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CBD for Stress Relief: Here’s What the Research Says

Stress is a natural part of the human capacity to deal with ever-changing environments. However, today when humans should hardly ever need this kind of adaptation, stress levels are at an all-time high. The good news is that stressed-out professionals or students can now potentially look to cannabidiol (CBD) for stress relief. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that medical, scientific, and natural health communities are fascinated with.

CBD has a number of special benefits for addressing stress, as well as the physical and psychological effects that stress can cause. As with any new option, it is essential to do your research about the effectiveness of CBD. To help with this, the following article contains some of the most important information on using CBD for stress relief, according to current research.

woman stressing out

Understanding the Stress Response

There was a time when the stress response was initiated for life or death situations. This provided ancient humans with a considerable advantage over their dangerous worlds.

However, back then, the stress response would be engaged and then quickly and naturally disengaged as soon as the threat had passed. Stress was never meant to be a constant mode of operation. 1 , 2

Today, things are different. Nevertheless, the challenges of modern society cause a proportion of the population to live in a constant state of mild or severe stress.

As a result, addressing the high levels of chronic stress in the population requires an overhaul of lifestyle choices for many individuals. This is especially important because research has shown that these undue levels of stress can be the cause of many physical and mental conditions. 3

Using CBD for stress relief is an exciting prospect for addressing chronic stress naturally. Because CBD is a homeopathic remedy, it has the potential to do more than just reduce stress levels. CBD could also help control some of the damage caused by stress, as well as build up the body’s resilience to stressors.

cbd oil in a dripper

Studies on Using CBD for Stress Relief

Endocannabinoids Modulate the Stress Response

The discovery of exogenous cannabinoids, the type found in the cannabis plant, led to the discovery of the endogenous cannabinoid system, better known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system plays an important regulatory role within the body and uses locally produced cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) to relay messages and affect bodily processes.

Studies have shown that signaling within the ECS modulates the stress response. Other studies have suggested that impaired signaling in the ECS can lead to greater vulnerability to stress. 4 , 5

CBD has been studied for its unique capacity to modulate the ECS indirectly and without causing psychoactive effects. Because the CBD molecule has lower affinity at CB1 and CB2 receptors, it acts by a different mechanism.

CBD decreases the activity of fatty acid amide hydrolase, (FAAH) which is responsible for breaking down anandamide, a naturally-occurring cannabinoid that activates CB1 and CB2 receptors. This allows for more sustained activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors. This mechanism most likely accounts for its anti-inflammatory effects and ability to module the stress response. 6

CBD Acts as an Anxiolytic in Stressed Mice

Researchers tested CBD's capacity to relieve stress on a group of laboratory rats that performed feeding tests and maze navigation. Prior to the series of tests, some of the mice received CBD.

This experiment highlighted the anxiety-reducing properties of CBD by demonstrating the capacity of CBD to mediate endocannabinoid signaling, thus reaffirming CBD’s potential to reduce stress and anxiety by modulating ECS activity. 7

CBD Can Reduce the Physical Symptoms of Stress

Individuals suffering from anxiety may find that certain situations are especially stressful. For instance, public speaking is one situation that can cause people to feel especially uncomfortable. For this reason, researchers simulated a public speaking test to determine if CBD can help people cope with the psychological demands of this situation.

The study demonstrated that pre-treatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort when participants delivered their speeches. They reached this conclusion after determining that the placebo group demonstrated higher levels of anxiety and discomfort, as assessed by the Visual Analogue Mood Scale (VAMS) and Negative Self-Statement scale (SSPS-N). 8

person with cbd oil

Secondary CBD Stress-Relieving Benefits

In addition to modulating the ECS’s capacity to affect the stress response, CBD has been linked to a number of secondary benefits that can address stressful conditions.

Reduces Pain

Oftentimes, chronic stress can result in tight muscles, stiff joints, and painful headaches. CBD’s pain-relieving potential can help alleviate both a major cause and effect of stress. 9

Relieves Inflammation

Inflammation and stress can go hand-in-hand. Studies show that CBD boosts the inflammation control function of the ECS. 10

Improves Sleep Quality

One of the most common complaints from individuals who experience chronic stress is losing sleep. When the body is stressed, the proper chemical functions that allow for proper sleep are compromised.

There has been extensive anecdotal and scientific research that extols CBD’s capacity as a sleep enhancer. A 2017 review highlights CBD’s potential to improve REM sleep and reduce daytime drowsiness. It also mentions that synthetic cannabinoids like nabilone have been found to effectively reduce nightmares. 11

Final Thoughts

Initial studies exploring the use of CBD for stress relief are promising, though continuing further research is critical. Still, those looking to reduce stress in their lives should attempt to address the major factors that contribute to this stress. By identifying and reducing your major sources of stress, natural remedies for reducing stress will be more effective.

Photo credits: vmaslova/, Tinnakornjorruang/, ChristopherWillans/, arturnichiporenko/

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