passion flower, an anxiolytic as powerful as benzodiazapines

10 of the best natural supplements for anxiety and depression

AlbiziaAll over the world, nature has provided us with the medicines we need to make ourselves well, in the form of plants. 

Nature has given us molecules that not only relieve pain, but give us energy, clear our minds, calm us down, and help us adapt.

Many of these plants have been known to indigenous peoples for millenia; but traditions have also been lost and species gone extinct.

In the global internet economy, plants and supplements that were previously unknown are being rediscovered for their healing properties, and used to treat anxiety, depression, and stress.

So here are 8 supplements for anxiety and depression. Some have been used for thousands of years, and some have only recently been synthesized, but all are plants or found in plants.


 

Ashwagandha: when you need to de-stress

Ashwagandha is hard to categorize, because it’s good for almost everything. Also known as Withania somnifera or Indian Ginseng, the root of the ashwagandha plant has been ground and used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve stress, support the immune system, improve memory, stop premature aging, boost fertility, and reduce blood sugar. It’s been used to treat a wide range of conditions including epilepsy, depression, arthritis, and diabetes. One of the herbs compounds, Withaferin, has even been found to kill cancer cells. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, and is also an anxiolytic and an adaptogen.

ashwagandha rootAshwagandha has only recently gained popularity in the west as an adaptogen, for its ability to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. It also improves energy levels, concentration, and memory.

In the past decade or so, several studies have put claims of ashwagandha’s myriad health benefits to the test.

 

Relieving depression, anxiety, & stress

In one study, those who took ashwagandha (600mg/day) reported a 72% reduction in depression, anxiety, and stress levels after 60 days.

Another study found 600mg/day of ashwagandha reduced self-reported stress levels by 38% after eight weeks, while reducing cortisol levels by 32%. Anxiety fell by 16.4%, and difficulty sleeping dropped by 46%.

The same study found that a lesser dose of 250mg/day reduced stress levels by 34% and difficulty sleeping by 25%.

 

  • Ashwagandha relieves stress, anxiety, and ashwagandha is an adaptogen for stress insomnia
  • Ashwagandha is also an antidepressant, and increases serotonin and GABA levels
  • Ashwagandha improves energy levels and memory
  • It’s a known aphrodisiac, and improves male sperm count
  • People who take ashwagandha on a regular basis see their cortisol levels drop by around 30%
  • Ashwagandha protects the brain by fostering the growth of neurons, and repairing ones that have been damaged. Its can even neutralize neurotoxic elements, such as those caused by Alzheimer’s

 

Reversing the effects of chronic stress

Acute stress can help us to survive – whether it’s escaping a tiger or meeting a deadline. Chronic stress, however, can lead to cardiovascular disease, anxiety disorders and panic attacks, fatigue, autoimmune disorders, and more. In the brain, it leads to excess glutamate and activation of extrasynaptic NMDA receptors, which causes neuronal atrophy and cell death. This in turn causes problems with memory loss and cognition, and down the line can lead to neurogenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Ashwaganda has neuroprotective properties and has been used to prevent neurogenerative diseases. It protects against and even reverses the neuronal atrophy and death that occurs in people suffering from Alzheimer’s, AIDS, Parkinson’s, and other diseases by restoring mitochondrial activity and reducing inflammation, among other mechanisms.

Ashwagandha helps brain cells grow. It can increase synaptic density and even spur the regeneration of axons . It may also induce the regeneration of axons in the spinal cord after spinal cord injury.

Chronic stress also impairs our immune system, but ashwagandha helps restore it. A compound of ashwagandha, Withanolide A, increased the T cell population in mice after they had been depleted by chronic stress.

 

Treating alcohol withdrawal

Another study found Ashwagandha to be effective in reducing anxiety related to alcohol withdrawal, and led to voluntary reductions of alcohol intake in alcoholic mice. The same study found that administration of Ashwagandha increased GABA and serotonin levels in the brain.

