- About 40 million adult Americans (about 18 percent of the population) suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder.
- Only about one-third of sufferers seek out treatment, which means nearly two-thirds are suffering unnecessarily.
- CBD may help the brain function optimally and redirect serotonin to the right places.
The saying goes, “If you are not worried, then you are not paying attention.” Everyone gets anxious from time to time, usually for good reason. But when you cannot shake that uneasy feeling, it could be more than natural anxiety—it could be an anxiety disorder. Cannabis, which includes CBD, is one of the most promising treatments for anxiety disorders, thanks to its effects on serotonin.
Inside Anxiety Disorders
Worry has been a normal element of survival since the dawn of human existence. It is part of what kept our ancestors from being eaten by lions! But that deep-rooted instinct gets amplified in people who suffer from anxiety disorders. The disorders themselves are varied, involving persistent worry, fear, or stress that interferes with everyday experiences.
The exact cause of anxiety is still a mystery, but researchers think it is a mixture of nature and nurture. Life experience can be just as influential in the development of a disorder as genetics or biology. For example, someone whose father had anxiety can live a great life and still develop it, yet so can someone who has no family history but has suffered a trauma.
Because about 80 percent of our neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, the gut has been referred to as the second brain. This relationship between the gut and the brain means that the food you eat can affect anxiety—and remember the microbiome’s role in the gut–brain connection. The endocannabinoid system is intimately involved as well, acting as a mediator in the gut–brain axis.
Many health issues, including low blood sugar, Lyme disease, mold exposure, viruses, and head trauma, cause brain inflammation, which can manifest as anxiety or depression or both.
Top Types of Anxiety disorders
Anxiety and its recognized disorders come in many forms, but some of the most common include:
- Generalized anxiety. This most common type of anxiety is characterized by constant and uncontrollable worry about possible negative outcomes.
- Separation anxiety. Separation anxiety covers not just the unwillingness to be parted from a particular person but also the pervasive fear of losing that person.
- Social anxiety. More than just introverts, people with social anxiety have a heightened sense of fear in social situations.
- Panic disorder. Exactly as it sounds, this disorder strikes with symptoms of panic that seem to come out of nowhere, including sweating, a pounding heart, dizziness, and feeling out of control. When not panicking, sufferers are frequently worried about the potential for panic.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder. With obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety begets anxiety. Intrusively anxious thoughts (obsessions) provoke anxious reactions (compulsions).
Symptoms can vary depending on the exact form the anxiety takes and whether it is mild, moderate, or severe, but they generally include:
- Feeling worried more often than not
- An inability to shake the feeling of worry, despite knowing it is unwarranted
- Needing to feel in control
- Avoiding people or situations
- Being averse to opportunity or risk
Who Is at Risk?
Anxiety is thought to be triggered by a combination of environment, neurological factors, genetics, and life experience, but scientists have found a few common threads:
- GENDER. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.
- FAMILY HISTORY. Combined with physical and environmental factors, having a close relative who suffers from anxiety can elevate the risk.
- MEDICAL HISTORY. Generalized anxiety rarely works alone. Depression, addiction, eating disorders, and irritable bowel syndrome are all typical diagnoses in a person with anxiety. Anxiety can be both a precursor and a result of chronic illnesses such as heart disease.
- LIFESTYLE CHOICES. The food you eat, your relationships, how often you are out in nature, your movement or exercise routine, and many other lifestyle factors impact anxiety.
The CBD Answer
Only about a third of anxiety sufferers get help for their disorder, possibly because the available conventional treatments leave something to be desired. Medications frequently do not work and can even make people feel worse. Integrating CBD with a food plan that supports your gut health and microbiome can help you find balance.
HOW TO USE IT
Because the effects of anxiety are constant, using cannabis throughout the day works best. Tinctures are great because the dose can be tweaked as needed. As with any CBD supplement, you can gradually increase your dosage until you discover the amount that works for you. If you are taking any anti-anxiety meds, be sure to speak with your prescribing doctor, as well as with a healthcare professional who understands the endocannabinoid system.
WHY IT WORKS
Researchers think that CBD works in two ways: First, it makes serotonin more available in the synaptic cleft, which has mood-boosting effects. This is the same way that medications called selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) treat anxiety. Second, CBD helps the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory and cognition) generate new neurons, which has been shown to combat anxiety and depression.
CBD VERSUS OTHER TREATMENTS
Anxiety medications can have side effects that range from mild, such as headache and nausea, to more serious, including depression. It is important to work with a healthcare professional to find the best treatment for you. Keep in mind that the category of meds called benzodiazepine are highly addictive. When some individuals are prescribed “benzos,” they develop a tolerance and cannot get off the medication. Rather than alleviating the anxiety, the meds actually contribute to it.
A Real Problem
Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the United States, affecting about 40 million people. And with its life-altering symptoms, it is an issue we need to take seriously. Anxiety also:
- Costs the United States more than $42 billion a year;
- Puts sufferers at higher risk for addiction and substance abuse; and
- Is thought to be greatly under-diagnosed.
Natural Partners for CBD
The good thing about anxiety is how well it responds to personalized lifestyle medicine. Cannabis works best for anxiety when integrated with other practices:
- EMBRACE MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING. Talk therapy can help you get to the root of your anxieties to reach that “Aha” moment when it all makes sense, and to discover coping mechanisms.
- OPTIMIZE NUTRITION. The food you eat affects brain health. In general, select anti-inflammatory foods such as vegetables, herbs, restorative fats, and high-quality proteins. Avoid pro-inflammatory foods such as sugar, gluten, and artificial ingredients. For specific recommendations, seek the advice of a registered dietitian-nutritionist trained in functional medicine.
- TAKE PROBIOTICS. A probiotic supplement can be a great way to feed your microbiome, which influences the gut–brain connection. You can get targeted recommendations from a functional medicine practitioner.
- PRACTICE YOGA. Yoga, with its combination of movement and mental respite, has proven itself to be a stellar way to deal with anxiety. That is because you are producing your own endocannabinoids, which make you feel blissful.
- MEDITATE. A regular meditation practice, especially in conjunction with yoga and therapy, can help you clear your head and breathe through the anxiety so that you can overcome it. Meditation up-regulates your endocannabinoid system so that you produce your own endocannabinoids.
- MAKE LOVE. Yes, sex with orgasm feels good, and it can also reduce anxiety! Once again, it is the endocannabinoid system at work, producing internal endocannabinoids.
The Truth About Anxiety
Anxiety is a real problem that can interfere with life in a big way.
- Social anxiety can keep people from making friends, going to events, interviewing for jobs, and more because of an all- encompassing sense of fear about what others think.
- Generalized anxiety can make individuals overly cautious and afraid to take risks, which means they miss out on opportunities—and that is in addition to feeling constantly overwhelmed.
- OCD can prevent individuals from leaving home and interacting because of an inappropriate and excessive focus on tasks such as cleaning and organizing.
The symptoms of anxiety are as real and physical as those of chronic pain or diabetes, and they need to be viewed that way.
From The CBD Oil Miracle by Laura Lagano. Copyright © 2019 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.
Photography by Alyson Brown