How Does CBD Work to Reduce Anxiety? Here’s How CBD Helps the Anxious Brain

Anxiety disorder (sometimes referred to as GAD or general anxiety disorder) is the number one most common mental health disorder in the US. Across the globe, 1 in 13 people live with some type of anxiety disorder. If you’re struggling with it, you’re definitely not alone. And since you’re here, you may also be searching for ways to relieve stress and anxiety naturally. You may be wondering, “How exactly does CBD work to reduce anxiety?” and “Does CBD oil even work for stress and anxiety?”

To explain how CBD works in the brain, we’re going to start with the Endocannabinoid System.

Know the Endocannabinoid System: Your ECS

In school we learned about the cardiovascular system, the digestive system, and the nervous system… but they seemed to skip right over one important one that acts as the project manager for all of them: the endocannabinoid system, or ECS.

Yep! Your body has a system designed to receive cannabinoids — you even make some of your own, aptly called endocannabinoids (endo, meaning internal). The ones made by your body are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). These are different, of course, from the phytocannabinoids that come from hemp, like Cannabidiol (CBD) or Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The ECS manages how the other bodily systems function; it regulates mood, sleep, appetite and more, using two components: CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) while the CB2 receptors are mostly found in the peripheral nervous system (nerves and ganglion), particularly in immune cells.

The ECS and Anxiety

Studies have shown that CBD oil may reduce anxiety. A Japanese double-blind study from 2019 showed that 300 milligrams of CBD oil reduced symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD) in teenagers, with effects that were similar to a prescription anti-anxiety medication. In total, there have been over a dozen published works that show CBD helps anxiety.

But how does it all work? How does CBD work in the brain, and how does that reduce anxiety?

The annoying answer is: we don’t fully know yet. The more interesting answer, of course, is speculative. But here’s what science is pointing to. When someone uses CBD oil for anxiety, it is speculated that CBD interacts with the CB1 receptors in the brain. This may, in turn, modulate serotonin (a feel good chemical from your brain). More serotonin may mean less anxiety (and less depression, if you’re dealing with that as well).

To bolster that claim on CBD and serotonin: a 2019 study on rats showed that CBD enhanced 5-HT1A transmission (5-HT1A is a serotonin receptor that may increase the availability of serotonin), and it also reported that the rats were exhibiting less anxiety-related behavior. This is a big deal, because it is some of the first proof we have on how CBD oil works to reduce anxiety.

What About Panic Attacks?

If you’re taking CBD oil for panic attacks, you’re off to a good start. Gummies and edible forms of CBD are great for daily wellness and mood regulation, but they’re slow to process because of the nature of the digestive tract. If you’re looking for a faster source of anxiety relief, a tincture under the tongue (sublingual) is going to be your best bet in terms of timing.

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