Over the past few years, many people have turned to CBD for help with a wide range of different ailments and illnesses. While CBD first grew in popularity as a treatment for conditions such as chronic pain and epilepsy, recent medical studies and personal accounts are beginning to show that one of the most promising areas is the use of CBD to help people to deal with anxiety.
What is anxiety?
According to the Mental Health Foundation, Generalised Anxiety Disorder affects almost 6% of the adult population in England. Whilst anxiety is a condition which comes from the brain, it can show itself up in many physical as well as psychological forms, such as restlessness, excessive worrying, paranoia, dry mouth, an increased heart rate, nausea, tension headaches and needing the toilet more often.
For many people, mild anxiety can be easily dealt with, but for those who experience severe anxiety, it can be life changing. Conventional treatment usually consists of a combination of medication and talking therapies, but for many, pharmaceutical treatments can carry too many negative side effects. Whether it is Generalised Anxiety Disorder, PTSD or another kind of anxiety, many people who live with anxiety are finding that CBD can help them without the need for invasive drugs, widening their options for treatment.
What is CBD and how can it help with anxiety?
CBD or cannabidiol is one of the major compounds found naturally in the cannabis sativa plant. It interacts with the endocannabinoid system in the human body to help to promote a state of homeostasis. This means that it can help to keep the body in a balanced inner state – in terms of regulating inflammation, mood, pain, sleep, the immune system and appetite.
The part of the cannabis plant that gives you the ‘high’ is the compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), not CBD. CBD products in the UK are usually made from hemp which has been selectively bred to contain negligible levels of THC. This means CBD products won’t make you ‘high’ if you consume them, and they are legal to buy and possess.
Within the endocannabinoid system, there are CB1 receptors, which have an effect on serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which affects mood, so by interacting with the CB1 receptors, CBD can help people who are living with anxiety and other mental health challenges.
Anxiety, agoraphobia and coronavirus
Since coronavirus swept the world in 2020 many people have spent a great deal of time confined to their homes, with the occasional outing to the park or the shops. As the vaccine begins to roll out, many of us will be worried about returning to work, school or spending more time in public. Entering back into society could be overwhelming for everyone, but will be especially hard for those who suffer from anxiety and agoraphobia.
What does having agoraphobia mean?
The NHS describes agoraphobia as “a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong.” People with agoraphobia may be scared of leaving their homes, going on public transport or visiting supermarkets and shopping centres. Those who suffer from agoraphobia will often have symptoms of a panic attack when they find themselves in stressful situations and these panic attacks can even be caused by an anticipated situation. Those that suffer from agoraphobia often have a hard time feeling safe in any public place, especially where crowds gather. The fear can be so overwhelming that sufferers may feel unable to leave home.
How lockdown has impacted those suffering agoraphobia?
Dave Smithson, operations director at Anxiety UK, states that lockdown has increased stress levels for those enduring health anxieties due to the lack of mental health services available and the axing of face-to-face therapies. He also commented on the easing of lockdown restrictions, stating that almost 67 per cent of their callers that were polled said that “lifting lockdown would increase their fear of using transport, going to public places, going shopping, going to work and attending public events, as well as contracting the virus.”
Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll agrees and also explains that there is a difference between those who are already suffering from agoraphobia and those who have developed health or social anxiety due to the pandemic. There are people who have become worried about leaving home and their safe isolated bubble created during lockdown. Aroll explains this “the type of anxiety that people without pre-existing agoraphobia or a predisposition to this condition are experiencing is more akin to a form of social and/or health anxiety”.
It is clear that there is certainly a fear about returning to a new reality. Here in the UK, lockdown restrictions continue to ease and the government is ramping up pressure on workers to go back to the office. For some of you, this may be a huge relief, but countless others are bound to feel uneasy about getting on public transport and back into an office space after so many months away from their desks.
Even for those who don’t have diagnosable anxiety disorders, it is still entirely normal to feel nervous about adapting to change and also about catching Covid-19 or transmitting it to vulnerable friends or family members. We have endured one of the biggest threats to public health we’ve seen in a generation, so it’s totally normal to feel apprehensive. For parents taking their children back to school after another series of closures, this may also mean managing their kid’s anxieties as well as their own. Parents are having to adjust to a new ‘normal’ education system and, although the stress of having children at home whilst working can be extreme, some parents are naturally sceptical about the safety of children mixing in large groups.
For those with mental health issues such as anxiety and agoraphobia, these various stresses relating to Covid-19 can be honestly overwhelming.
