Learn everything science tells us about CBD’s effect on stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Get tons of research condensed into an easy to read article and finally find out if CBD relieves mental health issues.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive and non-intoxicating substance extracted from Hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant. Many people taking it for stress-related issues say that it has a powerful calming and relaxing effect.
CBD has been shown to have neuroprotective and antioxidant properties with a natural therapeutic effect. Does CBD help relieve chronic stress or anxiety and improve mental health?
Read about a new clinical study that validates what thousands of people have already found out for themselves – CBD works! In this article, we’ll cover the new CBD study and share with you everything that science tells about this incredible Hemp compound’s effects on mental health.
Find out what happens in the brain during anxiety and stress and how CBD balances biological mechanisms to create the chemistry needed for balanced brain function. Before getting into the latest groundbreaking studies on CBD and mental health.
Then, we’ll briefly go over relevant CBD studies on animals, as well as the available clinical trials in humans. By the end of this article, you’ll know everything science can tell us about CBD’s effects on mental health and more. Let’s go!
The Endocannabinoid System and Cannabinoids
Homeostasis is a term used to describe a multitude of complex biological processes that essentially keep you alive and functioning. It’s a balancing act, to say the least.
One of the most primal homeostatic systems, which can be found in nearly any creature with a spinal cord, is called the endocannabinoid system. Also notated as the eCS, it’s a network of specialized receptors, called cannabinoid receptors, and the molecules that bind to them, which are called cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids, or rather endocannabinoids, is short for endogenous cannabinoids. These are lipid-like compounds that are essentially like “short-order” neurotransmitters synthesized on demand as needed from within the body’s tissues.
In the bloodstream, cannabinoids bind with respective receptors that are found throughout the body on the outside of cell tissue walls, primarily localized within the central nervous and the immunological systems.
Endocannabinoids, such as “the bliss molecule” or anandamide, trigger receptor cell activity, subsequently sending regulatory signals that modify the activity of various bodily functions.
In short, the endocannabinoid system is considered in many ways kind-of like a master control system that can attenuate many of the body’s primary homeostatic functions such as –
- Heart Rate & Blood Flow
- Lungs & Respiratory processes
- Muscles & Skeleton
- Inflammation & Pain
- Mood & Behavior
- Sleep regulation
- Cognitive functioning
- Cell death and proliferation
- Mental Health and more
Experts believe CBD’s therapeutic effects are working in many different ways and functioning through a number of various mechanisms.
For example, cannabidiol has been shown to inhibit the production of FAAH, the enzyme responsible for metabolizing anandamide. This action can increase anandamide concentration in the blood, potentially providing relief from a number of symptoms. CBD also binds with numerous receptor cells in the body and brain including,
- TRPV, Vanilloid receptor
- G-protein coupled
- CB receptors
- And others
These various types of receptors and their functioning subsequently attenuate a wide range of functions intimately tied to health and wellness. However, as you’ll learn, in regards to CBD’s effects on mental health, researchers are particularly interested in one specific neuroreceptor called the serotonin receptor. Keep reading to learn more!
Cannabinoids Responsible for Natural Stress Adaptation
In 2010, a study published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, validated previous findings that indicate the eCS and endocannabinoids, specifically anandamide and 2-AG, are essential for stress adaptation.
That means the endocannabinoid system is responsible for balancing your body’s natural stress response mechanisms, such as the production of cortisol and other stress compounds.
In short, these studies sought to identify the underlying biochemical mechanisms related to how the brain responds to stress. Ultimately, they found that the responsibility for responding to stress exposure lies upon the body’s capacity to synthesize and use endocannabinoids.
If the endocannabinoid system becomes unbalanced, many bodily functions can also become unbalanced, especially mental health. This is why researchers think that using CBD to target the eCS may be able to boost or improve endocannabinoid tone, function, and signaling, potentially improving the body’s innate capacity to adapt to chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and other conditions.
To briefly summarize, the body has protective systems naturally built in to help manage things like pain, fear, and of course stress. However, sometimes these systems can malfunction, especially if we don’t maintain them properly or they become damaged. That’s where CBD comes into play to naturally boost the body’s innate healing and stress-coping mechanisms.
CBD and The Hippocampus Brain
Most of what we know about how CBD affects symptoms related to stress, anxiety, and mental health come from limited in vitro and animal model studies; yet early results have produced incredible findings.
What evidence is there that CBD has benefits on chronic stress and anxiety related symptoms of mental health disorder? In 2013, a study by a group of Brazilian researchers at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Applied Neurosciences at the University of Sao Paulo was published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.
Their work showed something incredible. While not entirely conclusive, this study may have revealed at least one pathway by which CBD works to relieve anxiety, stress, and other types of mental health problems.
