
Additionally, anxiolytics can be addictive, as they are sometimes made from amphetamines. This means that the medication that a GAD sufferer is taking to try and help improve their life is actually making their life worse through addiction.
Since common anxiolytic medications are so frequently wrought with problems, what can we do to help treat this condition?
It turns out that CBD has been linked to helping improve people’s lives when they suffer from anxiety. To understand how, we first need to understand how CBD works in the first place.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol as it’s known to researchers, is a the non-psychoactive primary cannabinoid within cannabis. Cannabis plants are famously used to get high and experience recreational pleasure, but CBD exists alongside the psychoactive component (THC), but doesn’t induce any of those same psychoactive effects.
When you ingest CBD, it is metabolized in the liver and then interacts with the endocannabinoid system, a health system within the body that helps control a variety of different functions within the body.
These functions are governed by the two primary receptors with the ECS, CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptor is primarily located within the brain and the central nervous system, which allows it the ability to control the release of various neurochemicals, as well as the sensation of pain.
The CB2 receptors are different, however, as they are spread more generally throughout the body and are primarily responsible for the regeneration of dead cells throughout the body. Additionally, the CB2 receptor is effective at helping suppress the body’s inflammation response.
These receptors get triggered by CBD very differently compared to how other cannabinoids interact with them; in the case of THC, it clings to the receptors and over stimulates them, causing the infamous psychoactive highs and the feeling of ethereal confusion.
CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t cling to the receptors, instead triggering them slowly and calmly without the need for direct attachment. This allows for the healing benefits of CBD to take place, as the body is essentially just being somewhat manipulated into healing itself, or treating itself, a bit faster.
CBD has been linked to helping treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder due to its interaction with the CB1 receptor, which means that CBD can actually be considered an alternative to anxiolytic medication.
Let’s take a look at how CBD works with your body to help suppress anxiety, and how we could use it to help treat GAD.
CBD for GAD: Does it Work?
Studies into CBD and its interaction with people’s mental wellbeing were some of the first research completed in cannabis research, as the effects on mental health when smoking marijuana have been known for centuries. However, it is only in the last 50 years or so that scientists have begun to look at CBD, rather than THC or any other cannabinoid, as the source for this effect.
A study conducted by Crippa et al. noticed, through a wide quantity of survey data, that people with anxiety were treating themselves with cannabis for the express purpose of dealing with anxiety, rather than getting high. Through rigorous testing, it was discovered that it was entirely the CBD that had the desired effect, rather than the psychoactive THC.
Crippa noticed that, during a double-blind procedure involving test animals where test animals were dosed with CBD, the substance led to a significant reduction in stress and anxiety when forced to undergo stressful situations.
Additionally, the study led to increased activity in their hippocampus and inferior temporal gyrus, allowing for their brains to work at their correct level without interference from anxiety.
In another significant report by Blessing et al. for the Journal of Neurotherapeutics, researchers found that CBD had a marked effect on patients with anxiety disorders, as long as they were treated with intense doses.
Once patients with anxiety were administered acute doses of CBD on a regular basis, their levels of cortisol and adrenaline in their body (a good way to track the body’s stress and anxiety levels) were demonstrated to be lower, as well as patients specifically reporting they felt like their levels of anxiety had been reduced.
An annoying aspect of this research is that the exact mechanics – i.e. the chemical and biological reasons why CBD works so well with anxiety – are still not clear.
We know that it is primarily linked to the way in which CBD interacts with the CB1 receptor. The CB1 receptor is able to influence the release of neurochemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that are incredibly important for governing how you feel on a moment to moment basis.
Researchers’ current theory is that CB1 allows the brain to release a regular and consistent supply of these “happy” chemicals, allowing you to push the feelings of anxiety and even, eventually, depression, out of the way, and thus start to get better.
Anxiety is tricky to map out, as it is essentially an inability to avoid negative patterns of thought or expression. You can become stuck in a cycle of negativity, allowing these bad thoughts to break through your exterior and cause you to be unable to cope with situations in your life.
Though the common treatments are substances such as benzodiazepines (which famously cause significant addiction and withdrawal symptoms), it looks like we could be using CBD to effectively treat those with GAD.
In a variety of studies, the overwhelming consensus among patients with GAD who used CBD report that they feel happier, healthier, and more equipped to handle social situations than they did before.
Final Thoughts on CBD for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
To those without any form of anxiety disorder, they might argue that GAD, and indeed other mental illnesses, are “just in their mind”. Well, that’s technically true; it isn’t a physical, visible illness or injury that can be treated easily and with conventional medicine. Anxiety disorders and mental health in general are areas where the average person (and even many in the medical field) are sadly ill-informed.
The inability to defeat feelings of depression, suicidal ideation or anxiety, as well as the general feeling of loneliness and anxiety that can result from these conditions, can cause real, serious harm to people’s lives. With drugs like CBD now becoming available, it’s not impossible we might have found for ourselves a way to get rid of GAD for good.
Though we may not yet fully understand the exact mechanics of the drug’s ability to help deal with anxiety, we can also easily demonstrate that it works. And not only that it works, but it works without any kind of serious side effect or risk of addiction, meaning people can take it and not worry about their future health.
We may not know everything yet about CBD for GAD, but we do know that it can help a lot of people.
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