 


 

 

Magnesium can cure anxiety & depression

 

“Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease” – Hippocrates

Our bodies need magnesium for just about everything.

magnesium for depression, anxiety, and stress

Magnesium supports our cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and digestive system. It prevents the hyperexcitability of neurons that results in anxiety, stress, and depression. It may help prevent neurological diseases such as Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, and stroke. Magnesium also reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the frequency of migraines.

You probably aren’t getting enough of this essential mineral. Researchers estimate that about 60% of American adults are magnesium deficient, because magnesium is stripped out of most of our water and processed food.

Magnesium deficiency is extremely common

Chances are, you’re magnesium deficient, and if you’re depressed or anxious, this could be why.

Magnesium deficiency can cause anxiety, depression, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, diabetes and more.

Thankfully, magnesium supplementation can reverse these conditions as well. Several studies have established magnesium’s efficacy in treating depression and anxiety. In one recent study, daily use of magnesium  significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, seeing results in just two weeks.

 

Magnesium & brain health

Magnesium improves synaptic function, learning, and memory. Magnesium regulates glutamate transmittion, preventing neural atrophy that can be caused by chronic stress and the overactivation of NMDA receptors. It helps neurons and neural networks grow through activation of the mTOR protein in cells.

 

  • Magnesium is a strong anxyiolytic and anti-depressant
  • It reduces stress and anxiety by regulating glutamate, increasing the availability of GABA, and moderating stress hormones
  • It’s an anti-inflammatory, protecting against oxidative stress which can lead to cardiovascular disease and cancer
  • Magnesium improves brain function by increasing levels of proteins neurons need to grow
  • It protects against neurogdegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s
  • Magnesium can help to reverse the lighter sleep patterns associated with hormonal changes during aging

 

Of course, mental health is complex; biological mechanisms interact with social,  environmental, and historical factors. However nourishing your mind and body by getting enough magnesium is an excellent place to start to feel better. 

Read more about magnesium and how it works



GABA supplements for anxiety

 

A GABA molecule

 

GABA is both a neurotransmitter and an amino acid. Much of our bodies’ natural GABA is produced by microbiota in our gut, the “second”, emotional brain. Our brains listen to our guts and vice-versa. They communicate with lightning speed through the vagus nerve and what’s called the “gut-brain-axis”.  GABA can be also be taken as a supplement.

Benefits of GABA

GABA relieves anxiety, improves mood, and leads to better sleep. GABA plays an important role in our ability to respond to anxiety and stress by directly preventing overactivity and overthinking in the brain. It generally promotes relaxation, and may reduce symptoms related to autism and ADHD.

Several studies have found that people with major depression and anxiety have lower GABA levels. Reduced GABA levels have also been found in children with ADHDand individuals with autism.

 

  • Low GABA levels are linked to anxiety, depression, ADHD, & autism
  • GABA supplements have been found to lower stress & cortisol levels
  • GABA prevents too much excitatory activity in the brain (anxiety)
  • GABA reduces fatigue & bolsters the immune system
  • GABA may improve memory & attention

 

How does GABA work?

As a neurotransmitter, GABA plays an inhibitory role in the central nervous system. Most CNS depressants, like alcohol or benzodiazapines, work by binding to GABA receptors in the brain, mimicking the effects of GABA. However GABA itself is quite natural, and as a supplement is not harmful or addictive.

So how does GABA work in what are assumed to be complex disorders like depression, anxiety, and ADHD?

GABA’s inhibitory function kind of shuts down those neural pathways, or, thoughts, that are making you anxious. It stops the overthinking or repetitive thoughts that often accompany major depression and anxiety. Similarly, it may prevent the excessive brain activity that leads to impulsivity or distractibility in ADHD.

Though lots of medical research has focused on the role of GABA in the brain, limited research has been done into its effectiveness as a supplement.

Nevertheless, a few studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of GABA supplements in alleviating stress in challenging situations, promoting relaxation and bolstering the immune system. GABA has also been found to reduce cortisol levels and fatigue.

