Why use CBD for anxiety and depression?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, depression and anxiety are at an all-time high. Between 20 and 30 March 2020 almost half (49.6%) of people in the U.K reported high anxiety and average anxiety scores were 5.2 out of 10, ‘a marked increase’ from 3.0 in the last quarter of 2019. That was of course in direct relation to COVID – now, on top of that, we’ve got unfathomable hikes in energy prices, war in the Ukraine and, let’s face it, probably an alien invasion by the end of the year. Let’s just make our peace with that now.
But, before the aliens arrive, we need to find ways to get our stress in check. Not only because symptoms of anxiety and other anxiety-related conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder feel pretty terrible – but because they’re having a serious impact on our health.
How Does Depression & Anxiety Impact Health?
There are many, many studies exploring the impact of stress on body function, including one from 2017, which concluded that ‘many disorders originate from stress, especially if the stress is severe and prolonged’. There are a sprawling number of ways in which stress (particularly chronic stress, but also acute stress) can have a detrimental effect on physical health, including changing the activity of the endocrine system (even a minimal amount of stress can activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), delivering a massive blow to the immune system and even changing DNA.
One animal study compared blood samples taken from 1500 rhesus monkeys who were trapped on a 38-acre islet called Cayo Santiago, on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, when it was hit by Hurricane Maria back in 2017.The results showed that the stress they endured accelerated the aging process to such an extent that their DNA matched that of monkeys two years older than their actual age. This corresponds to 7-8 years in humans.
With all this in mind, it’s clear that finding ways to treat anxiety and manage stress should be considered vitally important. It’s quite literally a matter of survival.
Not All Stress is Equal
Speaking of survival, it’s worth noting that stress isn’t always a bad thing – it can actually have some health benefits. Originally, stress (more specifically, the fight or flight response) kept us alive – helping to protect us from the impending threat of a wild animal in our hunter gatherer days, even lending us super-human strength, speed and a will to live when we needed it most.
Today, there’s not much call for this, but the fight or flight response remains in-built to human physiology. Even now, there are certain types of stress that can be beneficial, known as eustress, which you can gain access to via activities such as competitive sports and sex – we’re animals at our core, after all.
This form of stress actually helps to promote the ‘birth’ of new neurons, improving memory, helping us complete challenging workouts and boosting inspiration, motivation and flow. But, when our survival instinct is triggered in a traumatic situation (acute stress) or kept in constant activation via chronic (prolonged) stress and there’s no completion to the event (a fight, or a flight) we’re kept in a cycle of perpetual fear, stress, depression and anxiety.
So, the ‘wrong’ kind of stress is bad for us – what can we do about it?
Eating a healthy diet, low in sugar, refined carb, high in vitamins, minerals and fibre goes a long way. Vitamin B5 (found in mushrooms, fish, whole grains, lentils and soybeans to name a few) is well known for helping to regulate adrenal glands (which release cortisol) and serotonin levels. Regular exercise and practice mindfulness can also go a long way, as can certain supplements, like functional mushrooms, adaptogens and CBD oil.
CBD oil for Anxiety: Can CBD help manage stress?
Anecdotally, millions of people say CBD products help them enormously when it comes to keeping stress and anxiety under control. Many even claim they use CBD oil or CBD Patches to treat anxiety, or they use CBD for depression, sometimes even replacing prescription medications. Now, during National Stress Awareness Month, we hope to impart a little wisdom as to what the science says.
First of all, while THC (the main psychoactive molecule in the cannabis plant, which The Tonic CBD oil is derived from) is widely used for stress relief, that’s not legal here over a miniscule 0.2% (unless on prescription) – so, we won’t be delving into that today. However, there are over 140 other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant (including CBD), as well as terpenes and flavonoids, all of which bring something to the table.
Given that CBD (cannabidiol) is the most abundant cannabinoid in CBD oil, we’ll take a look at how CBD works.
Does CBD Boost Serotonin Levels?
Incredibly, the effects of CBD alone are far-reaching. It directly activates serotonin receptors (an action which increases serotonin levels) – something which is understood to provide mood boosting effects, among many others. Prescriptions medications called SSRIs, commonly offered to patients suffering from depression and anxiety, also elevate serotonin, but sometimes alongside unpleasant side effects.
Effects of CBD: Stress and the Endocannabinoid System
Cannabidiol also (perhaps most famously) has a unique interaction with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) – a physiological system made up of receptors and neurotransmitters called ‘endocannabinoids’, which works to keep all bodily processes in balance. While CBD doesn’t directly activate the ECS (THC and CBG do), it does support it, by inhibiting the enzyme that’s released to break down endocannabinoids. This results in higher levels of endocannabinoids in the body, which is associated with feelings of ‘bliss’ and helps the body regain or maintain equilibrium.
One of these endocannabinoids, Anandamide (affectionately known as the bliss molecule) is vitally important when it comes to keeping stress at bay. Unfortunately, world renowned cannabis researcher, Dr Ethan Russo, and many other cannabinoid experts, believe that chronic stress can deplete our naturally produced endocannabinoids to the point where it’s possible to suffer from an ‘endocannabinoid deficiency’. When our endocannabinoids are depleted, just about anything can go wrong in the body, compounded by the fact that Anandamide acts sort of like a gate-keeper for stress. When Anandamide levels are healthy, it can relay information to the brain, letting it know that there’s no need for the fight or flight response. Without it, there’s nothing to prevent that cascade and the fallout that ensues. While levels remain low, there’s nothing to stop that process and so on and on it goes.
Fortunately, one of the many benefits of CBD is that, through supporting the ECS, it can help bring those levels back up. Once they’re up, stress is much more easily managed.
When will you feel the benefits of CBD?
While some people who use CBD do notice the effects immediately, it’s more common that it takes a little time – particularly if you are suffering from chronic stress and, therefore, potentially an endocannabinoid deficiency. To get the best results, take regular doses of CBD, building up the amount you take gradually until you find the dose that suits you best. By microdosing (taking a small amount a few times a day), you can steadily accumulate cannabinoids (and endocannabinoids) over time, which will help your body cope with stress as it arises and, hopefully, minimise what stresses you out in the first place.