Real Talk: What's the Deal With CBD and Anxiety?

By Janie McGlasson

The bodily experience of “anxiety” is an evolutionary response that historically would come up when, say, a bear was running towards you and you needed to gtfo. It was meant to keep us safe from harm and ready to protect ourselves. Now that our usual Monday commute no longer involves the potential for a Revenant-style claw down, you’d think that our bodies would respond with a more appropriate “traffic sucks, but I’m not going to have to fight off a bear today” heart rate or a “Nancy sends too many emails, but she’s not a threat to my food source” cortisol production. If only. 

WHY DO WE STILL EXPERIENCE ANXIETY? 

In reality, our bodies still respond with the same kind of “fight, flight, or freeze” response as when we shared space with wild animals—but without the stimuli that actually means that we need to run as fast as we can or freeze until the predator is gone. So, what do you do when your anxiety is high, your body is responding as if you’re Muhammed Ali, but there’s no way to avert this anxiety? 

Well, the best way to have long-term control over your anxiety is to understand where it comes from. Even if the increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and/or nausea of anxiety are triggered by someone that drives like they’ve never been in a car before, this may actually be telling you something important about your experience in the world. For a client I had many years ago, their experience of road rage actually helped us uncover a fear of being uncared for, and thus, a desire to lash out when “not cared for” by other drivers.

READ MORE: Types of Therapy and How to Find the Right Therapist

While I believe that this sort of processing should be top-of-list in terms of ways to cope with anxiety, there are certain situations where a supplement for this process can make all of the difference in making anxiety manageable. Yoga, meditation, mindful breathing, walking, self-care activities, and medication are all proven aids to reducing anxiety—but there’s a new treatment on the block that people are talking about and we should be, too: cannabidiol (CBD).

A NEW ALTERNATIVE TO TRADITIONAL ANTI-ANXIETY MEDICATIONS

CBD is a non-psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant—meaning that while it has an effect on your body, it will not get you high. It’s included in many cannabis-forward topical products for pain (like this lotion that stylist Karla Welch includes in her styling kit), and it’s even used for childhood epilepsy. But CBD is also coming up as a helpful alternative to anti-anxiety medications like Xanax that can come with serious side effects and a higher potential for addiction.

CBD is believed to increase serotonin levels in the brain—which plays a role in regulating mood, rather than altering it—and can create a calming effect in the body. So, when your body is entering anxiety mode and the physical responses of “fight, flight, freeze” begin to set in, CBD may be able to, metaphorically, tell your brain to chill so it can send the same message to your body. A favorite for many mental health-conscious consumers is the Calm Pen by Dosist, a company that boasts to have created “the first cannabis products based on the science behind the plant” and was even voted one of Time Magazine’s top 25 inventions of 2016.

Science and health-based cannabis companies are creating and branding formulas in hopes to appealing to the new, non-stoner generation of users in an effort to discover healthier alternatives to traditional, Western medications. There’s still a lot to be studied when it comes to all of the ways that CBD can be helpful, as well as potential side effects, but in the research done at this point, there’s hope that it could help with a wide range of mental health issues—and so there’s an argument to be made that the ingredient should be a part of our conversation when we discuss healthy strategies for dealing with anxiety.