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Can You Use CBD For Stress? What The Current Research Says

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Stress is a biological process that's designed to help us react to danger and to motivate.

In the early history of humans, the stress response helped us to either fight or flee from imminent danger. Today, there are many lifestyle factors and events that can trigger the same physiological response that can be damaging to the body if exposed long-term.

The stress response is only meant to be temporary—giving us an extra burst of energy, quick reaction times, and cognitive focus for our self-preservation. When the stress response gets hijacked, it can do more harm than good, making us more susceptible to disease, injury, and anxiety disorders.

Many people are turning to more natural-based solutions to managing stress like yoga, meditation, diet, and CBD products are often brought up in this space.

We'll discuss what CBD is and some research that has been conducted on its effects. Next, we'll outline why it's important to find high-quality products that are free from contaminants before learning about the different ways you can use this compound for your health goals. Finally, we'll finish up by giving some tips on where to buy the best products available today.

TL;DR:

  • Stress is also known as the fight-or-flight response that's designed for our survival. It's meant to be a short-term physiological response, but long-term stress can lead to an imbalance in the body making us prone to disease
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occuring compound from the cannabis plant that has been studied for its potential wellness benefits, including supporting healthy stress levels
  • Many people turn to CBD products to help with relaxation, sleep, and pain
  • There are no FDA-approved CBD products that can treat, cure, or mitigate chronic stress or anxiety disorders, so it's important that you speak with your doctor if you're suffering from the effects of chronic stress
  • Most experts agree that people will see the best results with their CBD products if they are full spectrum, high potency, used consistently, and are lab tested to ensure quality and safety
  • CBD is considered generally safe, but it's still possible to have a negative experience with CBD if used incorrectly

What Does Stress Look Like In The Body?

Stress is a physiological response otherwise known as fight-or-flight that affects the sympathetic nervous system. It's a protective physiological mechanism that primes the body to either face the danger head-on or to get away from it.

American physiologist, Dr. Walter Cannon was the first to describe this mechanism in the 1920s when he observed the chain of reactions inside the body that rallied the body's resources to deal with threats.

In response to danger, the body's sympathetic nervous system takes control by releasing stress hormones—cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These hormones increase heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and dilate the pupils to assess one's surroundings and respond quickly, temporarily increasing one's strength and speed.

This type of stress can help us perform better at sports, school, or work—but when there is no real perceived stress and our systems are constantly bombarded with mentally stressful situations, it can put us at risk for anxiety disorders and threaten our mental health.

What Causes Stress?

The acute stress response activates when we're faced with something physically or mentally challenging.

In our primal days, an encounter with a predator like a hungry tiger activated this response. Since we're not faced with hungry tigers in our day-to-day lives, other stressors can still elicit the fight-or-flight response. Some of the most common causes of chronic stress include financial problems, school, relationships, divorce, death, illness, medication, and poor lifestyle habits.

Signs Of Prolonged Stress (Chronic Stress)

When a person develops chronic stress and their sympathetic nervous system stays activated, it's difficult to enter the rest-and-digest mode or the parasympathetic system that deals with recovery.

Physical symptoms of chronic stress can include:

  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Low sex drive
  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive problems
  • Weak immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in appetite

Stress can also lead to emotional symptoms including:

  • Irritability
  • General anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Risky behavior
  • Eating disorders

Stress is difficult to measure as it depends on the person perceiving it.

If you believe you're under a lot of stress, and it's starting to impact you physically and mentally, you should see your primary health care professional for a diagnosis. Your doctor may use questionnaires to gain insight into your lifestyle and events and can guide you with support tailored to your lifestyle.

What The Science Says About CBD Oil And Stress

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating compound extracted from the cannabis plant. Many people turn to CBD products to support a variety of wellness goals, and it may have some benefits towards stress too.

CBD and other cannabinoids closely resemble neurotransmitters in the body called endocannabinoids, which belong to the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS functions as a cell-signaling system throughout the body to support homeostasis (balance) for optimal function. When the body is in a state of imbalance, it's more prone to stress and disease.

Researchers believe that CBD has such broad-acting effects throughout the body because it supports the ECS' overall function as a moderator for some of our most vital functions, including the stress response, energy metabolism, pain perception, and immune function.

The tricky thing is, the research on the effects of CBD is still fairly new, so while there are numerous anecdotal reports about its benefits in reducing pain, managing stress, and improving sleep, there aren't any FDA-approved CBD products on the market that are allowed to make any of these claims.

Let's look at some of the current studies on CBD's effects, and how it may help to support healthy stress levels.

