Every year, over 40 million Americans are affected by anxiety, making it the most prevalent mental health issue in the US. With over 18% of the population affected by anxiety, many Americans turn to prescription medication such as Zoloft or Paxil. In fact, over 40% of Americans take mood-altering prescription medications every single day, whether for the treatment of anxiety or depression. When CBD oil and other cannabis products became an option, many people sought this natural alternative. And so the big question: does CBD work to treat anxiety and what are the mental health risks?
Although it might be controversial to say so, there are probably more mental (and physical) health risks associated with using prescription medication such as Zoloft than there are using CBD. In general, pharmaceutical medications may be extremely effective for some, while others crumble under side effects that are even worse than their original ailments. It’s worth exploring the risks of both forms of therapy so that consumers can make educated decisions about their health.
The research behind CBD for anxiety
There is increasing interest from the public about using CBD for anxiety. And thanks to the legalization of hemp in the USA, there is a plethora of research taking place. It’s almost alarming how positive the research is, reinforcing the fact that a huge reform in public education with respect to cannabis is well needed.
To start with, to understand the mechanism of action by which CBD reduces anxiety, scientists tested CBD in rats. In this extremely recent, 2019 study, the researchers found that serotonin receptor, 5-HT, was greatly affected by CBD ingestion. For those who don’t know, this is also a target receptor for many pharmaceutical medications. They found that the behavior of this receptor was normalized after just 7 days of treatment with CBD. Another study with the same objective found that CBD affected the cerebral blood flow certain brain areas and that it had an affinity for the same serotonin receptor stated in the other study.
It’s important to realize that there is a lot of preclinical data that suggests a dire need for further research. Because the area has only just opened up to clinical research, there isn’t much in the way of proper, randomized clinical trials. Some survey studies have been conducted that are easily accessible online, where users have reported an improvement in anxiety symptoms after using CBD. Overall, scientists seem to have identified the possible mechanism of action, and user reports have more or less supported the findings.
Risks associated with CBD use
In general, there is no known risk associated with CBD use. There can be some unwanted side effects at larger doses, but there is no threat to physical or mental health. In fact, one of the most desirable aspects of CBD use is that there are no anxiety-inducing effects at high doses. This is contrary to THC for example, which can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety for certain users.
At large doses, the following are possible side effects of CBD use:
Fatigue or sleepiness
With all of that being said, negative side effects generally don’t last longer than a day if they are felt at all. Most consumers can simply reduce their dose and mitigate these side effects.
Actually, the biggest risk a consumer takes when they choose to buy and use CBD oil is buying a dud product. The lack of regulation in the USA with respect to CBD oil means that some products just aren’t what they say they are. That’s why it’s always best to choose a CBD oil that comes with a certificate of analysis or third-party laboratory testing certificate.
Why CBD is different from pharmaceutical medication
Firstly, it’s important to recognize that as the current model of research stands, medicine is based on a single deficiency, a single outcome, and a single medication. It is an extremely reductionist school of thought and does not address the person as a whole. Interestingly, research on CBD and other herbal remedies use the same research model. Essentially, scientists are searching for the single problem, the single effect that problem has and the single medication that can fix it all!
The risks associated with using Zoloft or Paxil, for example, are much worse than those associated with CBD use. Those risks can have devastating long term effects on patients, too. For starters, there is a threat of sleep disorder, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction. The most disturbing of them all is the potential for serotonin deficiency, given how powerfully these drugs act on this particular neurotransmitter.
What’s worse is that modern science hasn’t even identified serotonin imbalance as the actual cause of depression or anxiety. Until now, it’s still hearsay. These drugs act on a certain function that isn’t even confirmed to be the cause of disease. Plus, they don’t address external factors which are very closely linked with anxiety and depression such as trauma, social aspects, and financial aspects.
However, when we look at CBD as a medicine, it targets an entire myriad of physiological functions. This is because it operates through the endocannabinoid system, the body’s way of maintaining balance between all the other functions of the body. As far as we know, anxiety may be caused by hormonal imbalance, neurological issues or even a disturbance in gut bacteria (there are serotonin receptors in the stomach and intestines, by the way). The reason CBD at least offers a more holistic approach is that at the root of it, it is targeting a system that wants to restore balance to all of these different factors.
It is extremely difficult to talk about mental health because we still don’t know how to define it. If we can’t even define mental health or disease, then it’s even harder to find a treatment for it. The risks associated with CBD use are far less alarming than the risks associated with the use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors. And for that reason, it seems like the more appealing option. With that being said, individuals have choices about the methods of treatment they choose, and it is up to each person to weigh up the pros and cons of any kind of remedy.