If you’ve experienced stress, you know that it can impact you in a whole lot of ways, ranging from long sleepless nights to weight gain and even a blunted immune system. It’s no wonder people are always looking for a “fix” for their stress.
One potential solution that some have been turning to? Cannabidiol, aka CBD. This cannabinoid has garnered a lot of attention in recent years as a supposed cure-all for mellowing out and soothing anxiety – but what does today’s research really have to say about it?
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Stress, anxiety, and CBD
There’s certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence that positions CBD as a natural solution for stress and anxiety.
CBD is a cannabinoid, or active compound found in cannabis plants. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive, so it doesn’t get you high. However, it does seem to interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which produces similar cannabinoids that play a role in managing your mood, sleep, memory, pain perception, and more. Although we don’t have a complete understanding of how CBD interacts with your ECS at this point, one theory is that CBD can help minimize the degradation of your body’s own endocannabinoids.
This theory has been explored in quite a few studies which evaluate the self-reported symptoms of people suffering from chronic stress and anxiety. For example, a large 2019 case study of 72 adults with reported anxiety issues found that CBD supplementation of 25, 50, or 75 mg/day led to self-reported anxiety scores decreasing in 79.2% of the participants. 55.7% also reported that their sleep improved.
Another study on teenagers with social anxiety disorder found that a 300mg CBD/day dose for four weeks led to significant decreases in their reported anxiety symptoms when compared to a placebo control group.
But does CBD actually affect your stress hormones?
Self-reported perceptions of stress are one thing. But understanding your hormones is one of the best ways to understand how stress affects your health on a cellular level. Unfortunately, the current evidence around CBD and hormone levels is rather lacking. Many of the studies use very small sample sizes, or were conducted on animal subjects, not humans (more on that in a moment).
With that said, here’s what we do know so far.
Cortisol is probably the most well-known stress hormone. When you encounter something stressful (be it an impending deadline, tight finances, or a particularly high-intensity workout), your adrenal gland releases cortisol to spur on your “fight or flight” response.
Despite cortisol being such a major factor in chronic stress, there are still very few good studies that explore how, or if, CBD can impact its levels. A very small 1993 study on 11 healthy volunteers found that participants who received high doses of CBD (300mg or 600mg) showed more significant decreases in cortisol levels than those who received only a placebo.
Another more recent 2020 study compared the cortisol levels of 32 patients who were at clinical high risk of psychosis and 26 healthy controls by putting them through a public speaking stress test. Half of the 32 high-risk patients were given 600 mg/day of CBD. The researchers found that cortisol levels changed the most in their healthy control subjects and least in the high-risk patients who did not receive CBD, while the CBD group saw cortisol changes somewhere in the middle.
DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is another adrenal hormone. It spikes in response to acute mental stress, making it a good biomarker for stress. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research out there that evaluates what effect, if any, CBD has on this stress hormone.
Your thyroid hormones, which regulate your metabolism, are also thought to be affected in part by stress and cortisol levels. Unfortunately, there aren’t many studies out there at this point that explore the relationship between CBD, thyroid hormones, and stress specifically. However, there is some early evidence that cannabinoid receptors in your endocannabinoid system might be a promising target to explore for some thyroid disorders.
Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is the other crucial hormonal component of your “fight or flight” reaction which can play a role in feelings of stress, agitation, and anxiety. Again, the research here on CBD’s effects on adrenaline in human subjects is rather lacking. However, a 2001 study on rabbit adrenal glands found that the administration of cannabinoids successfully inhibited adrenaline secretion and led to a subsequent decrease in plasma adrenaline measurements.
Roadblocks to understanding CBD & stress hormones
You might have noticed that there isn’t a ton of strong conclusive evidence yet surrounding CBD and stress hormones. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t help. Rather, what this might mean is that there simply hasn’t been enough research around the subject yet.
CBD (and cannabis in general) has only very recently been legalized in some areas of the United States, and it’s not yet legal at the federal level at all. This means that there are still a ton of barriers that researchers have to go through, from regulations to supply to generating enough funding. Interestingly, researchers might also run into issues once they get their studies up and running: cannabis studies are especially prone to overinflated placebo effects that can skew results.
Making better-educated decisions about CBD, stress, and anxiety
When there is so much that is still so unknown about CBD and your stress hormones, it can be difficult to determine what your next move should be. What we do know for certain is that stress and anxiety can be complicated and multifaceted issues, but you shouldn’t overlook the integral role that your hormones could be playing.
So if you’re looking for more tangible answers, consider taking a hormone test. Base’s Stress Test can help you key in to some of those relevant hormones that could be influencing that ball of anxiety sitting heavy in your stomach. Armed with this key biological information, you’ll be better prepared to address any underlying issues and make more efficient changes that go beyond the general self-reports of anxiety relief that some people feel from taking CBD. Like:
- If your cortisol levels are too high, you might be able to address them by cutting down on caffeine, tweaking your diet, and/or using adaptogenic herbs
- If your thyroid hormones are too high or too low, you should check in with your doctor to evaluate your thyroid health and determine if you need medication.
When it comes to something as complex as stress and anxiety, CBD is still only one piece of the puzzle — and an under researched one at that. But taking a saliva test can help set you in the right direction for managing your stress in the meantime. And when you test your levels with Base, you’ll get a customized improvement plan with stress solutions that are proven to work.
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