In rats, GABA has been shown to stimulate protein synthesis, improve memory and attention, and lower blood pressure.

Despite evidence that they work, the medical community has been skeptical of GABA supplements, because the neurotransmitter was not previously thought to cross the blood brain barrier.

This has led to speculation that GABA supplements may work via the enteric nervous system, by increasing the neurotransmitter’s availability in the gut. However recent research shows that GABA works in the gut, too. One study found that higher levels of GABA in the gut was correlated wtih lower depression.

 

Getting GABA to the brain

GABA’s bioavailability in the brain was found to be dramatically enhanced when consumed along with l-arginine, an amino acid commonly found in protein rich foods, such as meat.

GABA can be found in many vegetables such as broccoli, mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes. Fermented foods including tea are also rich sources of GABA.

The medication pregabalin is a GABA analogue and thought to increase GABA in the brain. It is sold under the brand name Lyrica, and a generic version was made available in the US in 2019. Pregabalin is used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, seizures, and pain, as well as alcohol withdrawal and benzodiazepine withdrawal.

How should I take GABA?

Existing research suggests that GABA is more effective at higher doses of up to 800mg, but may be effective at doses as low as 30mg. The effectiveness of the dose likely depends on how available the supplement is made to the brain.

To enhance the effects of GABA, take it with L-arginine, or with l-arginine rich foods. GABA’s effects may also be enhanced when consumed with tea or l-theanine.

 


Passionflower

Passionflower incarnata anxiety

Passifora incarnata

 

There are over 550 species of flowers in the genus Passiflora. Some are vines or shrubs, but they all can be distinguished by their purple and blue shades, which reflect their tranquilizing effects. They seem as though they’re about to lull you to sleep.

Passiflora species grow throughout the Americas, Oceania and Asia. Many species bear small, elongated fruits, which are cultivated and enjoyed in South America and Southeast Asia.

The most commonly cultivated passionflower is Passiflora incarnata, which has been used for thousands of years to treat anxiety and insomnia. It was part of Hippocrates’ pharmacocopeia in Ancient Greece, where he used it to treat epilepsy.

Passiflora incarnata has been traditionally used as a sedative, though it has other, less common uses. For example in Brazil it’s also widely used as an anti-asthmatic and analgesic.

 

Calming the mind

Across species, Passiflora is known for its ability to calm anxiety and induce sleep. Passiflora is a natural benzodiazapine. It contains GABA as well as other flavonoids that bind to GABA receptors in the brain.

Passiflora incarnata and Passiflora caerulea both contain chrysin, a natural flavonoid that acts like valium, and apegenin, another flavonoid. These compounds bind to the same place as benzodiazepines do on GABAA receptors, creating an anxiolytic effect. Passiflora species have been found to relieve anxiety as effectively as benzodiazapines without inducing the same level of sedation, cognitive impairment, or muscle relaxation. This makes passionflower a promising alternative to benzodiazapines or SSRIs for anxiety disorders, and should be safe to use on a regular basis without interfering with work or other responsibilities.

 

  • Passionflower has an anxiolytic effect similar to benzodiazapines like valium by binding to GABA receptors in the brain
  • Passiflora significantly decreased symptoms of anxiety in alcohol withdrawal
  • Passiflora not only improves sleep, but reduces the harm caused to the brain by sleep deprivation
  • Passionflower may be effective in reducing symptoms of opiod or alcohol withdrawal
  • Passionflower increases synaptic plasticity and acts as an anti-depressant by stimulating the protein BDNF

 

Protecting the brain

A recent study suggests that Passiflora incarnata and its compound, vitexin, counteract the neurodegenerative effects of insomnia or poor sleep.

More than that, Passiflora incarnata stimulates adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus. It also upregulates BDNF, a protein that fosters the growth of brain cells and synaptic plasticity. As such it also works as an antidepressant and enhances memory.