Managing anxiety and agoraphobia as lockdown eases
There are many strategies that you can undertake at home to help with anxiety disorders such as meditation, exercise and taking CBD. Taking CBD has been shown to help with anxiety and sleep and is now commonly used to address these issues. In 2017, Current Neuropharmacology published ‘Evidences for the Anti-panic Actions of Cannabidiol’ which concluded that CBD seems to be a promising drug for the treatment of panic disorders and that “the studies assessed clearly suggest an anxiolytic-like effect of CBD in both animal models and healthy volunteers.”
The science behind CBD and anxiety
There have been a number of promising studies on CBD and anxiety.
According to research by José Alexandre Crippa at the University of São Paulo in Brazil and King’s College in London, the 5-HT1A (hydroxytryptamine) receptor can be directly activated by CBD. 5-HT1A is a Serotonin receptor and it is this process that gives CBD its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect. The research showed that CBD can have a similar effect on Serotonin receptors as medicines commonly taken for anxiety, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
In a 2011 study of 24 people, the subjects – all of whom suffered from social anxiety disorder – were given either a dosage of CBD or a placebo an hour and a half before performing a public speaking task, as public speaking is typically a task that can stimulate social anxiety disorder. In addition, a further 12 people in a control group were given nothing whatsoever. The study found that those who took the CBD had significantly reduced levels of cognitive impairment, anxiety and discomfort whilst speaking compared to the other two groups.
Another study comparing the effects of THC and CBD found that THC activated the neurotransmitters involved in the “fight or flight” response that causes anxiety. CBD actually repressed the nervous system response associated with sudden increases in heart rate or respiration, and that there was a trend for a reduction in anxiety following administration of CBD.
Taking CBD for anxiety
There are a number of different ways to take CBD and the most common and effective methods are either using under the tongue drops (sub-lingual) or using a vape pen (vaporising). These are the quickest methods of getting CBD into the bloodstream, as well as giving you good control over dosage.
It is recommended that if you haven’t taken CBD before, you start with a lower dose, which you then increase with time once you are comfortable. Scientists have found, however, that cannabis compounds such as CBD are biphasic. This means that their effectiveness can be described as bell-shaped. Small amounts of CBD will have the opposite effect to large doses. So, for example, large doses might sedate people, whereas small doses might stimulate. Dosage sizes vary depending on body size, type and individual factors, so your dosage needs to be tailor-made to you.
Cannabidiol is not addictive and any side effects associated with it are rare and mild. Side effects can include a change in appetite, change in mood, diarrhoea, low blood pressure and drowsiness.
It is possible that CBD can interact with some other medications that you might be taking. Although taking CBD on its own is safe, it might affect other medications by making it more or less effective, or by changing the time that it takes to work. This is why it is essential that you speak to your doctor before taking CBD if you are taking any other medicine.
What dose of CBD should I take for anxiety?
It can be very confusing understanding what dose of CBD you need and indeed what strength a product is. For example, some products only state how many micrograms (mg) of CBD are in the bottle but don’t state the % of strength. If a bottle contains 400mg in a 20ml bottle, that will be far stronger than 400mg in a 100ml bottle. Therefore, it is important to know both so you can be sure of what dose you are taking.
So what dose is a good dose of CBD for anxiety? Sadly there is no simple answer. The amount everybody needs varies and depends on the following factors; your height and weight, the severity of the anxiety you are trying to treat, the potency of the product you are taking and your sensitivity to CBD.
The best thing to do is start slow and build up until you find a dose that works for you.
Buying CBD for anxiety
If you are considering trying CBD to help you to deal with anxiety issues, it is important that you know what you are buying. You can now find an excellent selection of CBD containing products in high street shops and online. There are a few key factors to look out for when looking for a reputable, trustworthy CBD brand.
It is imperative that you make sure that any CBD products you are looking to buy are lab tested and have their results available to see. All CBD products need to be lab tested and any company that cares about quality will be doing their due diligence.
Can your company of choice tell you where the plants they got their CBD from is grown? If not then this is a major red flag.
People love to pretend that CBD and cannabis is a cure all with no side effects whatsoever. If a company is promising you that their CBD will cure a certain condition or diseases then firstly it is illegal to make such claims and secondly it is also immoral.
When you are buying CBD products, you will often be presented with either CBD isolate or full-spectrum CBD. CBD isolate is ‘pure CBD’. This might seem to be the best option, but scientists have actually found that CBD, when combined with some of the other compounds that are found in the Cannabis plant (at legal levels) actually make the CBD more effective. This is called full-spectrum CBD.
There is a lot of pre-clinical evidence to show that CBD can be an effective and natural treatment for those who are suffering from anxiety. Although there is still a lot of research to do, there are also some studies and a lot of positive testimonials to suggest that cannabidiol can help with anxiety. For more information, check out our beginners guide to CBD.