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CBD oil for anxiety relief – does it really work?

By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD

It’s always exciting when a compound from the world of natural medicine suddenlymakes a breakthrough into mainstream acceptance and use. And right now, that momenthas arrived for CBD, a substance found naturally in hemp.CBD oil — technically known as Cannabidiol — is a hot topic at the moment.

A woman who is using CBD oil to reduce anxiety and feel more relaxed

Lots of health claims are made for it, and studies by the score are underway tosubstantiate them. But the earliest claims were that CBD oil helped relieve anxiety— and without side effects.I actually first learned about CBD oil from patients of mine. They were convinced it had helped them dial back stress and anxiety.

So I’ve spent time reviewing themost recent studies. And their experiences are corroborated by a growing body ofscientific research.

What is CBD? Let’s clear things up.

CBD is a type of cannabinoid, a plant chemical found in hemp.I know what you’re thinking! So let me clear this up right away: yes, CBD is derivedfrom hemp, but no, it does NOT make you “high.” It’s true that hemp is the cousinof marijuana, and marijuana contains THC, which is psychoactive. But hemp is thepoor cousin: it has nearly zero THC; that’s why its main prior use was to make rope.Naturally, CBD that is derived from hemp also has nearly zero THC. Some manufacturerseven certify their CBD oil has no THC whatsoever…more on that later.

Professional woman raising her hand to ask a question

CBD was first identified and extracted in 1940. It wasn’t until decades later, however,that researchers discovered the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a series ofsignaling receptors that help regulate mood, immune-system responses (very importantin the inflammatory cascade), sleep, pain and more. CBD and other cannabinoids interactwith ECS receptors, influencing messages sent to the nervous system, organs andcells.

How CBD works for anxiety and stress relief

We have a lot to learn about how CBD acts in the body, particularly how it may workto reduce stress and anxiety. But from what is known, the CBD molecule works ina number of different ways to restore calm:

    • CBD helps regulate and balance brain activity inthe amygdala and prefrontal cortex — two parts of the brain involved in anxiety.
    • CBD interacts with receptors that regulate serotonin,helping to make more of the mood-regulating chemical available for the body to use— naturally!

Bottle of cannabis oil

  • CBD stimulates the renewal and growth of brain cells(neurogenesis) in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated withemotions, motivation and memory. Chronic stress and severe depression can causethe hippocampus to shrink. As research has shown, CBD and other cannabinoid activitymay protect the hippocampus from the damaging effects of prolonged depression andstress — and possibly reverse them.
  • CBD seems to provide specific help for people dealing withsocial anxiety. A Brazilian study of adults with social anxiety found thatafter consuming CBD, participants reported feeling less anxious — often significantlyso. This was backed up by brain scans that showed cerebral blood flow patterns consistentwith an anti-anxiety effect.

Another study corroborated this finding that CBD helps with social anxiety. CBDhelped sufferers deal with a simulated public speaking test. Those who took CBDbefore getting up to speak reported feeling less anxious and more comfortable. Inaddition to these self-reported benefits, objective indicators of anxiety — likeheart rate and blood pressure — also responded favorably to CBD use.Obviously we can’t say that CBD oil is a panacea for anxiety – there’s no such thing.There are many forms of anxiety, some very serious, and the CBD studies are early-stage.But the initial results are encouraging, especially given the apparent safety andrelative lack of side effects.

Yes, so far the adverse side effects appear minimal

Some studies have reported mild side effects when using CBD, such as diarrhea. Therates of such side effects are low and they seem to readily resolve once CBD usageis stopped. Of course, we always recommend that anyone regularly using any overthe counter supplement or medication keep their doctor informed, and stop usingit immediately if side effects develop.

Be forewarned — how you choose your CBD may be the critical factor

You’ve probably seen CBD show up at your health food store as a CBD oil supplementor in CBD oil-infused chocolates and other edibles. But not all CBD oils are thesame — far from it! There’s a lot you need to know before you jump in and get started.

bar of chocolate that contains CBD oil

The most important issues are how the CBD is sourced and extracted. Look for CBDthat comes from organic hemp and uses a CO2 extraction process. (Some makers usebutane or solvents, which are cheaper extraction agents — but not something youwant in your body!)Some forms of CBD may contain trace amounts of THC — well under 1% — but that may be a concern, especially if you have a job that requires drug testing. The best manufacturersuse an extraction process that leaves even those trace amounts behind. Look forCBD labeled THC-free with certified test results available to back up this claim.Keep in mind that reputable brands are extremely transparent about how their CBDproduct is made —and what it contains.As I’ve seen, and maybe as you’ve heard from your friends or experienced for yourself,CBD’s ability to relieve stress and anxiety can sometimes feel like nothing shortof a miracle.I like to think of it this way — in our stressed-out world where it often feelslike anti-anxiety prescription medications are the only answer, it’s nice to knowthat nature has given us a way to access blissful calm.

orange asterisk If you’re suffering from everyday anxiety,read ourarticle on three steps to calm anxiety and feel more peaceful.

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Last Updated: June 9, 2021
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