 

Other uses of Passion flower

While primarily thought of as an anxiolytic, Passiflora incarnata has also shown promise for treating depression, neuropathic pain, convulsions, asthma, ADHD, palpitations, cardiac rhythm abnormalities, hypertension, and sexual dysfunction. And at least one study demonstrated a strong reduction in menopausal symptoms after treatment with Passiflora Incarnata.

Most species have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-viral, anti-carcinogenic, and antioxidant properties. Some species of Passiflora have been used to treat diabetes and even cancer.

Hippocrates used Passiflora incarnata to treat epilepsly. Similarly, native to Argentina, Passiflora tenuifila, known as Garlic passion fruit, is used an anti-convulsant, protecting against seizures.

In India, it’s being used to treat opium addiction. In one study, Passiflora was added to clonidine to treat subjects in opium withdrawal. The results were positive, with the group that took the passionflower was better able to manage their symptoms. It may also be effective in lessening withdrawal symptoms for those coming off of benzodiazapines. 

 

Passiflora Prairihuasca

On the North American plains, passionflower is sometimes mixed with the Illinois Bundleflower – the bark of which contains DMT–  to produce prairiehuasca, a Midwestern version of ayahuasca. Passionflower is a source of beta-Carbolines, an MAO inhibitor that prevents the rapid breakdown of DMT in the body. The plants are boiled and combined for a synergistic effect and to permit a long, spiritual journey.

 

How much is safe to take?

Studies investigating the therapeutic properties of passionflower have safely used doses of up to 800mg/day for two months, with no adverse effects. For mild anxiety, a lesser dose of around 200mg/day will probably be sufficient. However for more severe cases, individuals may want to experiment with higher doses of 500mg/day or more. Avoid taking passionflower while pregnant. In animal trials, there were instances where it’s possible that Passiflora induced premature birth.

 


 

Turmeric

turmeric as an antidepressant

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant… and it’ll turn your hands and clothes all yellow. And who doesn’t want that?

Some of the coolest people in history were yellow, like Lisa Simpson. And like Lisa Simpson, curcumin will make you smarter.

Our bitter yellow friend also stimulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that grows your brain cells. BDNF helps your neurons mature and increases synaptic strength and neuroplasticity, which is great not only for your mind, but also your mood.

Curcumin helps our bodies synthesize DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish. DHA deficiency is linked to anxiety, depression, impairments in learning and memory, and other cognitive problems including Alzheimer’s disease. By elevating DHA levels in the brain, curcumin reduces anxiety. However alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 fatty acid, must also be present for it to work.

 

Curcumin as an antidepressant

Curcumin has antidepressant properties, increasing serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. 

Aside from increasing BDNF (a powerful antidepressant itself), curcumin increases serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain.

Inflammation may be a major contributor to depression. Certain symptoms, including difficulty sleeping, low energy levels, and weight changes have inflammatory markers. Did I mention curcumin is an anti inflammatory?

Chronic stress can also cause depression. Too much stress not only wears us out physically, but too much worrying is literally toxic, and can shrink and kill off our brain cells. This can lead to entire regions of the brain atrophying, notably the pre-frontal cortex and the hippocampus. Soon we’re having trouble with learning and memory, our brain isn’t producing new neurons, and we can get stuck in a funk.

Studies have shown that curcumin reduces cell death in rats with stress-induced depression. Rats with cognitive impairments due to chronic stress recovered their learning and memory capacities after being treated with curcumin.

Curcumin also restored serotonin levels in rats with PTSD. The curcumin also promoted fear extinction in the rats – or, the rats stopped responding to a stimulus they had previously associated with pain (the stressful events that had induced the PTSD).

Turmeric is effective in this model of depression as well, by promoting neurogenesis, reducing cortisol, and restoring serotonin and BDNF levels.

