Health & Wellness

CBD Oil for Stress and Anxiety

By Melena Gurganus
Ethan Sykes

People who experience anxiety or chronic stress have started to turn to alternative remedies, like CBD oil, as a way to mitigate their symptoms. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound derived from cannabis plants that has presented new insight into the potential anxiolytic properties of cannabinoids. When taking CBD oil for anxiety, many individuals claim its calming effects have been beneficial to their mental and physical health.

Although when it comes to stress and anxiety, they are not one in the same, and varying CBD products may be more effective depending on which symptoms you are dealing with. Knowing what separates stress from anxiety, and when to seek professional help for a serious condition like an anxiety disorder, can make a world of difference when trying to better your overall health.

Stress vs Anxiety—What’s the difference?

Stress is a response to an external force, typically caused by a trigger that leaves people with a cause for concern. Symptoms of stress generally dissipate after the initial trigger is gone, meaning that the uneasy feelings associated with stress are often short-lived. However, long term stress is possible if you are constantly experiencing mental or emotional strain.

A stress-inducing trigger can arise out of many different circumstances, and here are just a few of the most common types of stressors:

  • Death a loved one
  • Overworked or unfulfilled in their job
  • Public speaking
  • Important deadlines approaching
  • Major life changes (marriage, divorce, a new child, etc.)

Everyone is affected by stress at some point in time, but not everyone will experience the same types of anxiety symptoms.

In opposition to stress, anxiety is a feeling of excessive worry or existential dread that’s caused internally. After the external stressor is gone, anxiety lingers with overpowering concern or distress even though there is no longer a reasonable threat. For many people, anxiety is often brought on by stress, although its side effects exceed those of normal stress levels.

When it comes to your overall health, stress and anxiety share some similarities that might make it difficult to tell them apart. For instance, they tend to produce the same types of physical symptoms, including:

  • Sleeping issues
  • Irritability
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive sweating
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Headaches, stomach aches, back pain, etc.

While anxiety and stress may have similar effects on the mind and body, it’s important to understand the individual aspects of each. In doing so, it’s easier to determine what is a normal amount of stress, what isn’t, and when is the right time to look for additional assistance for stress relief or anxiety reduction.

Here are some of the key differences that separate stress from anxiety:

Stress Anxiety
  • Brought on by external forces
  • Often stress-related symptoms tend to last for a short amount of time, and end when the initial trigger is gone
  • Stress is the body’s natural response to rational fears or concerns
  • Stress is a common trigger for anxiety
  • Caused internally
  • Anxiety is often a response to stress
  • Typically symptoms can last for much longer, even after the initial stressor is gone
  • Irrational fear or worry when no real threat is present
  • Anxiety may impede normal activities

How the Endocannabinoid System Affects Stress

Stress and anxiety are both created chemically within the brain, and overactive levels of certain hormones can intensify a person’s feelings of worry or tension. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) can help regulate hormones, particularly those that relate to stress—like adrenaline (the emergency hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone).

Endogenous cannabinoids are produced within the human body, and help maintain the homeostasis of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, also known as the body’s central stress response system. The ECS responds to these internal cannabinoids, but it also recognizes and reacts to cannabinoids from external sources. So, when a phytocannabinoid like CBD enters the bloodstream, it can indirectly interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain to promote hormone balance. The anxiolytic effects of CBD may counteract feelings of anxiety or worry through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system and, in turn, the HPA axis.

CBD Oil for Anxiety

If you’re planning to take CBD for anxiety, it might be useful to experiment with different application methods in order to find what works best for you. For instance, many people that suffer from anxiety disorders tend to use CBD gummies or capsules to get a consistent dose of CBD on a daily basis. This can be helpful in proactively reducing anxious feelings before they even start, rather than anticipating CBD to immediately mitigate anxiety once it’s already set in.

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

Over 18 percent of the American adult population has some type of anxiety disorder, making anxiety the most common mental illness in the U.S. Anxiety is also closely linked to other mental health issues, like depression and insomnia, and it can be further exacerbated by caffeine and alcohol consumption.

