Today, CBD, also known as cannabidiol, has become a rising star in the health and wellness community. Partly due to its versatile nature (you can take your CBD by adding CBD vape juice to your vape pen, as a liquid, edible, capsule, or suppository form) and partly due to its potential as a healing, restorative aid for a wealth of conditions, CBD certainly has range covered.
With more emphasis being placed on CBD’s potential to boost and stabilize mood, its effects on curbing anxiety have been looked into. As studies show, with the increased presence of CBD, there’s a chance of lowering anxiety: namely anxiety disorders, which range from generalized anxiety, social disorders, and phobias to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
According to research, anxiety is normal – an emotional response to a serious, life-threatening, or dangerous trigger. It is when a person begins to maladaptively express anxiety over small triggers (or even nonexistent/benign triggers) that anxiety is diagnosed as a disorder.
How Does CBD Help With Anxiety?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS), which we all have in us, is a complex system responsible for balancing a whole lot of processes in the body. In a nutshell, our ECS is responsible for keeping homeostasis running smoothly. This means, when done correctly, our ECS should keep us happy, healthy, and able to regulate normal things – like body temperature, libido, cognitive function, and even memory. Our ECS pretty much operates around three molecules- endocannabinoids (little molecules which connect to receptors to trigger modulation), cannabinoids (like THC or CBD – which can also trigger ECS modulation), and ECS receptors (which are differentiated as CB1 and CB2 receptors).
The purpose of these CB1 and CB2 receptors is to regulate and modulate all the major processes in the body- including keeping anxiety levels stable. So, when endocannabinoids aren’t quite doing their job (and this can happen for a number of reasons), we can take cannabinoids, which modulate the release of certain feel-good neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters involved in alleviating anxiety include serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. In particular, CBD has been shown to increase serotonin levels – which can dim the symptoms of anxiety. This is how.
CBD, Anandamide and 2-AG
Because CBD doesn’t have a high affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors, it doesn’t quite flood the system and trigger change instantaneously- which is a blessing for those who tend to suffer from anxiety. With cannabinoids, such as THC, which have a high affinity for endocannabinoid receptors, it is the sudden influx of THC connecting to CB1 receptors, which can cause feelings of fear, paranoia, and anxiety to occur. In fact, CBD has the opposite effect- and in some instances, CBD can offset the paranoia which THC tends to cause, making it a great way to combat the side effects of a THC-induced panic attack.
This is because, while CBD still has effects over the endocannabinoid system, it does so by manipulating already existing endocannabinoids- and so, we can safely say that, unlike THC, CBD doesn’t flood the CB1 receptors, setting off a system imbalance as a consequence. The endocannabinoid which CBD helps to elevate in the body is known as anandamide – also coined ‘the bliss molecule’ due to its incredible therapeutic potential. CBD also releases another endocannabinoid called 2-AG, which tends to bind well to CB1 receptors and improve cognition, memory, and wellbeing.
Studies show that people who are ‘happier’ tend to have higher levels of anandamide in their system. And if you aren’t already convinced about anandamide’s incredibly therapeutic potential, here’s one that’ll get you: chocolate has been found to boost levels of anandamide.
High levels of anandamide have been shown to decrease pain, lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety and even reduce fear levels. This study, for example, undertaken on humans and mice, shows us exactly how the presence of anandamide in the system keeps mood lifted and fear/anxiety levels low. CBD does this by inhibiting the expression (essentially preventing the activity) of the protein, fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), often involved in the reuptake of anandamide. Less FAAH means more anandamide in the system for longer – and less anxiety, fear, and paranoia, as a result.
How Do Anandamide and 2-AG Prevent Anxiety?
We’ve talked about how the presence of CBD means an enhanced sense of wellbeing- it also means more dopamine, oxytocin, and GABA levels in the system. If you haven’t already guessed how, here’s the answer: it is because of higher levels of anandamide.
CBD also promotes the actions of 2-AG, which binds to CB1 receptors quite well, and helps protect the neurons, improve dopamine levels in the body and decrease inflammation. Anandamide also binds to CB1 receptors in the brain to trigger fear-extinction. Alongside this, anandamide activates TRPV1 receptors, which helps to lower pain perception and increase mood. Anandamide and 2-AG also help the brain to recognize and respond to serotonin – which is secreted by the activation of the 5-HT system.
CBD and Serotonin: What Does The Research Say?
Increased serotonin has been shown to lower stress, eliminate depression and reduce fear levels, all while increasing wellbeing. According to studies, anandamide and 2-AG might help to release serotonin by activating the CB1 receptors – just enough to stimulate wellbeing and regulate stress without overdoing it. However, research isn’t sure how CBD boosts serotonin levels; or whether it even can – so the idea that it might do is based on hypotheses, what people have felt when they do take CBD, and which parts of the brain respond to CBD.
But, deeper still, studies do show that the 5-HT pathways certainly respond to the presence of CBD in the body. This is the pathway that modulates serotonin levels in the system; it can give, and it can take. Because the 5-HT pathway can be a tricky one to pin down (the overactivation of CB1 receptors can inhibit the production of serotonin to such a degree as to promote anxiety – as evidenced by a THC overdose causing paranoid and panic), studies tell us that the gentle activation of CB1 ensures that the 5-HT pathway is regulated well enough. This tells us that CBD, and its crafty henchmen, anandamide and 2-AG, might be responsible for stimulating the 5-HT pathway just enough to promote serotonin secretion. But we aren’t quite sure how.
What we are sure about is, luckily for CBD, anandamide, and 2-AG’s moderate to high affinity for the right CB1 receptors is right enough to allow the brain to respond well to changes in the body – such as the activation of the 5-HT pathway.
Talking about the 5-HT pathway, CBD seems to have a high affinity for 5-HT receptors, allowing it to activate the same therapeutic pathways as serotonin. Since the brain can’t tell the difference, just that the 5-HT pathway has lit up, we can say that the increased perception of more serotonin in the system can be alone in boosting wellbeing and lowering anxiety levels.
If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it is that CBD definitely can help lower your anxiety. While the science behind how might be murky, it’s certainly promising that CBD can promote higher levels of a molecule named after the Sanskrit word for ‘bliss’.
If that’s not a good enough reason to try CBD, to feel like your best self, then what is?