While occasional anxiety is normal and at times a beneficial response when faced with a critical situation, it can become excessive and develop into a dangerous disorder. Anxiety-related disorders, in which the feelings of stress don’t subside and eventually interfere with daily life, aren’t uncommon. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that over 18% of adults in the United States, or approximately 58 million people, are affected by an anxiety disorder.
The pharmaceutical industry has developed several drugs to treat anxiety-related disorders, but many of them cause adverse, intolerable side effects or are highly addictive. Evidence from both preclinical and clinical studies suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) has powerful anti-anxiety properties and could be a viable, well-tolerated alternative for treating stress disorders.
What Human Studies Have Shown
The findings in the limited number of human studies investigating CBD’s effects on anxiety have been extremely promising. In 1993, researchers found that 300 mg of CBD had anti-anxiety effects on humans that were subject to a stressful situation.
A double-blind study conducted by a team of Brazilian researchers on patients with Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) in 2011 found that CBD significantly decreased subjective anxiety levels. The researchers also performed brain scans on the subjects, and found that cerebral blood flow patterns were consistent with an anti-anxiety response.
In another 2011 study, CBD effectively reduced anxiety and “almost abolished” negative self-statement scores in participants with SAD when they were subjected to simulated public speaking.
How Does CBD Elicit Its Anti-Anxiety Effects
CBD is known to interact with or influence the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for regulating several body processes. While more research still needs to be done to fully understand the mechanisms of CBD’s anti-anxiety effects, evidence so far suggests that CBD reduce anxiety levels in three ways:
- 5-HT1A agonist: CBD has shown to enhance the transmission of 5-HT1A receptors, which manage the release of serotonin. Low serotonin levels in the brain have been linked to depression and anxiety disorders, while more serotonin is thought to improve mood.
- CB1 and CB2 receptor: CBD’s interaction with the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors helps to inhibit fatty acid amide hydrolase, an enzyme that degrades the endocannabinoid anandamide. Anandamide exhibits both anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties, and by helping prevent its degradation, CBD reduces the vulnerability to anxiety.
- Hippocampal neurogenesis: CBD’s influence on CB2 receptors encourages the hippocampus of the brain to regenerate neurons. The hippocampus is a major part of the brain that is instrumental in cognition and memory formation, so the birth of new neurons could be beneficial for treating depression and anxiety. While evidence shows that anxiety and even suicidal behaviors can be partly attributed to severely impaired neuronal plasticity, studies have shown that CBD encourages neurogenesis and is neuroprotective.