With the COVID-19 pandemic still having such a huge impact around the world, this year’s World Mental Health Day (October 10th) is likely to resonate with more people than ever before. The stress and anxiety that the global pandemic has placed upon significant proportions of society means that mental well-being is a massive concern for everyone right now. With more and more studies being published identifying the potential positive impacts of CBD on stress and anxiety, alongside the growing consumer use of CBD products to self-treat mental health issues like stress, anxiety, and sleep problems, here we take a look at the most recent research on the topic.
For many, stress and anxiety are significant problems associated with the strain and pace of modern life. Nearly one in five of U.S. adults (47 million) reported having a mental illness in 2019, and in 2017-2018, more than 17 million adults and an additional three million adolescents had a major depressive episode in the past year.
These mental health concerns have been a growing problem for many years; however it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly exacerbated those problems, causing mental health problems for a much broader proportion of the global population.
In a KFF Tracking Poll conducted in mid-July 2020, 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. This is significantly higher than the 32% reported in March 2020, the first time this question was included in KFF polling.
Many adults are also reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. As the pandemic continues, ongoing and necessary public health measures expose many people to experiencing situations linked to poor mental health outcomes, such as isolation and job loss.
As a result of the growing numbers of people experiencing problems the need for suitable treatment options has never been more pronounced.
A 2020 poll by SingleCare found that 49% of Americans surveyed had taken CBD for stress and anxiety, 42% for sleep problems and insomnia, and 26% for depression. Of the reasons given for use, stress and anxiety was the second most common, coming only after pain and inflammation. In another poll, 37% of CBD users declared that they use it for anxiety, with participants reporting highly effective results.
The perception among consumers that CBD can help aid the symptoms of mental health issues like stress, anxiety and insomnia is obviously strong and driving a significant proportion of this burgeoning industry.
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illnesses in the world, leading to high societal costs and economic burden.
Accumulated evidence is beginning to indicate that cannabidiol (CBD) reverses anxiety-like behaviour. A 2015 review (Blessing et al., 2015) concluded that existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic disorder when administered acutely.
A more recent 2020 review also suggested that preliminary evidence from human trials using both healthy volunteers and individuals with social anxiety disorder, suggests that CBD may have anxiolytic effects.
CBD has also shown benefits for anxiety in a clinical trial involving 103 adult patients. This was a retrospective study in a psychiatric clinic involving the clinical application of CBD for anxiety and sleep complaints as an adjunct to usual treatment. The final sample consisted of 72 adults presenting with primary concerns of anxiety (n=47) or poor sleep (n=25). Anxiety scores decreased within the first month in 57 patients (79.2%) and remained decreased during the study duration. Sleep scores improved within the first month in 48 patients (66.7%) but fluctuated over time.
Although these findings are promising, future research is warranted to determine the efficacy of CBD in other anxiety disorders, establish appropriate doses, and determine its long-term efficacy.
Other recently published research by researchers at London’s UCL found that a single dose of cannabidiol (CBD) can help increase blood flow to the hippocampus, an important area of the brain associated with memory and emotion.
The findings could be an important discovery for conditions which affect memory, such as Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and could help better target therapies.
Lead author, Dr Michael Bloomfield (UCL Psychiatry) said: “Cannabidiol is one of the main constituents of cannabis and is gaining interest for its therapeutic potential. There is evidence that CBD may help reduce symptoms of psychosis and anxiety. There is some evidence to suggest that CBD may improve memory function.
“Additionally, CBD changes how the brain processes emotional memories, which could help to explain its reputed therapeutic effects in PTSD and other psychiatric disorders. However, the precise mechanisms underlying the effects of CBD on memory are unclear.”
The researchers are now looking to replicate the results in a bid to further understand the processes involved. It is hoped that this could lead to new cannabinoid-based treatments for a range of mental health and emotional conditions, as well as supporting the evidence for using CBD for stress & anxiety related concerns.
A recently announced study aims to assess the potential role of cannabinoids in reducing anxiety and other co-morbid conditions, such as insomnia and depression.
With the goal of understanding current attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors regarding CBD and cannabis use for anxiety, insomnia, and depression, C.A.R.E.S. will collect and analyze data on types of cannabis and CBD products currently used, as well details on dose, frequency, timing of use, and delivery methods associated with therapeutic benefit.
Dr. Sean Young, Executive Director of the UCIPT and the principal investigator (PI) for the study stated, “one of the unique elements of this nationwide study is the use of widely accepted indices to assess the severity of anxiety and insomnia levels for each of the participants in correlation to their stated cannabinoid use. The large and diverse participant population will enable us to analyze differences in CBD and cannabis use patterns in relation to anxiety levels, demographics, prescription medication and supplement usage to assess how each of these factors may impact perceived health benefits for various segments.”
The insights from this nationwide survey of tens of thousands of Americans will be shared broadly with the public, medical professionals and the FDA.
Author: Matthew Driver, Senior Analyst