It will come as no surprise that cases of anxiety tripled in 2020. At the height of the first UK lockdown, 52% of us were struggling with our mental health. And, in response, we’ve been overwhelmed with a deluge of purported solutions over the past year, as meditation, mantras and more have been touted for potential relief.
But, what about taking CBD for anxiety? While studies are in their early stages, evidence suggests that the compound may have a unique relationship with those anxious feelings. In fact, Dr. Balu, private psychiatrist at Emotional Wellness Clinic, has prescribed it to a number of patients. Here, he tells us what effect it may have, and how CBD is believed to interact with your brain...
What’s the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?
It’s important to know the difference between stress and anxiety, because this will affect the way you approach professional or medical treatment.
“Stress is the usual response to a perceived threat,” says Dr. Balu. “There are instances where stress can be useful, [such as] when you want to take action or you want to get away from something that could be damaging.”
However, he explains that chronic anxiety is “when there’s no threat and your mind just goes into overdrive, overthinking, [then] it becomes a disorder.” He adds that, while many use the words ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ interchangeably, stress isn’t typically treated with medicines, while an anxiety disorder “needs to be managed and treated.”
How Might CBD Help Anxiety and Depression?
First, Dr. Balu points out that “the CBD we talk about is what we call the non-psychoactive kind,” which you can read all about in our ‘What is CBD?’ guide. “*What that means is that it’s not like THC, [which improves] your sense of excitement – it is more about giving you a sense of calm.” *
So, how might that work? It’s believed the endocannabinoid system may play a key role in the link between CBD and anxiety. This system is made up of receptors that are located all throughout your body. You have the CB1 receptors, which exist in the brain and spinal cord, and the CB2 receptors, which are distributed in the immune system.
It’s believed these receptors can be activated by phytocannabinoids, like CBD. The cannabinoid is the key and the receptor is the padlock, unlocking a balancing reaction. In the case of anxiety, it’s thought that when a cannabinoid attaches to CB1 receptors in the brain, you may experience a therapeutic, anxiety-calming effect.
What's the Research on CBD and Anxiety?
In recent years, increasing numbers of preclinical trials and scientific publications have been looking into the impact of CBD on anxiety, sleep and depression.
A 2015 Review explored evidence from current preclinical, clinical and epidemiological studies around the benefits of CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders. Overall, it found that research supported CBD's efficacy as a solution for reducing anxiety behaviours – including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and seasonal affective disorder.
Another study of 72 adult patients was conducted at a psychiatric clinic to document patients' anxiety levels and sleep quality across a one month period when taking CBD. Anxiety levels were shown to decrease within the first month for 79.2% of participants, and remained decreased for the entire study duration. Sleep improvements were also documented for 66.7% of patients, although this was noted to fluctuate over time.
Whilst further research is needed in the form of randomised and controlled clinical studies, studies show initial promise for the use of CBD as a safe treatment option for a variety of anxiety-related disorders.
What Type of CBD is Best to Take For Anxiety?
One of the most common ways of consuming CBD is with an oil, like the CBD Oral Drops. The dropper is marked with measurements, making it easy to figure out how much you’re taking. All you need to do is squeeze a little sublingually (underneath your tongue) and let it sit for 90 seconds. “I would recommend people take one dropper of the 300mg oil daily to start with. This is equal to 10mg of CBD,” says Dr. Balu. “Then you can slowly increase it up to three droppers.”
There’s also a lot to be said for the knot-releasing, stress-reducing power of a massage. And you don’t need to visit a spa to work out tight knots; try massaging achy muscles at home. Give it a go with a scoop of the CBD Muscle Balm on the tips of fingers. Simply apply firm pressure to the shoulders, the ‘webbing’ between the thumb and forefinger, and the hollow just above the intersection of your big toe and second toe. It’s perfect for a nighttime wind-down.
3 More Ways to Calm Anxiety in Stressful Times
Between the flurry of COVID-19 news headlines and impending post-lockdown life, you might be finding anxiety is more persistent than ever before. Dr. Balu recommends introducing new habits that keep your brain and body occupied. Here are three of his top tips…
1. Think of remaining restrictions as merely a ‘physical isolation’. “I’ve been telling my patients that, although the governments around the world are talking about social isolation, we’d like to think of it more as physical isolation to keep the spread of the virus at bay,” Dr. Balu says. He adds that we can still “come together socially and feel connected.” Try apps like FaceTime, which allow us to talk and share our fears, instead of internalising them.
2. Try to keep moving. “Dance is good, listening to music… things like that are definitely going to distract you and boost your mood,” says Dr. Balu. Look to social media, where you can find endless on-the-spot cardio and toning workouts, including live-streamed sessions that let you interact with the instructors. Our favourites include Chill Yoga and Slow Flow, live from Fly Ldn’s Instagram, or for some endorphin-flowing cardio, the boxing-inspired HIIT workouts on Rumble’s Stories.
3. Focus on the good news. While it’s important to understand and process the realities of the current situation, Dr. Balu points out that a lot of news stories will be causing an increase in panic rates. “There is a lot of hope in stories of bravery, people getting together, nature getting better, so there will be positivity in the news [too]. It’s having that balance that’s important.”