Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. (46.6 million as of 2017) experiences mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, with anxiety and depression being the most common. Mental illness can interfere with relationships, career and overall happiness, and it may even contribute to an increased risk of chronic medical conditions. Although CBD is not currently FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety, researchers have discovered that CBD may interact with systems in the brain closely related to mental health conditions. Learn more about how CBD oil may someday help people with anxiety and depression, and why the names of the two conditions should not be used interchangeably.
Anxiety and Depression are Not the Same
Mental illness is a global epidemic, with 260 million people living with anxiety and 322 million people suffering from depression. Yet, many remain uninformed and use “anxiety” and “depression” interchangeably. Though 50 percent of people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it’s crucial to get an accurate diagnosis in order to treat the correct conditions.
People struggling with an anxiety disorder frequently have intense and excessive worry and fear about everyday situations. Symptoms of anxiety include one or all of the following: persistent feelings of nervousness and restlessness, a sense of impending danger and panic, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating and trembling, feeling weak or tired, trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry, trouble sleeping, gastrointestinal problems, difficulty controlling worry and the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety.
For those struggling with a major depressive disorder, symptoms may include one or all of the following: feelings of sadness and hopelessness, angry outbursts over small matters, loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, sleep disturbances, tiredness and lack of energy, reduced appetite or increased cravings, slowed thinking, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixation on past failures or self-blame, trouble concentrating or making decisions and thoughts about suicide.
CBD for Anxiety
CBD, or cannabidiol, is the part of the hemp plant that calms you without getting you high. In the quest to understand how CBD works in the brain, pharmacodynamic studies have identified a class of serotonin receptor as a potential target for CBD. The serotonin system helps manage many important systems in the body, including mood and sleep. Research on the relationship between CBD and anxiety has come a long way from successful but rudimentary animal research in the 1990s – although the era of clinical CBD research has just begun, reviews of available data indicate “considerable potential” for future applications in anxiety disorders. In a 2011 study, researchers gave CBD to volunteers, both healthy and individuals with social anxiety disorder, before simulating a public speaking task and observed remarkable results in both subjective and physiological measures, including heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance (ahem… sweat).
CBD for Depression
Along with the serotonin system, it seems that CBD also interacts with glutamate signaling, quickly reversing neurotransmitter depotentiation classically observed using in vivo animal models of depression. In one animal-based study, researchers found that CBD produced antidepressant-like effects comparable to those of imipramine, a common tricyclic antidepressant. These results are exciting, but more research needs to be done before CBD oil can be approved as a treatment for anxiety or depression. Talk to a health care professional before using CBD to ensure it is the right choice for you.
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Erica Garza is an author and essayist. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, The Telegraph and VICE. She lives in Los Angeles.