 


Tryptophan & 5-HTP

A precursor to serotonin, tryptophan is one of the best supplements for anxiety and depression. Your body needs enough of it to create those feel good neurotransmitters and get them circulating throughout your brain, causing pleasant thoughts.

Tryptophan was commonly used as a supplement to antidepressants in the 1970s and 80s, until it was termporarily banned by the FDA after a bad batch of it got some people sick. So a variant of tryptophan, 5-HTP, began to be marketed in the US.

Both are now used as supplements for anxiety and depression. Tryptophan and 5-HTP are also used to treat insomnia, as the synthesis of serotonin is important for sleep, as well as cognition and memory.

Clinical studies have found both tryptophan and 5-HTP to be effective in increasing serotonin and improving mood.

Increased tryptophan in the brain, or “tryptophan loading”, leads to higher levels of serotonin. One way tryptophan (or, serotonin) works is by decreasing connectivity in the default mode network – the area of the brain involved in processes such as self-reflection and introspection, but also rumination and anxious overthinking.

Your body literally cannot make serotonin without these building blocks. So while it may not be the end-all-be-all cure, it’s an important ingredient!

Combined with a healthy diet, some exercise, sunshine and self-care, your body will synthesize these supplements into serotonin and get it circulating around your brain in no time.

WARNING: Mixing tryptophan or 5-HTP with other drugs that affect serotonin, like SSRIs or serotonergic psychedelics like psilocybin or LSD can cause a potentially fatal considtion called serotonin syndrome, especially at high doses. In severe cases, serotonin syndrome can cause fever, seizures, and even death. If you’re taking any other medications, be sure to consult your doctor before taking supplements like tryptophan or 5-HTP.

 

 

CBD for anxiety

CBD, or cannabidiol, is the non-psychoactive element of cannabis. It has many therapeutic benefits, and promotes a sense of calm by supplementing the body’s natural endocannabinoids.

 

The benefits of CBD

The sale of CBD, usually as an oil or tincture, has grown in popularity along with the use of medical marijuana. It’s now used  to relieve stress, anxiety, cognitve disorders, insomnia, and even schizophrenia. It can relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and is also being investigated as a possible treatment for addiction, PTSD, social anxiety,  and Alzheimer’s disease.

 

How CBD works

Along with our bodies’ natural endocannabinoids, CBD helps our bodies adapt to chronic stress by regulating the secretion of stress hormones. Studies have linked CBD to lower levels of cortisol, the famous stress hormone. Continuously high levels of cortisol due to chronic stress is toxic, leading to inflammation that is thought to play a role in causing diseases ranging from high blood pressure to cancer. Chronic stress and exposure to increased cortisol also leads to depression.

 

CBD for anxiety

The medical community has only recently begun to seriously research the CBD as a treatment for anxiety. However initial studies are quite promising. In one study,  67% of participants with anxiety disorders or insomnia responded to CBD within the first month. Most were on a regimen of only 25mg per day for anxiety – much less than the 300mg or 600mg used in studies with social anxiety disorder.  A review of eight different studies also found that CBD consistently reduced anxiety in people with anxiety related disorders.

 

CBD for PTSD

CBD and the endocannabinoid system appear to play a role in memory, and it is through this mechanism that CBD is thought to be effective in treating PTSD. Few studies have been carried out for PTSD specifically, but in one small study 91% of patients with PTSD experienced a reduction of symptoms, with an average daily dose of just 33mg of CBD. In addition to relieving chronic stress and anxiety associated with PTSD, it is thought to act by helping the brain to forget or preventing the reconsolidation of memories related to fear.

 

CBD for addiction

By relieving anxiety and supporting emotional regulation, CBD is also thought to help reduce cravings and anxiety in people giving up substances – including alcohol and even heroin withdrawal.

 

CBD oil for anxiety

 

Further research

Hundreds of studies are underway to investigate more of the benefits of CBD.

CBD is being investigated for its role as an anti-inflammatory, preventing neurogenerative and cardiovascular diseases, as well as an antioxidant, preventing cancer and killing cancer cells.

