The Science Behind How CBD Works For Anxiety

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2 years ago, only cannabis lovers knew about CBD and were using it for anxiety and stress. 

Fast forward to 2020 and everyone is using CBD to deal with everyday stress, working professionals, the mom with 2 kids to the grandma at home (yes, nana/bubby also experience anxiety). 

What made CBD so popular in 2020?

For one, it really well to help you feel calmer. Second, CBD is natural.

That's the beauty of CBD, you ACTUALLY feel your body calming down. Not in 30 days, not in 10 days but within an hour of taking it and it lasts all day. 

So we know CBD works but how does it work in the body? What's the scientific explanation as to how it works to reduce anxiety?

Here is the might be a little too scientific but anyone who has researched anxiety should be familiar with these medical terms.

Just in case here is a quick refresher.

Serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine: That's your happy molecule that your body makes. AKA the difference between you down or happy.

Endocannabinoid System: A natural biological system that controls many functions in your body. We all have and endocannabinoid system, it's not just for stoners. CBD interacts with this system.

CB1 CB2: Cannabinoid receptors, located throughout the body, are part of the endocannabinoid system.

FAAH: Fatty acid amide hydrolase

Anandamide: Our bodies create anandamide on-demand, to be used when needed to maintain homeostasis. Anandamide does this by helping to regulate inflammation and neuron signaling.


While drug companies around the world are experimenting with synthetic FAAH inhibitors, hoping they’ll become the next big thing in anti-anxiety medication, cannabidiol (CBD), the non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis, has been shown to inhibit anandamide reuptake and delay its metabolism by FAAH.

Several studies confirm that administering CBD enhances CB1 signaling, in turn promoting the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus, which scientists believe further contributes towards the compound’s anxiolytic effect.

However, CBD’s anti-anxiety action extends beyond increasing endocannabinoid signaling. Animal studies show how CBD interacts with serotonin 5-HT1A receptors in the brain, which are tried and tested targets for anti-anxiety medication.

In one study, administering CBD to rats submitted to 60 minutes of enforced restraint not only lowered their heart rate and mean arterial pressure, but also reduced anxiety levels. However, these results were not replicated when the rats were given a 5-HT1A antagonist, which blocked CBD from interacting with the serotonin receptors,

What remains unclear is whether CBD elicits this effect by directly binding with 5-HT1A receptors or by indirectly facilitating 5-HT1A serotonin signaling.

Neuroimaging in healthy subjects given 400mg of a CBD isolate suggested that the relaxation they reportedly experienced may have been caused by activity in the limbic and paralimbic brain system, areas of the brain associated with emotional processing, memory, and cognitive processes.


While more still remains to be discovered about the mechanisms behind CBD’s anxiolytic effect, in certain US states and countries where medicinal use of cannabis is legal, doctors are treating their patients with CBD-rich cannabis strains for anxiety disorders. For the rest of us still condemned to the dark ages of prohibition, CBD oil derived from hemp has been our anti-anxiety salvation.

Consider the case of Emily Wilson, a 30-year-old British aid worker living in Greece. For the last three years, Emily has been education coordinator at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Athens, where 2800 displaced persons from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran live side by side in converted shipping containers, many still suffering from severe trauma.

With limited resources, Emily was often left feeling stressed and frustrated by the limitations of the work she could do. After two years working at the refugee camp, her naturally buoyant and positive nature was no longer a protection against the physical and mental strain she endured on a daily basis.

“I remember a few times,” Emily recounted, “where I’d just be walking and I’d start to think about work and my chest would tighten and I’d have to start taking deep breaths because my chest was tightening so much and my eyes were watering like I was crying. But it was tears of frustration and tears of panic. This happened about once or twice a week for about three or four weeks until I realized there was something really wrong. It was so crippling that I didn’t go to work because I couldn’t get out of bed.”

Emily started taking full spectrum CBD oil, and after gradually building up the dose from one drop to three drops, three times a day, she started to feel her anxiety levels subside.

“I think the major benefit of it for me,” says Emily, “was it prevented the anxiety from becoming all encompassing. It didn’t take away the problems, but meant that they were there, I acknowledged them, I knew that I had to work through them, but they weren’t in my chest, they weren’t in my throat, and weren’t stopping me doing things. So there was a distance from them. I also felt a deep sense of calm and a deep sense of, OK, well, everything can be solved.”

Bottom line

Like everything in life, you need to try new experiences to see what works for you. Not everyone will respond the same way to CBD but it's definitely worth looking into if you have a hectic lifestyle.

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