They found that the – “anxiolytic effect of cannabidiol on chronically stressed mice depends on hippocampal neurogenesis.”
In other words, a functioning hippocampus is needed to experience the anti-anxiety effect of CBD; therefore indicating that it is within the hippocampus that cannabidiol exerts at least some of its therapeutic effects on the mental state.
The hippocampus is a region of the brain responsible for complex thoughts, memories, emotions, mood, behavior, and other psychological processes. Remember that particular neuro-receptor that mental health researchers are especially interested in that I mentioned earlier?
Well, it just so happens that the hippocampus region is heavily concentrated with those receptors, called serotonin or 5-HT1A receptors. Targeting this receptor with CBD has led researchers to suggest that the compound may have powerful benefits in patients with symptoms related to mental health conditions including –
- Anxiety disorder
- Depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Chronic stress
- And more
CBD and the Serotonin Receptor, 5-HT1A
In 2014, a group of researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s Laboratory of Panic and Respiration conducted a review of studies on animal models using CBD as an anti-anxiety and antidepressant-like compound.
Their research showed that CBD exerted characteristic anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety, and antidepressant-like effects in the various animal model studies. As well, the researchers suggest that the main pathway by which this may be happening is through CBD binding with the 5-HT1A receptor. These findings validate previous study results from 2009 published in the British Journal of Pharmacology that says –
“In conclusion, the present findings indicate that CBD, by activating 5-HT1A receptors, can attenuate physiological and behavioral responses to stress.”
To quickly recap what we’ve covered so far, studies show that the eCS and endocannabinoids are essential to a healthy stress-response function. Also, CBD binds with serotonin receptors in the hippocampus brain region, potentially providing a vast array of benefits on mental health including –
- Increased pleasure and enjoyment
- Deeper sleep and rest
- Natural calming sensation
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Relief from an overactive mind
- And more
Cannabidiol Restores Brain Function Affected by Chronic Stress
So, with all this knowledge about how CBD functions in the brain and how the eCS is so closely tied with mental health, we should ask – can CBD improve mental health? That’s a question a group of Israeli researchers aimed to answer in a 2013 study published in the journal, Neuropsychopharmacology.
The researchers say that acute and chronic stress can cause and worsen mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, as well as cognitive impairments. Using animal models of stress, they experimented to determine if targeting the eCS with cannabinoids could improve the deleterious effect stress has on mental health.
Using various experimental methods, the researchers showed that activating cannabinoid receptors did indeed show a neuroprotective like benefit from the effects of stress in the brain.
“Our findings suggest that cannabinoid receptor activation could represent a novel approach to the treatment of cognitive deficits that accompany a variety of stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders.”
This is merely another pathway by which researchers studying CBD think that it may be exerting its therapeutic effects on stress-related anxiety. Although much more research is needed, it is clear that CBD has powerful potential.
CBD’s Benefits in Mental Illness
Most of this article up to this point has been used to lay out the scientific bases of CBD’s potential benefits in mental health. However, I’m not going to suggest that CBD is a cure or treatment for any mental illness, by any means. Mental health is a complex balance and serious illness should always be treated accordingly.
Mental illness a general term used to describe “unhealthy” or abnormal brain functioning. Let’s use something simple such as a phobia to illustrate a model of mental illness. A phobia is an irrational fear of something, for example, the fear of public speaking. This type of phobia is incredibly common and is characterized by various biological stress markers and cognitive impairments.
Does CBD have any benefits against stress, anxiety, or phobias? One of the most commonly cited clinical trials on CBD and mental health is one conducted on the fear of public speaking. The results were published in 2011 in the journal of Neuropsychopharmacology and found that –
“Pretreatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance, and significantly decreased alert in their anticipatory speech.”
Let’s look a little further into clinical trials on CBD and mental illness.
CBD and Depression Studies
In a world increasingly covered in stress, anxiety, and ineffective treatments, I think we should consider the therapeutic potential of CBD. Even more so since the medicines we are using don’t seem to be all too effective.
For instance, the medical community has come to recognize the many shortcomings of modern anti-depressant medications. Often they take weeks to take effect, patients may have to try multiple different meds before anything works at all, they come with horrible side effects, and some can even make depression worse than it already is.
It’s safety profile and effectiveness has led researchers to explore using CBD as a potential treatment for depression. Does CBD have an effect on depression symptoms? An international Brazil/Denmark study published in 2019 in the Journal of Molecular biology reported remarkable findings on that exact question.
Their research on animal models of depression found that CBD not only induced a fast anti-depressant like effect, but that the effect was sustained for up to seven days after being administered. According to the study, “These results indicate that CBD induces fast and sustained antidepressant-like effect in distinct animal models relevant to depression.”
