People have been utilizing cannabis to alleviate anxiety for centuries, but until recently scientists weren’t aware of the effects of cannabinoids — the chemicals in cannabis like THC and CBD — on the body and the brain. In the 1990s, the Endocannabinoid System, or the body’s natural system that uses and creates cannabinoids, was discovered and found to have an effect on most bodily processes, especially those involving our senses and mood. Recently, scientists have been focusing their studies on the brain and especially how cannabinoids affect the way it works. They’ve discovered that the Endocannabinoid System signals enzymes to our brain and then through our body to help regulate our moods, social behaviors, appetite, and digestion, among other things.
Serotonin, Anxiety and Cannabidiol (CBD)
One of the major brain chemicals affected by cannabinoids like CBD is serotonin, and this chemical also has a lot to do with anxiety. In a recent study, scientists looked at serotonin receptors in the brain and how they responded to CBD oil injections. Before we get into the specifics of the study, let’s get familiar with serotonin.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin’s scientific name is 5-HT, and it is a chemical that transmits messages between nerve cells and plays a major role in appetite, emotions, and automatic functions. Having a balance of serotonin in your brain is important because low levels of serotonin can cause depression, while high levels of serotonin can cause anxiety. Many people take drugs to regulate serotonin imbalances; however, there are other ways to regulate your body’s serotonin. Mood induction, light, exercise, and diet are natural ways to start the process of correcting serotonin imbalances, and CBD hemp oil might be the latest natural way to regulate serotonin.
Serotonin and Depression
Depression is caused by a combination of various problems, not just one; however, one major factor in depression is the body’s serotonin regulation. Because serotonin helps manage sleep, appetite, and mood, it has a direct effect on the way a person feels. When someone can’t get adequate sleep, or is constantly in a “meh” kind of mood, low levels of serotonin can be the reason behind these feelings.
Serotonin and Anxiety
Just like with depression, it is difficult to say exactly what causes anxiety. We know anxiety can be a symptom of depression, but studies have also found that high levels of serotonin can contribute to social anxiety disorder. The major serotonin receptor we study is the 5-HT1A receptor and experiments have shown that mice missing this receptor showed increase anxiety as adults.
The Anxiety Study: 5-HT1A and CBD in Rodents
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of depression and anxiety, but many studies have shown that CBD has a positive effect on the symptoms of these types of mental illness. This particular study looked at how CBD interacted with two specific parts of the brain: the 5-HT1A serotonin receptors and a bundle of nerves called the “bed nucleus of the stria terminalis” or BNST. These two parts of the brain contribute to the physiological and behavioral responses needed to keep our bodies running smoothly. Here’s the structure of the study:
- For the first part of this experiment, researchers gave the rats injections of CBD into the BNST and then exposed the rats to two tests used to observe animal representations of anxiety: the Elevated Plus-Maze and the Vogel Conflict Test.
- For the second part of this experiment, researchers gave the rats a 5-HT1A serotonin receptor blocker to see what effect it has on the way the CBD is processed. Basically, scientists were trying to prove that CBD uses these serotonin receptors.
The elevated plus maze features a raised plus-shaped structure with two exposed arms and two arms with high sides. Rats generally prefer to be in enclosed spaces. Rats with reduced anxiety will spend more time in the open arms. When the researchers administered CBD to the rats, their time exploring open arms increased. Their time in the high-sided arms didn’t change. When the rats were given the serotonin receptor blocker, the effects of CBD were blocked, meaning the rats performed like they would normally perform without CBD in their system.
Vogel Conflict Test
The Vogel conflict test is another test used to measure the anti-anxiety effects of drugs. Before the test is administered, the rats have a limited access to water for either 18 straight hours or given a little bit of water for an hour a day over the course of several days. During this test, rats receive an electrical shock every time they try to get food or water. In an untreated animal, the number of times they seek out water will decrease. The administered CBD increased the number of punished licks in this study. It had no effect on the amount of water the rats consumed. Just like in the elevated plus-maze test, when the rats were given the serotonin receptor blocker, the rats performed as if they had not been given CBD at all.
What do these results mean?
The reason scientists went through this study was to further pinpoint the exact part of the brain that cannabidiol hemp oil interacts with to alleviate anxiety. The conclusion of this study found that CBD directly associates with the 5-HT1A serotonin receptors because when these receptors are blocked, the body does not respond to the CBD. This means that CBD uses the serotonin receptors in relieving anxiety. The study also suggests that the BNST likely carries the signal to the serotonin receptors to respond to the injection of CBD.
Implications for CBD Hemp Oil Anxiety Treatments
These aren’t just interesting studies on rats that only other scientists care about. The takeaway from this particular study is that CBD hemp oil, whether injected, taken orally, or in vapor, does affect the serotonin levels in the brain, which in turn helps relieve anxiety. Yes, people who suffer from anxiety disorders have another option for relief besides pharmaceuticals with side effects. After speaking with a doctor or psychiatrist to determine a dose, anxiety sufferers can begin a regimen of CBD treatments to relieve many of their anxiety symptoms.