It’s safe to say that all of our collective anxiety levels have been hitting an all-time high right now. There are some good ways to manage that stress—including doing some light exercise (six feet apart from everyone else), drinking plenty of water, and trying to get some sleep (which is easier said than done, we know). And while refilling an expired Xanax prescription is extremely tempting at this moment, anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and Ativan are also habit-forming substances that are controlled for good reason.
One over-the-counter, legal-in-all-50-states anxiety treatment that may be a better bet: CBD. We spoke with Deepa Verma, M.D., about why she’s specifically recommending CBD for her patients who are struggling with anxiety right now. Dr. Verma is a traditional medical doctor who also has an intense interest in integrative medicine.
In recent years, a lot of doctors have been starting to lean this way—these doctors are looking into new ways to prevent issues before they start, rather than playing whack-a-mole with whatever problems pop up. This interest in wellness as a part of health care has led to several changes you’ve probably noticed in the past 20 years or so, like an increase in M.D.s who recommend probiotics for people who go on antibiotics (you wouldn’t have seen that from a traditional M.D. in the 90s!). Now, we’re starting to see doctors recommend CBD to their patients, too. Here’s why:
Anxiety happens in your body, not just your mind.
You’ve heard about the “mind-body connection,” but the truth is, the two aren’t really distinct at all. There isn’t really a “connection” between them so much as that they are profoundly interconnected parts of the same system. This makes obvious sense when you think about it for a second—our brains aren’t working away on their own in a glass jar next to our bodies, they’re literally, physically part and parcel of a larger working system. And that’s even more true than you may know: 95% of serotonin is actually made in the gut, which is one of the reasons CBD may be beneficial for anxiety.
And it’s not just your serotonin receptors that can get a boost—your body actually has a whole system just for cannabinoids.
“Our bodies have what’s called an endocannabinoid system—in fact, all animals except for insects have this system. There are receptors for it throughout your body, in your gut, your brain, and your organs, and these receptors bind to cannabinoids,” Verma says. “There are different kinds of cannabinoids: our bodies produce their own, which are called endocannabinoids, then there are phytocannabinoids, which are plant-derived—as in the kind we get from cannabis—and there are also synthetic cannabinoids, which are anything you make in a laboratory.”
One reason we don’t understand this system too well yet: the endocannabinoid system wasn’t discovered by scientists until the 1990s. That may not be recent in terms of fashion trends, but when we’re talking about getting good research up and going, it’s not long at all. Because of the politics surrounding hemp and marijuana, there was a dark cloud over this area of research, Verma says. But in recent years, that’s been starting to lift.
There have been some strong studies already—and more are on their way.
“CBD can really help calm people’s nerves. I recommend my patients try it,” Verma says. She notes that there have been plenty of studies published on the subject, but that some larger and better studies are ongoing, and that we’ll know more when we can see the results from those. However, from what’s been published already—and from her own experience with her patients—Verma says she absolutely sees its benefits for anxiety sufferers. It can be soothing and calming, and has no psychoactive effects whatsoever.
Speaking of psychoactives, that’s the big difference between CBD and marijuana: the percentage of THC. CBD has less than 0.3%, meaning it truly cannot get you even a little bit high. What it can do, Verma says, is potentially help reduce your anxiety levels—and that has to do with the fact that your body naturally accepts it.
“Education is the biggest issue here. But I think people can hear the facts, and are becoming more open to it, which will be great for everyone in the long run. These days, our diets are so poor, we eat too many processed foods, and we live very stressful lives—I believe that CBD can be extremely helpful for us in multiple ways.”