This is incredible because CBD was shown to accomplish what modern depression medicines haven’t been able to do, which is act fast and remain effective over long-term.
CBD and PTSD Studies
Does CBD have any benefits in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? PTSD is a highly complex mental illness condition and researchers still don’t know much about treating it safely or effectively. However, there have been very promising results in both animal and human studies on CBD and PTSD.
From increasing REM sleep time and reducing nightmares to relaxing the mind and body by reducing stress-related anxiety, and improving mood, CBD may have many potential benefits on symptoms related to PTSD.
CBD has even been shown to facilitate a brain function called fear-memory extinction, which is a process by which frightening memories are restructured and organized to no longer be associated with fear. This was validated by a 2013 clinical trial in humans published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology –
“These findings provide the first evidence that CBD can enhance consolidation of extinction learning in humans and suggest that CBD may have potential as an adjunct to extinction-based therapies for anxiety disorders.”
These powerful findings suggest that CBD could have amazing potential to help improve the results of exposure therapy treatments of PTSD.
CBD and Schizophrenia Studies
Beyond the multiple studies I mentioned previously that indicate CBD’s therapeutic potential on symptoms related to mental illness, there are numerous studies indicating Cannabidiol’s benefits in severe conditions such as Schizophrenia and Psychosis.
In particular, a 2012 multi-institutional study published in the Journal of Translational Psychiatry outlines the potential of CBD to relieve psychotic symptoms. The paper essentially outlines most of what we’ve covered in this article and says that –
“The results suggest that inhibition of anandamide deactivation may contribute to the antipsychotic effects of cannabidiol potentially representing a completely new mechanism in the treatment of schizophrenia.”
In other words, the researchers think that CBD’s ability to increase anandamide concentrations in the blood by blocking the metabolic FAAH enzyme is one of the main reasons cannabidiol may be improving clinical symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia. Anandamide isn’t called “the bliss molecule” for any old reason!
CBD and Psychosis Studies
Finally, does CBD have any benefits in Psychosis? A new groundbreaking study suggests that it most certainly might.
While psychosis is a complex condition, it is generally characterized by abnormal brain functioning. To put it simply, parts of the brain responsible for formulating complex thoughts malfunction. We’ve seen chronic stress also cause similar effects on brain function.
However, in the case of conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia, these malfunctioning brain regions are also being over stimulated with excess blood flow in kind of a “hyperactive” situation, called resting state perfusion.
Resting state perfusion in this brain region is linked to a condition called formal thought disorder and poor functional outcomes in schizophrenia. In other words, this condition is not something that will improve mental health; it will make it worse actually. Researchers think that CBD might be able to help though.
Published in April of 2019 in The Journal of Psychoses and Related Disorders, researchers found that CBD exerts its antipsychotic properties in high-risk psychosis patients by essentially calming overactive blood flow and mental activity in the affected brain region.
In the study, 33 patients with a clinically high risk of psychosis were treated for three weeks with 600mg of CBD daily or a placebo. The study’s findings reported that –
“Three-week treatment with CBD reduced resting-state perfusion of individuals at CHR for the development of psychosis in a brain network comprising the medial temporal lobe and striatum.”
Briefly summarizing, the study results showed that CBD essentially calmed down the malfunctioning mind in people defined as having a clinically high risk of developing psychosis.
CBD Side Effects and Mental Health
What does this mean for real-life stress, anxiety, and depression? Can CBD actually help you feel better or less crazy even? Well, as I mentioned, mental health is a balancing act and no two cases are ever the same.
CBD isn’t a cure or treatment for any type of mental illness at the moment, but studies suggest it has powerful therapeutic potential. What happens to the mind after you take CBD and what are the side effects?
Most people report an intense sensation of calmness and relaxation, sometimes followed by sleepiness or drowsiness as well as an uplifting and positive effect upon mood.
The most severe side effects of taking CBD include lowered blood pressure, dizziness, and drowsiness. CBD also alters the way certain medicines are metabolized by the liver and can change their effects. Consult your doctor or a medical professional first, before using CBD if you’ve been warned about eating grapefruit while taking your medications.
I cannot say whether or not CBD will be helpful for your mental own personal mental heath. All I can do is present you with the scientific evidence available and let you decide for yourself if CBD is beneficial in mental illness or not.
For me, it has been an incredibly powerful tool to help manage stress-related anxiety and depression-related symptoms, including sleeping better and feeling more energized during the day.
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If you want to learn more about how to balance mental health and wellness, make sure to check out our article on CBD and Depression. There, you’ll find some helpful tips on how to naturally boost the body’s innate stress-coping mechanisms, even without using CBD!
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