In this modern world, coping with stress and consequently with anxiety, seems to be the norm, instead of the exception. We’re stressed by work, by the uncertain future, by wars and epidemics that threaten our security and our economic and emotional stability.
We are stressed because, as the Italian Institute of Health points out: “stress is the psychological and physiological response our body puts in place against challenges, difficulties and life events which appear too much or too dangerous. In a situation of stress we feel confronted with a great emotional and mental pressure”.
Where do anxiety and stress come from?
Stress is the response our body activates when our balance is compromised, and when it becomes chronic, it can develop in anxiety, more or less generalised.
Starting with this premise: stress by itself, is not negative nor positive; it simply helps us to adapt to physical and mental stimuli which we receive each day. It can be positive when, for example, it improves our concentration for an exam or our energy levels for a sport’s competition. It becomes negative, instead, when it lasts over time without the ability to address the situation that has caused it in the first place. In these cases there is an overload, called allostatic load, which damages cells, tissues and organs compromising their functions.
In other words, if the increase of stress hormones for a short period of time can help us promptly resolve a situation, the maintenance of high levels of stress hormones for a long period of time (chronic stress) can cause serious consequences which include milder disorders such as eating disorders, headaches and insomnia up to more serious illnesses like autoimmune diseases, cancer and heart attacks.
Cannabis to combat stress and anxiety
Cannabis, thanks to its anti-anxiety properties, is a powerful ally for patients who suffer from anxiety and depression. To point this out are numerous studies carried out during these years which have shed light on the immense potential of the plant and its subproducts.
Based on an extensive study conducted by American researchers from Washington State University and published in Journal of Affective Disorders cannabis reduces depression, anxiety, and stress. By using data from an app, researchers have analysed nearly 12 thousand sessions of cannabis use by people who suffer from depression (3151), anxiety (5085) and stress (3717) to discover that patients felt their depression reduced by 50%, anxiety and stress by 58% after using cannabis. The strands with high CBD and low THC have been associated with the biggest changes in the evaluation of depression; instead the strands with high CBD and high THC have produced the biggest changes in the perception of stress.
Based on another study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, Brazilian researchers from Sao Paulo University have found that CBD can treat symptoms of anxiety and depression, without disrupting the normal cycle of sleep.
Previous research, which dates back to 2015, had found that: “Existing pre-clinical evidence strongly supports CBD in treating generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post traumatic disorder”. In a study published on Neurotherapeutics researchers stressed the need for more in-depth research: “Current evidence indicates that CBD has enormous potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders, but further research is needed on chronic and therapeutic effects in relevant clinical populations”.
Terpenes are the substances that give cannabis and hundreds of other plants their distinctive scent: these are lipid molecules which play a key role in traditional plant-based remedies, besides multiple food and industrial purposes (kitchen aromas, perfumes and detergents).
A scientific study on mice published in the journal Physiology & Behaviour identifies the terpene β-caryophyllene as a potential treatment for anxiety and depression. “The present study – by a team of researchers from the United Arab Emirates University – has clearly proven the anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects of β-cariophyllene and its basic mechanism dependent on the CB2 receptor in rodents”. Test results support, in fact, the involvement of the CB2 receptor in regulating emotional behaviour and suggest this receptor to be greatly relevant therapeutically in treating anxiety, stress and depressive disorders. Researchers have added that previous studies have also revealed the importance of CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system in reducing anxiety and depression, and why a better comprehension of this terpene might explain why cannabis consumers feel relief from anxiety and depression as the main effect of the substance.
But β-caryophyllene isn’t the only terpene present in cannabis to have this effect. There are also Limonene and Linalool. This last one, renowned for its anti-anxiety effects, has an important role in the sedative effects of plants such as cannabis or lavender. Limonene has been tested in other studies and proved to strongly reduce social anxieties and to have antidepressant properties, besides enhancing the dopamine levels.