Preliminary studies have shown CBD effective as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, as it reduces neuroinflammation and stimulates new cell growth in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

 

How to buy CBD

In the US, CBD products including CBD oil, flowers, pills, and cream, are widely available. However a small bottle of CBD oil can be expensive, ranging from around $50 to over $100 for a tincture. Moreover, not all CBD oil is the same – because it’s not well controlled, some sellers of CBD sell a much weaker product than the medical grade CBD used in studies. So what you think might be a good deal from a cheap seller may turn out to have no effect.

So, know your seller, and look at reviews online to make sure you’re getting a good product for your money.

 


 

Albizia

Albizzia flower
A flower from an Albizia tree

The Albizia tree is native to East Asia and has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. The flower and bark have been used for thousands of years to treat insomnia, depression, anxiety, improve memory, and promote a general sense of peace and well-being.

It’s so well known for its joyful effects that the Chinese name for the flower, “he huan hua”, literally means “collective happiness flower”.

Traditional Chinese medicine says that Albizia works by calming the spirit and removing emotional extremes, letting happiness enter the heart.

While the herb is only just beginning to be explored in Western medicine. In one study, depression was rapidly reversed in mice after being given a high dose of Albizia.

Albizia can be found online, as well as at many Chinese food and specialty stores. Albizia is usually taken in water as a tonic. It can also be made into a paste and applied to the skin. Topical application and absorption is recommended for treating anxiety.

 


Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola Rosea grows in far northern climates in places such as Siberia, Greenland, and Scandinavia. It’s well known in Russia and was even used by the Soviet military .

In preclinical trials, rhodiola restored serotonin levels after they had been depleted by chronic stress. In a clinical trial, rhodiola alleviated depression, emotional instability, and insomnia within six weeks at a dosage of 340-680mg/day.

Like ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogen.

Adaptogens regulate our bodies’ neurotransmitters and neuroendocrine systems, allowing us to adapt to stressful situations.

They promote neurogenesis and proteins such as BDNF that help neurons to grow, protecting against cognitive decline while improving mood and memory. As anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, they protect against oxidative stress, an inflammatory state that leads to the development of chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Rhodiola increases levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA in the brain. It also regulates stress hormones. When we’re stressed, rhodiola helps moderate the hyperactivation of the adrenal glands (HPA axis), lowering cortisol levels.

Rhodiola is also particularly good at rescuing our performance when we’re tired. It improves our cognitive skills and our physical endurance, while reducing fatigue, distractibility, and irritability.


 

L-Theanine

 

“Peace, happiness and joy is possible during the time I drink my tea.”

    – Thich Nhat Hanh

l-theanine

L-theanine works by supporting the release of GABA, serotonin, and dopamine in the brain. It calms and awakens us.

L-theanine is an anti-depressant. Every three cups of tea consumed per day is associated with a 37% reduced risk of depression. It may be especially effective in cases of depression due to chronic stress.

It’s been found to improve sleep quality. Combined with GABA, it also reduces the time it takes to fall asleep.

In clinical studies, l-theanine has improved verbal fluency, memory, and attention span.
It has neuroprotective properties and may improve cognition following brain injury. It may also be useful in treating ADHD, anxiety disorders, OCD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Theanine also boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, and works to suppress cancer cells.

 

 

Ashwagandha for stress and anxiety

Ashwagandha: a panacea?

Ashwaganda relieves anxiety, improves sleep, and helps us adapt to and recover from stress

By Katalina Lourdes

Ashwagandha is good for almost everything. The root of the ashwagandha plant has been ground and used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve stress, increase strength, support the immune system, improve memory, stop premature aging, enhance sexual performance, boost fertility, and reduce blood sugar.

It’s now being used and investigated to treat a wide range of conditions including epilepsy, insomnia, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and AIDS. It’s a powerful antioxidant, and has been found to kill cancer cells. Ashwagandha is even being investigated as a potential treatment for Covid-19. It also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, but it’s perhaps best known as an adaptogen.

