Stress accumulates. A looming deadline, financial pressure, or even running late for the train – it all gets added to the stress bucket. And when that bucket overflows, our health and wellbeing can suffer.
With the chaos that is 2022, stress relief should be a priority for us all. Journalling, meditating, and exercising are all science-backed ways to reduce stress, but what other natural remedies could help to calm our mind and body?
The cannabis plant has long been touted for its anxiety-relieving properties, but new research into this powerful plant reveals that one mighty cannabinoid, CBD, could be our stress-busting saviour.
How stress impacts the body
Stress is our innate response to danger. In terms of our evolutionary survival, ‘fight or flight’ is an essential mechanism. Even in the pressured environment of modern-day society, stress can be a useful motivator, but it’s likely doing us far more harm than good.
Stress and anxiety levels are growing at an alarming rate. In March 2020 – the beginning of the first Covid-19 lockdown – 73% of surveyed UK adults said they were “coping well with the stress of the pandemic”, but this figure dropped to 62% by November 2020. Now, over a third of UK workers claim to be more stressed than they were before the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Stress can manifest itself in countless different ways. It’s not just in the mind; some of the physical symptoms of stress include:
- Aches and pains
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching
- Digestive issues
Aside from its uncomfortable symptoms, stress can also be hugely detrimental to our long-term health. Prolonged stress takes its toll on our heart, increasing the risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. It also impacts the immune system, putting us at higher risk of illness and inflammatory disease.
Stress is a major contributor to mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. With an increasing social effort to protect the nation’s mental health, stress-busting techniques – mindfulness and yoga, among them – are on the rise. But there’s a new product on the wellness scene, CBD, and it’s proving to work wonders for our mental wellbeing.
What is CBD?
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of over 100 naturally occurring cannabinoids from the Cannabis sativa plant. It is non-psychoactive, so it cannot get you high. For this reason, CBD has become a hugely popular health supplement amongst those seeking some of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, without the intoxicating effects of its mind-altering molecule, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
In recent years, CBD has captured the attention of researchers for its powerful therapeutic properties. In the form of Epidiolex, CBD is now an accepted treatment for rare forms of epilepsy and even shows promise in the treatment of inflammatory conditions, multiple sclerosis, and anxiety.
CBD interacts with our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex biological network that helps to regulate our mood, appetite, sleep, pain levels, immune health, and much more. Researchers have noted that stress can impair the signalling of endocannabinoids in our brain, which can contribute to anxiety.
By modulating the activity of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, and altering the signalling of our endocannabinoids, CBD can have a pronounced effect on our mood. Piggybacking off the success of studies into CBD and anxiety disorders, there is now increasing evidence to suggest that CBD can also help to calm everyday stress.
Can CBD reduce stress?
CBD has taken the health and wellness scene by storm. Thousands of people are choosing to use cannabinoids to manage the symptoms of countless conditions, including stress and anxiety. According to research published in the Journal of Cannabis Research in 2021, 37% of 387 surveyed CBD users report doing so to relieve stress.
The anecdotal evidence might be in abundance, but what do the scientists say? Numerous animal studies, using stress-induced anxiety models, have found that the administration of CBD either prevents or diminishes the behavioural stress response.
Human trials have indicated that CBD is a promising treatment for anxiety, but fewer studies have assessed its effect on stress alone. According to a review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in 2021, there “there have been seven double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials of CBD for stress on a combined total of 232 participants.” The researchers noted that all trials found CBD to be effective at reducing the stress response.
One small study of only 9 healthy participants found that 600 mg of CBD attenuates the rise of blood pressure associated with stress. More research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn about CBD and blood pressure, but these findings suggest that CBD could help to manage some of the physical manifestations of stress, as well as perceived stress and anxiety.
However, it is important to note that some of CBD’s stress-busting effects could be due to the placebo effect. Researchers, who incorrectly informed participants that they were receiving a dose of CBD, found that the expectancy of CBD “impacted several subjective and physiological responses,” including its effects on stress and anxiety.
How it works
The exact mechanisms for the stress- and anxiety-relieving effects of CBD aren’t yet known, but numerous studies have highlighted an association between the activation of serotonin receptors and stress reduction, with CBD administration.
Serotonin, famously termed our ‘happy hormone’, is the neurotransmitter involved in stabilising our mood. CBD has been shown to activate serotonin receptors of the 1A subtype and subsequently enhance serotonin signalling, which can help to boost our mood and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
There are several other proposed mechanisms behind CBD’s stress-busting properties. CBD has also been shown to suppress the HPA-axis (or the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, if we’re getting technical). When activated during times of stress, the HPA-axis initiates a cascade of hormonal changes that trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response. CBD can therefore help to reduce the release of our ‘stress hormone’, cortisol, and attenuate our physiological response to stress.
CBD can also have a more indirect effect on stress. Firstly, it can act as an inhibitor of the FAAH enzyme, which is responsible for metabolising anandamide (a key endocannabinoid) after it has finished its biological duties. By preventing its breakdown, CBD can enhance the signalling of anandamide, which could help to protect against the symptoms of stress.
Secondly, CBD may also be an effective natural sleep aid. Stress and sleep are closely connected. If we’re stressed, we can’t sleep. And if we’re sleep-deprived, we’re more prone to stress. Through various mechanisms, CBD can help us to sleep better and for longer and, in turn, reduce our risk of stress.
Is it safe?
CBD is not yet an accepted clinical treatment for psychiatric conditions. According to a review of 76 studies published between 2019 and 2020, CBD is a promising treatment for anxiety and stress-related conditions, but far more research is needed.
However, research into the use of CBD as a treatment for epilepsy has uncovered an impressive safety profile for this cannabinoid. CBD is non-addictive and is safe and well-tolerated in the vast majority of people. Its side effects, such as appetite changes, nausea, and fatigue, are rare and mild. These effects are typically remedied with the correct dosage, so common guidance is to start low and build your dose up.
CBD has also been shown to interact with a variety of medications, so you should consult your doctor before adding CBD to your routine or making any changes to your current treatment plan.
How to take CBD
Thanks to the growing public interest in CBD, the market is booming. You can now take CBD in a variety of ways, each with its own benefits, depending on your needs. Here are just a few of the most popular ways to take CBD:
CBD oil, when dropped under the tongue, can quickly enter the bloodstream and immediately help to relieve stress. There are a wide variety of CBD oils available, some with added ingredients for your benefit. If the taste of CBD oil isn’t for you, they are also available in water-soluble forms, meaning they can easily be added to any drink or shake.
Gummies are a great (and delicious!) way to get a daily oral dose of CBD. The beauty of CBD gummies is that the dose is consistent and convenient. They do, however, take slightly longer (30 minutes to 2 hours) to kick in and tend to contain slightly lower doses than oils, so you may wish to take more than one if necessary.
Capsules are ideal for those seeking the benefits of CBD oil, without the dropper or the strong taste. Again, they have a slightly slower onset of action and should ideally be taken with food, to ensure that the fat-soluble oil is absorbed properly. But capsules are a convenient, tasteless alternative to CBD oil that can easily fit into any vitamin regimen.
As with many branches of cannabinoid research, the evidence for using CBD as a stress-buster is limited, but the testimonials are piling high. CBD can seamlessly slot into any self-care routine, so if you’re looking to calm your mind and reduce your stress levels, it’s certainly worth giving CBD a go.
At leafie, we appreciate that not every problem can be remedied with stress-relief techniques. Be sure to seek professional guidance if you feel like you need a helping hand with your mental health.