1. CBD Has Been Shown To Have Interactions At GABA Receptor Sites

Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that acts as the primary inhibitor for the central nervous system—in effect, it slows down the stress response so that the body can enter the rest-and-digest mode.

Chronic stress and anxiety disorders have been linked with low levels of GABA activity in the brain [1].

One of the many actions of CBD is its potential to modulate GABA levels, which may influence excitatory pathways that induce stress. You can think of CBD supporting GABA's role as the brake pedal to the acute stress response to offer relaxing benefits to the mind and body [2].

2. CBD May Offer Comfort For Muscle Tension

Acute injuries and chronic pain can contribute to high-stress levels. Chronic pain is and muscle tension is also related to higher levels of cortisol—the primary stress hormone—in the body, which resulted in higher pain levels and increased the risk for mood and anxiety disorders [3].

Cannabidiol is the topic of many pre-clinical and clinical studies relating to difficult-to-treat pain.

Researchers hypothesize that CBD oil has a multifaceted approach to addressing minor aches and soreness through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system and inhibitory function at vanilloid receptor sites [4]. Both of these systems exist in the peripheral nervous system and transmit information related to pain.

While CBD isn't FDA-approved as a treatment for chronic pain, many people are turning to CBD oil as a natural-based alternative to dangerous prescription painkillers.

3. CBD May Offer Relaxing Benefits To Support Sleep

Poor sleeping habits and chronic stress can quickly become a vicious cycle. One study observed that fatigue is linked to high-stress levels, which makes sense as nervous thoughts can keep you up at night, preventing you from getting enough sleep [5].

CBD isn't considered a sedative compound as it doesn't shut off activity in the central nervous system to knock you out, but it may help with easing feelings of nervousness and racing thoughts by slowing down the breakdown of anandamide, an endocannabinoid nick-named the 'bliss molecule,' which can help you feel more relaxed and content before bedtime [6].

How To Use CBD Oil For Stress

There are so many benefits to using CBD oil to support healthy stress levels, and it's no surprise that more people are turning to this natural solution. With all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, finding time to take care of yourself can be difficult.

Let's get into some ways you can use CBD products as part of your self-care routine.

1. Choose A Full Spectrum Or Broad Spectrum CBD Oil

The hemp plant produces over a hundred cannabinoids and terpenes, not just CBD, that researchers are finding help to support the effects of CBD in the endocannabinoid system—making it more potent and well-balanced. This is known as the entourage effect.

Full spectrum extracts contain as close to the natural hemp phytochemical profile from the flower as possible, which may include up to 0.3% THC. If you're concerned about trace amounts of THC in your CBD products, you can turn to the second-best option, broad-spectrum CBD extracts.

Broad spectrum extracts have an extra step in the processing to isolate and remove all traces of THC. You'll still get the benefits of the supporting cannabinoids and terpenes that contribute to the entourage effect.

CBD oil that only contains CBD (known as CBD isolate) isn't as strong as full spectrum and broad spectrum products. It's also missing cannabinoids that may have potential towards supporting stress levels too like CBN, CBG, and CBC.

2. Use High Potency CBD

CBD oil comes in a wide range of potencies—from 300MG-10,000MG+. We consider high potency CBD contains 3,000MG or more in a standard 1 oz bottle.

Buying a CBD oil with the highest potency will likely cost you more in one go, but it can save your wallet if used regularly.

A high potency CBD oil will allow you to scale your dosage to suit your requirements as needed, as your dose with regular use and lifestyle adjustments can change how much you need.

3. Take CBD Consistently For Best Results

The effects of CBD aren't always noticeable right off the bat because it's not medication. Rather, the CBD products you find on markets help to supplement your ECS (the body’s natural alarm system), which may take some time to adjust.

If you're using CBD to help you with sleep, try taking it at the same hour each night—ideally 30–45 minutes before your bedtime. It could take days or up to 2 weeks for your body to adjust to the supplemented cannabinoids.

4. Practice Other Stress Management Techniques

While research shows a lot of promise on the benefits of CBD, it's important to remember that it's not a miracle compound. If you're experiencing high levels of stress, CBD oil, might not be enough to help you.

Effective stress management is the key to a balanced life. Identifying the sources can be difficult, but it's crucial because otherwise, you'll overlook how your own thoughts and behaviors contribute to your rising anxiety.

Understanding where those pressures come from—both major events or chronic bothersome tasks that we deal with day-by-day without even realizing they're there until something happens unexpectedly then BAM—all these worries flood back onto us like a sudden downpour after days of cloudy skies—so keep an eye out for any signs of stress before things get too heavy.

