Uneasiness of mind, distress, chronic fear, psychic tension. Anxiety has many descriptors and is holding back millions of people from leading fulfilling lives. Major depressive disorder, commonly called depression, is affecting Americans at an alarming rate as well.
Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental illnesses in the United States.
Using the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Health Index, the BCBS Association determined that major depression is the “second most impactful condition on overall health for commercially insured Americans,” following closely behind hypertension (high blood pressure)—a common symptom of anxiety.
According to the BCBS, major depression diagnoses have risen 33% since 2013 (and 47% among millennials)—affecting more than 9 million Americans. Americans diagnosed with major depression also usually suffer from other chronic, behavioral, or pain-related conditions.
Overshadowing depression, anxiety disorders have seen a similar increase and account for an even larger share of the U.S. population.
There are many kinds of anxiety disorders, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobias, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. When its different forms are considered collectively, anxiety is the most common mental illness in the country, affecting 40 million adults (and that’s only those ages 18 and over)—or about 18% of the adult population—according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
It’s difficult to tell if the sharp increases in these two mental illnesses can be attributed to the fact that younger generations, particularly millennials, are more open to seeking help for them. In a new stage of human existence that heavily emphasizes transparency and mental wellness, more people are talking about their problems than ever before. Concurrently, more individuals are turning to organic, holistic health and wellness products.
That’s where cannabidiol (CBD) enters the dialogue. Sublingual tinctures, ingestible oils, dermal lotions, capsules—CBD comes in a variety of concentrated forms. According to a survey published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in 2018, almost 62% of CBD users said they used CBD to alleviate symptoms of a medical condition, specifically pain, anxiety, and depression.
CBD and Brain Function
Research suggests that CBD interacts with the human endocannabinoid system in a way that influences how the body regulates serotonin. Serotonin plays a large part in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression naturally. Just as FDA-approved forms of CBD have been proven to treat specific forms of pediatric epilepsy and muscle spasms, users are reporting general anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects of using CBD.
While it is always best to follow a doctor’s treatment plan, not all patients respond well to prescriptions that are commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, such as Zoloft, Prozac, Valium and Xanax, to name just a few examples. Some come with addictive side effects and negatively impact other areas of the individual’s health. Many are unable to tolerate the side effects of prescriptions and sink into a cycle of med-testing, or trying different brands and experiencing ups and downs as a result, which can lead to an amplification of their original diagnoses of depression and/or anxiety.
Prescription drugs used to treat anxiety and depression fall under the SSRI category, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they target the same system in the body as CBD. In animal studies, CBD has proven to affect the hippocampus as well. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that’s associated with memory and cognition, but plays a role in a variety of other brain functions.
Individuals with depression or anxiety usually show a smaller hippocampus in brain scans, and successful treatment of these conditions is marked by the formation of new neurons in the individual’s hippocampus. In this study, regular administration of CBD led to the production of new neurons (the formation of new neurons is called “neurogenesis”).
So, there are many links between CBD and SSRIs in the way that they influence different systems of the body in order to target depression and anxiety. Building on animal studies, human studies are underway to further substantiate the potency of CBD in treating mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Studies have been conducted where individuals take CBD before performing a public speaking test, and findings supported CBD’s efficacy as the individuals showed a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure. This is just one example of the many studies conducted across the globe as CBD falls farther away from its stigmatized relation to marijuana.
The Bottom Line
CBD has seen a tremendous growth in both scientific research and interest from consumers. When administered as needed, evidence shows that CBD is safe, well-tolerated by the body, and improves conditions such as PTSD, social anxiety, mild to moderate depression, and more. Furthermore, with the growing number of depression and anxiety cases in the U.S., costs to treat these on a wide scale are skyrocketing. CBD is a viable, safe, non-addictive alternative to common pharmaceuticals.
The BCBS Association’s report Major Depression: The Impact on Overall Health shows that depression can shave up to 10 years off an individual’s life, not to mention the myriad of problems that occur such as relationship issues, employment issues, and lack of life enjoyment in the meantime.
CBD is a blossoming industry that’s making a deep crossroads among the millions of Americans that suffer from mental illnesses—a beacon of hope that is casting a larger and larger light into the shadows of anxiety and depression. While there are still many unknowns, research and endorsements from organizations like the World Health Organization are backing up word-of-mouth evidence and the growing popularity of this product. Thanks to changing laws, the industry is continuing to expand and help people.
Since CBD products are mostly unregulated, it’s important to find a trusted source of quality products if you plan to use CBD to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.