What Exactly Is CBD Oil & How Can It Fight Anxiety?
The basics of CBD oil: hemp vs. marijuana.
CBD is short for cannabidiol, a cannabinoid compound that is found in hemp and marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana are part of the plant family known as Cannabis. The main difference between marijuana and hemp is the level of THC in each. THC, like CBD, is a cannabinoid compound. There are 60 different known cannabinoids, but THC is the most well-known—the Beyoncé of cannabinoids, if you will. The reason THC is so famous is because it's associated with the psychoactive high that people experience after smoking or ingesting weed.
The definitions of hemp and marijuana can get pretty confusing, but for basic purposes, marijuana contains high levels of THC, and hemp contains low levels of THC. The ratios of CBD to THC in hemp oil can vary, depending on the product and the specific plant the oil was extracted from. CBD oil, a concentrated version of the cannabidiol compound, is typically derived from hemp but can be extracted from marijuana as well. CBD oil products on the market have varying levels of CBD and THC. Many have little to no THC, while some contain small amounts.
The health benefits of CBD oil.
OK, so CBD oil won't get you high, turn you into a drug addict, or give you the munchies, so why is everyone talking about it? If THC is the Beyoncé of cannabinoids, then CBD is the Adele: Both you and your grandma will love it. CBD is just as talented as THC but safe for the whole family. CBD oil can provide amazing health benefits naturally, and there is a growing body of research to support it.
While there are many different pathways driving the positive health benefits of CBD, the center of its awesome abilities seems to be that CBD is a very effective natural anti-inflammatory. Chronic inflammation is really the commonality between most (and by most, I mean basically all) chronic health problems that we face today as a modern society. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, digestive issues, and hormonal problems are all inflammatory in nature. What the heck, right?
Despite this, it's important to know that inflammation is not inherently bad; in fact, it's a brilliant aspect of our immune system. When balanced, inflammation heals wounds and fights off infections. The problem with inflammation arises when it increases and never calms down. Like a forest fire burning on in perpetuity, people get hurt. Same goes with the fiery squall of insidious, chronic inflammation. As a natural anti-inflammatory, CBD can help quell the flame and fight chronic inflammation.
CBD oil, inflammation, and anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. An estimated 30 percent of adults in the United States (that's 66 million people) and an estimated 25 percent of teenagers and preteens are affected by anxiety. As a functional medicine practitioner, I see many people who struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, and from these statistics, it should be no surprise. But just because something is common doesn't make it normal. Fortunately, new insights into the cause of anxiety may help with the development of more effective treatment options.
Most people do not associate cognitive health issues like anxiety, depression, brain fog, ADD, ADHD, and autism with inflammation, but it turns out that is exactly what the research is finding. There is actually a whole field of research known as the cytokine model of cognitive function studying how inflammation messes with our brains and may cause anxiety disorders. One finding is that elevated levels of NF kappa B (NFkB), an inflammatory bad guy, is associated with anxiety while people with lower levels of NFkB often have lower rates of anxiety.
Enter CBD oil: an anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety compound. I have seen in my own life, and many of my patients' lives, the positive impact CBD oil can have on anxiety. Studies have found that CBD oil is a natural anxiolytic (anxiety calmer) and is effective in treating social anxiety. CBD calms anxiety naturally without the potential side effects of pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medications.
In addition to fighting inflammation in the body, CBD oil may reduce anxiety by directly affecting the brain. Studies have found that CBD actually lowers activity in the amygdala and increases prefrontal cortex activation, two parts of the brain involved in anxiety. There is also evidence that CBD is able to activate hippocampus neurogenesis, aka regenerate new neurons! This activates CB1 receptors, which has a positive balancing impact on GABA and glutamate levels, associated with reducing anxiety.
CBD Oil: How much should you take?
The studies done on CBD oil have a pretty wide dose range (anywhere from a few milligrams to hundreds of milligrams). I suggest starting at the lower end (around 10 milligrams) and slowly increasing over a few weeks or months to see what works for you. Some people also do well with splitting the dosage throughout the day instead of taking the dose all at once. As with everything, it is always a good idea to talk with your prescribing doctor if you are on any medications. CBD is generally very safe, but there are some pharmaceutical medications CBD oil could potentially interact with and increase or decrease the pharmaceutical drugs' effectiveness.
There are a growing number of quality CBD oils on the market. Just make sure the product you buy is getting third-party tested for quality and potency—and that the hemp was organically grown.
Want to learn more about how CBD oil works in the body? Learn all about the endocannabinoid system and how it affects our response to stress here.