If you don't have anxiety, you likely know several people suffering from this frighteningly frequent disorder. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) occurs in up to 21% of adults in their lifetime (1). Its causes are wide-ranging, depending on who you ask, but almost everyone is in agreement about one thing: anxiety is physiologically real.
Most sufferers don't know why they panic. They have no satisfying explanation for the shortness of breath, the accelerated heart rate, or the crippling avoidance patterns they slowly construct to protect themselves against situations and people in their lives. They're often exhausted, have trouble sleeping, and are prone to bouts of crippling withdrawal.
You may not know that GAD has high comorbidity (two disorders appearing together) with depression, and that one often leads to the other (2). The comorbidity rate is so high, in fact, it's rarer for anxiety or depression to appear on their own.
Perhaps worse than any of the physical symptoms the sufferer experiences is the ignorance of those around them. Friends and family often minimize the symptoms with the best intentions, trying to inspire the sufferer into action. Little do they know that the sufferer is already perpetually driven into action by their brain, biologically reacting to dangers that aren't really there, and finding themselves exhausted and used up.
First, let's be clear. No one thing is going to eradicate your anxiety, no more than fat-repellent pills or magic electrodes alone are going to get you flexing on the stage of Mr. Universe. When the aspiring athlete applies proper diet, exercise, and a disciplined routine, the body becomes more muscular. Anxiety, and many other conditions, is no different.
It's helpful to educate yourself about the science of anxiety. Most people aren't fully acquainted with the sympathetic nervous system and its evolutionary function. We all say "fight-or-flight" as a catch phrase in conversation, but we forget that it evolved to save our lives. When your anxiety attack comes on, your body thinks you're in mortal danger.
The Amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for processing fear) jumpstarts your body into action before your Frontal Cortex (the part of your body responsible for judgement, initiation, and impulse control) can evaluate what's happening and call it off. The Endocrine System dumps hormones into your bloodstream to increase respiration so you can use that oxygenated blood to get the heck out of there. Absent an actual threat to cause life-saving movement, however, all that energy freezes you. This is often why people describe a panic attack in the phrase, "It felt like I was going to die."
Your body did think that, and acted accordingly.
This is information you can use to empower yourself. Your body is here to protect you. The problem is that it's working at inappropriate times. Imagine it like a construction worker who shows up to the jobsite at 2:00AM to run the jackhammers, while the rest of the neighborhood is asleep. The work is honest and worthy, it's just not environmentally appropriate.
The medical field is racing to develop better tests to categorically diagnose GAD, but like fibromyalgia, its far-sweeping manifestations are easy to brand as a wholesale condition without real clarifications or real solutions.
Chronic Stress is one of the leading contributors to anxiety. Stress response is adaptive in the short-term. It helps you overcome challenges and avoid dangers. But in the long-term, with repetition, an individual can form a maladjusted stress-response that continually increases the allostatic load (the impact of stress on the body). In time, this can lead to complications that result in the development of health issues and psychiatric disorders (3).
Prolonged stress exposure can lead to the development of anxiety. You get used to reacting a certain way, your brain and body habitualize that response, and before you know it, you're reacting thoughtlessly to constant stressors, real or imagined. One of the most devastating impacts of stress is to the homeostatic effect of you body (4), and there's the magic word.
Homeostasis (or balance) is regulated by your body's Endocannabinoid System (read more here), which we've written all about in the same easy-to-follow format. The Endocannabinoid System balances your body through the use of cannabinoids it manufactures. That's right--your body creates cannabinoids that function similarly to those found in hemp. The most abundant cannabinoid is Anandamide (read more here). Over time Anandamide gets eaten by FAAH, another acid your body produces more heavily in states of heighted imbalance.
Can you guess what increases the production of FAAH, further restricting your body's ability to naturally balance itself?
Just like your body's Endocannabinoid System requires cannabinoids like Anandamide to repel stress response, pain, inflammation, and countless imbalances, the stress response in your brain requires FAAH in order to constantly trigger, engage your fight-or-flight, and pollute your body and brain with toxic levels of stress hormone. It uses FAAH like stressful jet fuel (5).
This is amazing news. What it means is this: if you can limit the production of FAAH, you can rob your body of the fuel it uses to respond to stressors at inappropriate times (6). You can, theoretically, dump a little water onto the anxious flames.
With FAAH production limited, Anandamide can proliferate and be used by the Endocannabinoid System to balance your body, engage your parasympathetic nervous system to relax the stress response, and slowly restore harmony between your bodily systems. Now you're thinking: how can I stop FAAH from producing in my body?
CBD (Cannabidiol) appears to promote homeostasis by inhibiting the overproduction of FAAH (7). The science suggests it does so naturally, safely, without sensations of intoxication, and with no threat of addiction. It doesn't damage your liver, kidneys, or filtration systems. It doesn't hurt your heart or veins. You have evolved to respond to the compounds found in plants, and this is one that has been starved from your natural western diets for the last hundred years. Science has seen the potential and gone to bat for the anxiety sufferers of the world. I have only included a few of the tests, but the whole assay and its sources are available here.
While testing the effects of CBD on rats with acute anxiety conditions, they measured the following effects:
When they moved the test to humans, the following measurable effects were produced by CBD:
Now you know a few things about how and why your body is responding to stress. You have some education. You have also seen the chronic stress response that leads to conditions such as anxiety and depression is physiologically aided by the acid FAAH, which eats the body's balancing cannabinoids like Anandamide. CBD, a naturally occurring compound designed by nature to work in congruence with your body's Endocannabinoid System, might aid the presence of Anandamide by limiting the production of FAAH. This could lead to homeostasis being restored. A balanced Endocannabinoid System is critical to healthy stress response.
It's a start. But it doesn't stop with CBD. Our next blog post is all about the lifestyle changes you can practice to empower yourself and take your life back.
You can do this!