One in four Americans will suffer from an anxiety disorder during their lifetime — where feelings of dread, unpreparedness, and imminent danger recur more and more often, leading to racing thoughts and physical reactions. Where do these feelings come from?
A major contributor is our genetics. Small differences in our hormones or neurotransmitters (like serotonin and norepinephrine) can massively impact how we respond to stress. Another piece of the puzzle includes environmental & lifestyle toxins that affect our neurochemistry.
But probably the biggest source of anxiety is stress. Chronic stress trains your brain to feel anxious — it wants you to “remember” so you can anticipate (and hopefully avoid) more stress in the future.
Small bursts of stress hormones tell your body to prepare for a “fight or flight” situation. Unfortunately, our bodies weren’t designed to handle a perpetual state of panic. Chronically high levels of stress hormones — particularly cortisol — wreak havoc everywhere, with consequences.
How CBD Combats Anxiety
Cannabidiol has more than 65 targets throughout the body, which makes it difficult to pinpoint the sources of its many different therapeutic properties. Studies currently suggest that CBD counters anxiety by stimulating neurotransmitter systems and neural regeneration. Here’s the evidence:
- Serotonin: Most people associate serotonin withhappiness. However, the role of this neurotransmitter is very complex, and its effects depend on where it is and what it binds to. (Contrary to popular belief, more serotonin is not necessarily better — dysfunction can stem from low or highlevels of serotonin, as well as from malfunctions with their receptors.) Serotonin has at least 14 different receptors, but CBD specifically binds to 5-HT1A which is thought to have the strongest role in anxiety disorders. The anti-anxiety drug buspirone also binds to this particular receptor, whichexplains the anti-anxiety effects of CBD on rats exposed to stressful situations.
- Endocannabinoids: Your body naturally produces cannabinoids, which are used throughout your body and brain in the endocannabinoid system. This system can become dysregulated under chronic stress. However, CBD could help restore balance to the endocannabinoid systemby preventing overstimulation of your CB1 receptors and by boosting your body’s production of endocannabinoids. Rodent experiments show that CBD relieves OCD and other anxious behaviours by acting on the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in processing and forgetting our fears — vital for extinction learning.
- Neural regeneration: Although chronic stress can damage neurons and even shrink brains, certain areas of the brain are still capable of regeneration. Throughout our lives we continue to form new neurons, make new connections, and grow our brains — and CBD apparently boosts this process. This means that CBD could help to counterbalance the brain damage caused by chronic stress. Numerous studies have proved that CBD encourages neural regeneration, particularly in the hippocampus. In fact, its ability to reduce anxiety in chronically-stressed mice comes from CBD’s power to stimulate the growth of new neurons.(For more on CBD’s role in neuroplasticity and neural regeneration, see our upcoming article on depression.)