Trying CBD Therapy for Mild-to-Moderate Anxiety: A Primer

Currently, over 14% of Americans are using some form of CBD. Over 20% of CBD users are using CBD therapy to treat anxiety. 

But does it actually work? 

Some health and wellness trends are sketchy at best, but the research surrounding CBD seems to be promising. Especially for its use to treat anxiety.

Here’s what you need to know about using CBD to treat anxiety. 

What is Anxiety? 

Although it’s often seen as a negative emotion, it’s essential to humans and animals. Anxiety is a survival instinct our Homo habilis ancestors developed to warn us of danger.

Fear is different from anxiety and causes a flight or fight response. Anxiety is the anticipation of danger or discomfort. 

For example, if a group of stray cats across the street, and one of them gets hit by a car. The surviving members of the colony will likely physically experience the symptoms of anxiety when they know they have to cross the street again.

Or, a dog who had a bad experience at a groomer might develop a behavior of hiding under a table whenever its owner tries to get it to go in the garage, to get in the car.

Anxiety is a normal, beneficial response that everyone will experience. Anxiety manifests psychologically and physiologically. Someone experiencing normal anxiety should acknowledge the feeling, instead of trying to suppress it. Normal anxiety occurs for a reason and should be acknowledged. 

When Anxiety is a Mental Health Problem

For some people, feelings of anxiety can intensify to levels that do not quite match the “trigger” or source of anxiety. For example, if a person starts to hyperventilate, sweat profusely and cry when they see a spider in their house. 

Seeing a spider can be surprising, and even scary for people who are afraid of bugs. But, crying and not being able to breathe is not a “normal” response to an event like this. 

Normal anxiety enters the territory of mental health problems when it becomes problematic and almost inappropriate to outsiders looking in. 

Another key difference is that people experiencing normal anxiety, feel the symptoms because of a specific source. Like a first date or an exam. Someone with an anxiety problem often feels anxiety chronically, and without a valid reason. 

Back to the spider example, a person with normal anxiety might be wary towards the area of the house they found the spider in for that day. But they will likely spray an insecticide or fill a crack in the floor, and move on. 

Someone with an anxiety disorder might dwell on the thought of a spider crawling on their walls for days or even months to come. Maybe even developing extreme behaviors in the process.  

A major indicator that the anxiety someone is having is abnormal, is if it causes problems in their work, family and social relationships. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders explains that persistent and extreme worry that lasts for six months or more is considered to be a mental health problem. 

What is CBD?

CBD has gone from a questionable acronym associated with “drugs” to a trendy buzzword in healthcare, wellness, and beauty. But what is it? Really?

Yes, it’s related to marijuana. CBD stands for cannabidiol, a naturally occurring chemical found in the Cannabis plant, a.k.a., hemp and marijuana. 

CBD does not contain THC. THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, it’s another compound found in the Cannabis plant. This is a psychoactive chemical (more on that below). 

Both CBD and THC interact with what is known as the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system controls core functions like memory, sleep, reproduction, mood, and appetite. But, the full range of what this system controls is still being researched. 

When CBD and THC enter the body, they interact with neurotransmitters. THC binds with endocannabinoid receptors, which produces an effect of euphoria, and the feeling of being “high.” But CBD does not bind in the same way, which causes it to create sensations of calm in the mind and body. 

Ingesting a higher concentration of CBD than THC at the same time can actually dull the “high” effects of THC. This is one characteristic that distinguishes different “strains” or types of marijuana plants. Their chemical compositions and ratios of THC vs. CBD are one factor that creates different effects between types of marijuana plants. 

But, CBD can be purely extracted, without the presence of THC. Plants that don’t contain any THC at all have been genetically modified too. This makes it possible to ingest CBD legally and in many different ways. 

How CBD Therapy is Used to Help with Anxiety

The way that CBD interacts with the brain is still being researched. But, advocates for the use of CBD for anxiety believe that the compound interacts with serotonin. 

Serotonin is the “happy” hormone. Low levels of serotonin are found in people with depression, anxiety and recovering from substance abuse. Antidepressants are often prescribed to people with anxiety and depression, and their core function is to increase serotonin levels in the brain. 

Since CBD is believed to have similar effects, it’s being studied as a possible alternative to antidepressants. But since everyone’s brains are different, and the levels of CBD in different plants can vary, prescribing the right dose for someone with an anxiety disorder is still inconclusive. 

Some studies have also found that CBD use can decrease both the physiological and psychological effects of anxiety, like stress and increased heart rate

If someone is currently on an antidepressant, it’s very important to consult a doctor before adding CBD to a treatment program. It is possible to “overdose” on serotonin. A condition known as Serotonin Syndrome can be deadly.

It’s also not advised to stop taking an antidepressant suddenly and try to replace it with CBD. The mind and body can react poorly to stopping medication when a person genuinely has a chemical imbalance.

They can experience physical symptoms of nausea and brain zaps.  Psychologically ending medication incorrectly can increase depression, cause disassociation and even thoughts of suicide.  

Ways to Take CBD for Anxiety

CBD can be ingested in a lot of different ways. Know that topical lotions and ointments containing CBD are more commonly used to treat topical issues with the skin like inflammation, dry skin, and acne. It can even be applied to decrease muscle soreness. 

While soaking in a tub of CBD infused bath salts may work to temporarily bring on feelings of calm, to use CBD as a treatment for anxiety, it needs to be taken orally.

Some of the most common ways to take CBD are through vape pens, edibles, and oils. Vaping is common for people who want to ingest CBD in many small doses. It’s easier to control the amount of CBD you’re ingesting with a vape pen.

Not all vape pen cartridges are created equal though. Vape pen cartridges contain CBD and a carrier oil like coconut or hemp. The type of oil used can make a vape pen cartridge more or less healthy or potent. 

Edibles are dosed with different concentrations of CBD, there are a lot of different options. But CBD edibles with dietary restrictions like vegan, sugar, fat, dairy, keto and gluten might find it difficult to find options. Edibles like gummy bears can be taken in small doses throughout the day for a steady dose, where something like a brownie can be taken all at once.

Pure oils are great for people who don’t want to have to “smoke” anything, and who just want to ingest the CBD and be done with it. Like vape pens, they contain a carrier oil, which impacts the quality of the product and the effectiveness. Oils are typically just taken via tincture.

Note that just because something is hemp, does not mean it contains CBD. Research products before purchasing them, or speak with one of our budtenders about options.

THC Warning for Mental Health

CBD is soaring in popularity as a possible treatment for anxiety widely because it doesn’t have a risk factor. Even though THC is widely seen as a “drug” that only has the side effects of laughing too much and getting munchies, it can be dangerous for people with genetically recessive psychiatric disorders, and increase feelings of anxiety and paranoia for people who have mental health problems. 

THC can actually “trigger” the expression of genes associated with psychiatric disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia. It can also make acknowledged mental health conditions worse.

What’s dangerous is that not everyone who is at risk of having mental health challenges reacts the same. Some people react positively to THC, where others react poorly. Turning to something less threatening like CBD takes the roulette-like risk out of the equation. 

Using CBD to Treat Anxiety and Mental Health Conditions 

The future of CBD therapy is exciting for the industry. The research looks promising and taken thoughtfully and under the supervision of a health professional, CBD can have excellent effects for both people with normal anxiety and anxiety disorders. 

Have questions or want to learn more about CBD? Come check out our dispensary near Reno and talk with one of our friendly budtenders! 

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