There are also many different classifications for anxiety disorders, and the five major types include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder—Sometimes abbreviated to GAD, this disorder is characterized by excessive worry that persists for no clear reason, particularly in relation to everyday events. People with generalized anxiety disorder may not have a specific trigger, but they often fixate on general things like finances, family, work, or school.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)—This disorder is diagnosed in people who have intrusive or unwanted thoughts that persist in their mind, even though they are irrationally based. These obsessions then lead to repetitive behaviors, or compulsions, as the person tries to reduce anxiety and distressing feelings caused by the obsessive thoughts.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder—Also known as social phobia, this anxiety disorder causes intense feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness for fear that other people are scrutinizing or judging you. This condition often makes it difficult for a person to be in a public or social setting, and can get in the way of doing normal activities.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—This condition relates to a past trauma that causes recurring mental and emotional stress. People suffering from PTSD typically have trouble sleeping, and may experience nightmares or other vivid recalls that constantly remind them of the psychologically damaging experience.
  • Panic Disorder—This disorder is diagnosed in individuals that have debilitating anxiety and panic attacks that can arise without cause or warning. For people with this disorder, they tend to fixate on the fact that they may have a panic attack at any moment, which can create even more anxious feelings.

Everyone is likely to experience stress and anxiety at times, but it’s necessary to identify the difference between an anxiety disorder and stress-induced anxiety. For people with one of these mental health disorders, recognizing their irrational fears as abnormal is the first step to seeking professional treatment.

What treatment options are available for anxiety?

Various different types of therapy, like cognitive behavioral, cognitive restructuring, and exposure therapy have worked for many individuals who have an anxiety disorder. Although many people seek immediate relief for their anxiety symptoms by using prescription medications like benzodiazepines, which include xanax, klonopin, and valium. Benzodiazepines can cause impaired coordination, drowsiness, headaches, or feelings of depression, and can be fatal when mixed with alcohol.

Due to the negative side effects of these drugs, more and more people are seeking alternative ways to treat anxiety. In search of a more natural remedy, the anti-anxiety effects of CBD have presented a solution for many people, but scientific research of this cannabis extract is still in its infancy. More clinical trials are needed to broaden our understanding of the effects of CBD oil for anxiety and mental health. Although, people continue to use CBD on their own terms to alleviate anxiety symptoms, yet others have reservations about trying a cannabis extract like CBD oil.

Will CBD oil make you high?

Many people with anxiety share concerns about using cannabis products, as marijuana can sometimes heighten feelings of paranoia and worry in people that have anxiety. For some, the psychoactive effects of cannabis may even cause a panic attack and turn them away from cannabis for good. However, CBD products are unlike medical marijuana since they contain little to no THC.

THC is the cannabis compound responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana, but CBD may work to counteract THC and protect against its adverse psychological effects. In addition to the calming effect CBD may provide, CBD oils and other products are extracted from industrial hemp plants instead of marijuana. Hemp plants are a substrain of cannabis sativa, but they contain an inactive amount of THC, and higher levels of CBD. Because of this, CBD products derived from hemp are legal on a federal level within the United States, and are more well known for their relaxation benefits. However, CBD oil is not FDA approved and some state laws have restrictions around the legality of CBD products.

CBD Oil for Stress

For those who have an anxiety disorder or experience frequent bouts of worry, it makes sense to take a regular and consistent dose of CBD to preemptively alleviate some symptoms. However, stress can be slightly more unpredictable at times, especially if an unexpected trigger arises. For this reason, people tend to take CBD oil for stress in the moment as it affects them, and they often opt for the quickest delivery methods.

When it comes to administering CBD, sublingual CBD oil drops or CBD vape pens are the fastest application styles, and popular product choices for people who deal with stress. But for individuals who experience chronic stress, it may be more beneficial to take CBD regularly as someone with anxiety might do. Doing this could alleviate some of the body’s tension, and may make it easier to relax once the initial stress trigger is gone.

In addition to CBD oil, there are other natural ways to reduce stress, including:

  • Exercise—Getting physically active allows you to blow off some steam while your brain releases endorphins. These hormones interact with opioid receptors to create an analgesic (or pain relieving) effect, and help improve your overall mood.
  • Get proper sleep—When you’re sleeping, your body has time to recover both mentally and physically. Depriving your body of rest can exacerbate the symptoms of stress, yet getting the appropriate amount of sleep may reduce these effects.
  • Take a break when you need it—Mental fatigue and burn-out are a large contributor to stress, and taking the occasional break gives your mind time to relax while simultaneously promoting better focus in the long run.
  • Try to reduce your caffeine intake—Whether you’re at work or just getting out of bed in the morning, most people drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages to gain an energy boost. Although, caffeine may prolonge elevated cortisol levels and amplify feelings of stress, so reducing your caffeine intake is recommended.

What to Know Before Taking CBD for Anxiety or Stress

While many people have found their own success in using CBD to alleviate their stress related symptoms, more information is needed to assess the long term effects of CBD oil for anxiety. Scientific evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for anxiety disorders, but don’t expect to see doctors prescribing CBD to their patients anytime soon. It’s also worth noting that CBD may affect everyone differently, and you should talk with your physician before making any changes to your current health regimen.

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