 

ashwagandha is an adaptogen for stress

 

 

As an adaptogen, Ashwagandha helps our body adapt to and recover from stress. It enhances our cognitive health, our energy levels, and reduces inflammation and cortisol levels. It relieves anxiety and depression, too. Over the past decade, several studies have put ashwagandha’s myriad health benefits to the test.

 

 

Ashwagandha relieves depression & improves concentration

 A 2012 study found a 77% reduction in depression scores among adult participants after 60 days of taking 600mg per day of ashwagandha, as well as a 44% reduction in stress levels.

Not many studies have specifically investigated its effects on depression, although one study found that it may be as effective as traditional antidepressants.

Another study found that Ashwagandha reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in people with schizophrenia.

The 2012 study cited above also found that the treament group “demonstrated significantly greater improvement in executive function, sustained attention, and information-processing speed” as compared with the control group.

 

Ashwagandha relieves anxiety and stress, & helps us fall asleep

A study from 2019 found that ashwagandha (600mg/day) reduced self-reported stress levels by 38% after eight weeks, while reducing cortisol levels by 32%. Difficulty sleeping dropped by 46%. The same study found that 250mg of ashwagandha per day reduced stress levels by 34% and difficulty sleeping by 25%.

Another 2019 study also set out to measure the efficacy of ashwagandha in treating insomnia and anxiety. At a hospital in India, patients were given 300mg of ashwagandha twice a day.

Anxiety levels for those who took the ashwagandha had fallen by 22% by the end of the tenth week.

And the time it took the patients to fall asleep dropped 31%, from an average of 42 minutes to 29 minutes.

 

anxiety levels ashwagandha
Average anxiety scores at baseline and after 10 weeks of ashwagandha treatment versus placebo, measured by the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale

 

insomnia ashwagandha
Average time to fall asleep, at baseline and after 10 weeks of ashwagandha treatment. From Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study.

 

Treating alcohol withdrawal

Ashwagandha may even help you kick your bad habits. Studies have found it to increase the levels of GABA and serotonin in the brain, while reducing anxiety related to alcohol withdrawal, and reducing alcohol intake in alcoholic mice.

 

Reversing the effects of chronic stress

Acute stress can help us survive – whether it’s by escaping a tiger or by meeting a deadline. Chronic stress, however, can lead to cardiovascular disease, anxiety disorders, fatigue, autoimmune disorders, and more. In the brain, chronic stress leads to excess glutamate and overactivation of extrasynaptic NMDA receptors, which in turn are associated with neuronal atrophy and cell death. This can shrink entire regions of the brain and cause depression, memory loss, and cognitive problems.

Accordingly, multiple studies investigating ashwaganda’s neuroprotective properties have used it to prevent neurogenerative diseases. It has been found to protect against and  even reverse the neuronal atrophy and death that occurs in people suffering from chronic stress, and also Alzheimer’s, AIDS, Parkinson’s, and other diseases by, among other mechanisms, restoring mitochondrial activity and reducing inflammation.

Ashwagandha actually appears to help brain cells grow by increasing synaptic density and inducing the regeneration of axons. Ashwagandha may also induce the regeneration of axons in the spinal cord after spinal cord injury, restoring mobility.

Besides inflicting neuronal damage, chronic stress impairs our immune system, but ashwagandha helps restore it. A compound of ashwagandha, Withanolide A, increased the T cell population in mice after they had been depleted by chronic stress.

If you’re wondering what’s the right dosage, 300mg twice a day is probably a good place to start.

 

 

how to talk to a depressed or suicidal friend

 

How to talk to a depressed (or even suicidal) friend

(Note: this article won’t prepare you to be a trained crisis counselor, so keep crisis hotline numbers, which are listed at the end of this article, handy. however, if a friend comes to you for help, one of the best things you can do is listen. below a crisis counselor tells us how.)

