Does Hemp Oil Really Help Anxiety?

Along with hemp’s mercurial rise in popularity after its recent legalization has come a glut of claimed benefits for this natural supplement. Hemp oil has become something of a modern day panacea, with people consuming it for what would seem to be every purpose under the sun.

It is wise to be skeptical of any “cure all”, as their reality rarely, if ever lives up to the hype. To muddy the waters further, the cannabis industry is barred from making any direct health related claims16. The only concrete evidence available to consumers is hidden deep within scientific studies and other academic papers, far beyond the interest or scope of the general public.

This means that the only information available to the average consumer comes primarily from inherently vague marketing claims regarding “support” and wellness”. These carefully designed statements avoid any assertion of fact, and by design preclude the possibility of drawing any meaningful conclusions.

At Hempsi, it is our mission to lift this fog. We present the science to consumers, in order to encourage informed decisions regarding the use of hemp products. You will not find us making medical claims, or shallow marketing ploys.

For the time being, “Does CBD oil really work?” is a question who’s definitive answer can only really come from personal experience. That being said, there is a wealth of scientific data that we in the industry can point to in order to help consumers make educated decisions as to whether or not hemp oil is worth a try for their anxiety.

Hemp oil contains several biologically active compounds. Chief among them in both popularity and quantity in the material is Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that acts on the brain in multiple ways, some of which are similar to the mechanisms utilized by prescription drugs to combat anxiety and depression.

Cannabidiol (CBD) Molecule

One of these mechanisms is to increase the activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin plays a role in emotions and mood regulation1, and is the target of Fluoxetine (Prozac) and other antidepressants of the SSRI class.

These drugs work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the synapse between neurons2, where it can interact with its receptors. Over time, this normalizes serotonin signaling and alleviates depression and anxiety symptoms. CBD mimics serotonin by activating several of its receptors3, 4, and so increases serotonergic (related to serotonin) activity. Like fluoxetine, CBD has been shown to reduce depressive and anxiety related behaviors in animal models through its serotonergic properties5, 6.

Serotonin Molecule

Another way that pharmaceuticals address anxiety is through increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that modulates neural activity. By improving its capacity to activate its receptors, benzodiazepine drugs like Diazepam (Valium) can stop or reduce the changes in brain activity that come with anxiety, alleviating symptoms in the short term17.

CBD also enhances GABA’s ability to activate its receptors, but does so in a slightly different way than benzodiazepines7, 8. Because of this difference, CBD does not adversely affect motor skills or cognition. The different mechanism for enhancing GABA effects also means that CBD may enhance the effects of benzodiazepines on GABA when the two drugs are coadministered7. CBD’s ability to enhance the activity of GABA is further improved by its ability to increase brain concentrations of endocannabinoids like 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)9, which shares CBD’s GABAergic function8.

In addition to GABAergic functions, endocannabinoids like 2-AG and anandamide activate cannabinoid (CB1) receptors11. CB1 activation has been shown to have a biphasic effect on anxiety related behaviors in animal models. In lower amounts, CB1 activation tends to decrease anxiety related behaviors, while in higher amounts it tends to increase them10. In the case of CBD mediated increase in endocannabinoid tone, it is unlikely that a high level of CB1 activation would be achieved.

This is because CBD reduces the magnitude of CB1 activation through a process called negative allosteric modulation12, effectively imposing a ceiling on natural CB1 activation. The combination of a “higher floor” from increased endocannabinoid tone and “lower ceiling” from allosteric modulation would theoretically stabilize CB1 activity toward the lower end of the scale, and may partially explain CBD’s ability to reduce anxiety related behaviors in animal models.

Cannabigerol (CBG), another prominent component of hemp oil, shares a mechanism with several prescription medications used to treat PTSD related anxiety and hyperarousal13. CBG and drugs like Clonidine activate the Alpha-2 Adrenergic receptor15,13,14 .

Cannabigerol (CBG) Molecule

Activation of this receptor reduces release of the “fight or flight” neurotransmitters adrenaline and norepinephrine, thereby reducing the arousal and physiological symptoms associated with stress and anxiety15. CBG shares additional pharmacological targets with other cannabinoids as well, like CB1 receptors, which contribute to its pharmacological qualities.

Describing the basic biological functions of a substance is different than proving its efficacy for some specific condition. In no way should any of the information provided in this article be taken as proof that hemp oil will alleviate anxiety.

Furthermore, the intention behind this article is not to claim whether or not hemp oil is effective for anxiety. Rather, this information has been compiled to allow consumers to make educated decisions regarding the use of hemp based products.

Understanding is fundamental in making informed decisions, and hopefully this article is useful in that regard. At the end of the day, the only way to learn if hemp oil will really work for your anxiety is to try it.


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