We’ve known about the medicinal properties of Cannabis sativa for centuries, but we’ve only recently discovered the endocannabinoid system and what it influences in our body. In 1988, the first cannabinoid receptors were found inside the brain of a rat. These cannabinoid receptors are more plentiful than any other neurotransmitter in the brain. In the following years, studies were done to see how synthetic THC affects these receptors. In 1992, scientists discovered the first endocannabinoids, or the cannabinoid-like chemicals our bodies make naturally. But how did we find out how our bodies make these chemicals?
By working backwards, researchers traced the effects of cannabinoids back to the endocannabinoid system, or the system of cannabinoid receptors and chemicals made by our brains. We now know that the endocannabinoid system helps a myriad of bodily systems maintain balance —everything from keeping a healthy bone density all the way to naturally preventing diabetes. Because of the studies showing how cannabinoids can help mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, neuroscientists are now looking at the role of the whole endocannabinoid system in controlling anxiety.
How the Endocannabinoid System Works
If this is your first time hearing about the endocannabinoid system (ECS), don’t fret. The endocannabinoid system was truly discovered in 1992, less than thirty years ago. Since that point, scientists have worked hard to figure out exactly what the ECS does. Here’s what we do know.
The endocannabinoid system has three main parts:
- Cannabinoid receptors – The two major cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) act like a telephone, transporting information about the body’s condition, prompting the body to respond. CB1 receptors are primarily in the brain, while CB2 receptors are in the immune system and other parts of the body.
- Endocannabinoids – The endocannabinoids activate our body’s cannabinoid receptors. Unlike other biological molecules, endocannabinoids are made on-demand rather than stored for later.
- Metabolic Enzymes – The last pieces of this puzzle are the metabolic enzymes. These enzymes destroy the endocannabinoids once they’ve been used. They make sure the endocannabinoids are used when they’re needed, but not for longer than necessary.
Endocannabinoids and Anxiety
Since the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), scientists have done studies on how this system affects the body in various ways. They have found that the endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in how the body responds to stressful external and internal stimuli. In other words, your endocannabinoid system is the middle-man when it comes to your body’s fear reactions, anxiety, and stress-coping mechanisms. It sends signals between bodily systems and the brain to help us respond to stress, that good old “fight or flight” response that helps us survive as a species. The signaling done by the ECS helps our body respond appropriately to situations which are vital to survival.
But what does this have to do with anxiety?
Anxiety is our body having an overactive response to fear, triggering effects like a racing heart and stress hormones like cortisol. Sometimes the fear trigger isn’t even connected to a real situation, as in generalized anxiety, which is a feeling of fear all the time with no logical source. Basically, that helpful instinctive response to run from danger gets set off without any danger around, making us feel scared and ready to run for no reason. Since the ECS helps regulate the body’s response to fear, it can help reduce anxiety and help other fear-response disorders like PTSD.
How does the endocannabinoid system calm anxiety?
While studying cannabis, scientists discovered that cannabinoids extracted from the plant and endocannabinoids made by our bodies can work to calm anxiety and regulate this fear response. But how? Just like how they discovered the ECS, scientists worked backward to figure out the exact effects on anxiety. We know that brain regions that regulate emotional behavior have a high density of CB1 receptors. These regions include the amygdala, hippocampus, and cortex. By breeding knockout mice that lacked CB1 receptors, we saw anxiogenic-like and depressive-like genes and a huge alteration in the adrenocortical activity. Basically, the rodents without an ECS were way more anxious than normal rodents.
Recent studies have experimented with selectively increasing the acceptance of endocannabinoids by the receptors, or basically making the receptors more sensitive. The results of these studies showed a reduction in anxiety-like behaviors in animals and a variation in anxiety symptoms in humans. In the same study, scientists looked at how the body’s neurotransmitter system reacts to cannabidiol (CBD) as an alternative to traditional anxiolytics to alleviate anxiety. They found that CBD can be useful in treating trauma-related and anxiety disorders.
Supplementing With Cannabinoids
If you’re looking for an experimental alternative for traditional anxiolytic drugs like Xanax and Prozac, think about trying to balance your endocannabinoid system. This system and the cells it creates are just like any other system in the body. When you’re feeling run-down or tired, you consider taking vitamin supplements. When your endocannabinoid system is off, you should think about supplementing with cannabidiol (CBD).
If you’re starting to experience anxiety or depression symptoms, your endocannabinoid system may be in need of a supplement. We know for a fact that how we feel is affected by this signaling. In fact, a few years ago scientists found that a drug for obesity blocked CB1 receptors and resulted in increased anxiety for the patients. Other symptoms of your endocannabinoid system being in need of TLC are: sensitivity to pain, chronic inflammation illnesses, and craving junk food.
How to Effectively Supplement With CBD
Supplementing with cannabidiol is easy. There are several ways to implement CBD into your daily routine. The easiest is to add a CBD vitamin supplement to the rest of your daily supplements. You can also utilize CBD hemp oil, which is cannabidiol extracted from hemp plants that don’t contain the psychoactive chemical THC. You can use CBD oil in several different ways. The simplest way is to put a few drops under your tongue for absorption. You can also mix CBD oil with a carrier oil and rub it into your skin, bake it into your favorite snacks, or even put it in an e-cigarette.