Stress management techniques can include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Seeking help from a licensed therapist
  • Getting 30–60 minutes of exercise each day
  • Drinking enough water (8 glasses/a day)
  • Practicing meditation and mindfulness
  • Spending time with friends and family who make you feel good
  • Spend time outdoors
  • Reducing your "to-do" list

Is CBD Safe? Side-Effects Of CBD

It's virtually impossible for someone to reach toxic levels of CBD—but it is possible to take too much past your limit and experience adverse effects, and it can be hard to determine your limits if you don't have prior experience. Luckily, these tend to wear off within 3–5 hours (in contrast with THC which typically takes up to 8).

If you notice any concerning symptoms like vomiting diarrhea fever, hunger pangs, etc., then chances are that your dose may have been more than what's considered healthy so make sure to monitor how many milligrams per pound/kilogram each day until these issues subside.

If you're thinking about trying CBD for the first time, it's recommended that you consult with your healthcare professional to reduce any negative interactions from medications. As a general rule-of-thumb always start on the lower end of dosing and work up so as not to overdo it!

How To Purchase Quality CBD Oil

The market for CBD products seems endless considering how much interest has grown and the innovation of products on the market from gummies, ointments, vape products, and more.

Unfortunately, until regulations come into place there's still uncertainty about what exactly goes inside each bottle so buyer beware if you're looking to buy any kind of "CBD oil." We've put together this short beginner guide including terms common among buyers like cost per dose and reading labels.

1. Only Shop For Hemp-Derived CBD

CBD was illegal until the U.S Farm Bill was introduced in 2018 that approved the production and sale of hemp plants and its derivatives (cannabinoids and terpenes) as long as it contains less than 0.3%THC.

CBD is present in both hemp and marijuana plants, so if you don't want the intoxicating effects of THC in your CBD oil, make sure that you're purchasing CBD products made from Farm Bill compliant hemp crops.

2. Read Certificate Of Analysis

There's still uncertainty about what exactly goes inside each bottle, so buyer beware if you're looking to buy any kind of "CBD oil" from a smaller company. The only way to know what's truly in your CBD product is to reference the Certificate of Analysis (COA).

Many online retailers will provide a Certificate of Analysis from a third-party lab that verifies the hemp extract—cannabinoids, terpenes, and potential contaminants.

3. Stay Away From Too-Good To Be True Claims

As a general rule, stay away from CBD products that claim to treat or cure diseases —this is because it goes against FDA guidelines.

Companies that don't follow these rules could have other motives other than providing quality goods for customers so beware if a CBD brand promises too much. It's a good idea to look to forums like Reddit on reviews about other customers' experiences with the brand to get some sort of idea of the customer service the retailer provides.

The Takeaway: The Benefits Of CBD For Supporting Stress

CBD has quickly become a popular health and wellness supplement because of its unique interaction with the endocannabinoid system, which is stated with regulating the body's optimal functioning through homeostasis.

While research on CBD is still new, it shows a lot of potential for therapeutic uses, and many people are using it as part of their self-care routines to manage healthy stress levels because of its gentle actions towards supporting sleep, increasing muscle and body discomfort, and calming down nervous feelings or anxious thoughts.

It's important to keep in mind that CBD is not a cure-all compound, and because it's still relatively new on the market, not all CBD products can provide you with the same level of wellness benefits, so it's up to you to conduct your research on the brand and product and to speak with your doctor to make sure CBD is appropriate for you.

Resources:

  1. Hasler, G., van der Veen, J. W., Grillon, C., Drevets, W. C., & Shen, J. (2010). Effect of acute psychological stress on prefrontal GABA concentration determined by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. American Journal of Psychiatry, 167(10), 1226-1231.
  2. Pretzsch, C. M., Freyberg, J., Voinescu, B., Lythgoe, D., Horder, J., Mendez, M. A., ... & McAlonan, G. M. (2019). Effects of cannabidiol on brain excitation and inhibition systems; a randomised placebo-controlled single dose trial during magnetic resonance spectroscopy in adults with and without autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology, 44(8), 1398-1405.
  3. Vachon-Presseau, E., Roy, M., Martel, M. O., Caron, E., Marin, M. F., Chen, J., ... & Rainville, P. (2013). The stress model of chronic pain: evidence from basal cortisol and hippocampal structure and function in humans. Brain, 136(3), 815-827.
  4. Russo, E. B. (2008). Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. Therapeutics and clinical risk management, 4(1), 245.
  5. Kocalevent, R. D., Hinz, A., Brähler, E., & Klapp, B. F. (2011). Determinants of fatigue and stress. BMC research notes, 4(1), 1-5.
  6. Deutsch, D. G. (2016). A personal retrospective: elevating anandamide (AEA) by targeting fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and the fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs). Frontiers in pharmacology, 7, 370.

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