 

Suicide isn’t something most of us want to think about, let alone talk about. However we have to be real: the suicide rate has risen by 33% over the past 20 years, and it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Before the pandemic, depression affected over 20% of the population.

The Covid crisis has made things worse for most people. A year later, the CDC now estimates that 40% of the population is struggling with anxiety or depression. Young people are being hit hardest, with a staggering 55-60% of people aged 18-29 experiencing symptoms. There’s been a corresponding rise in suicide attempts by children and teenagers.

These are conversations we may need to have at some point with friends and loved ones, uncomfortable as they may be.

So I asked my friend Sam how we should talk to friends that are depressed, or may even be suicidal. Sam’s been working at a suicide hotline for the last five years.

 

Why do people do it?

The first thing I ask Sam is, why do people do it? I try to get him to open up as to some of the common reasons that people make that decision, or make the call to the suicide hotline. After thousands of conversations with suicidal people, he must have some insight.

“Everything you can think of and then some,” is his response. He can’t comment on any leading causes, nor can he give me any stories. I figure tight-lipped is a trait you’d want in a suicide counselor.

What he can say is, “It’s never just one thing, it’s always a whole bunch of things.”

“It’s like a full grocery bag that you just keep piling stuff in, and eventually it breaks. It wasn’t that last thing that broke it, it was all of those things.” 

So there’s sometimes a straw that breaks the camel’s back, but it’s never just that. 

And of course, it’s subjective.

“People don’t kill themselves because of facts,” he says, “they kill themselves because of their thoughts and feelings.”

I pry a little further, curious if there’s a class dynamic, or if he’s noticed poverty as a factor.

“There’s an incredible diversity of people with access to a telephone,” he says. He resassures me that plenty of calls come from people from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. “Mental illness knows no class distinction,” he says

It would make sense that the most disadvantaged would have the least access to resources, like a therapist, or even a crisis hotline number, which likely skews his sample.

Anyways, Sam never claimed to be an expert in mental health statistics. So I did a little more research and found that, as usual, things are worse for the poor. Before Covid, both poverty and substance use disorders were found to be positive predictors of first-time suicide ideation. And poverty puts children and teenagers at greater risk of suicide.

So we may after all have to look out for the least among us, in wealth and stature. It also means that younger people may be having to look out an awful lot for each other.

Though according to Sam, many rich people are desperately unhappy, too. Which leaves me wondering, “Who does this world even work for?”

However this also means no one is immune, and depression and suicide can affect anyone’s family or social network. And we can all learn something about how to be there for others from crisis hotline workers.

 

So how should we talk to a depressed friend?

“Listen,” Sam says again and again.

“You’re not going to solve their problem,” he says. “What you can do is help them get through a moment.”

Our help shouldn’t be their be-all-end-all support system, and nor should we expect ourselves to single-handedly pull them out of their rut. However if we’re put in this delicate position, one of the best ways to help is by listening.

Unfortunately we get in our own way a lot. Sam says it’s normal for us – even those of us who think of ourselves as good communicators – to want to direct the conversation.

Since we naturally want a positive outcome, it’s easy to get distracted by that. However Sam emphasizes the need to keep the focus on the person. We might think that our advice can solve the other person’s problems, but it can’t, he says.

Put yourself in their shoes. More than anything, that person often needs someone to listen, to feel heard and understood.

Only ask open ended questions. A question that can be answered with a yes or no doesn’t encourage people to open up – and it means you’re directing the conversation (without even realizing it).

Here are some examples (but you can come up with your own list):

  • How have you been doing lately?
  • Why do you think you’ve been feeling that way?
  • What happened that makes you think that?
  • What do you think might help you?
  • How can I support you?
  • What do you want to do?

Above all, shut up and listen. We should, “Be cognizant of our own needs becoming impediments, and focus on creating a safe space for people to vent.”

 

What not to do

“Whether or not we have a good intention doesn’t matter in how effective we are at communicating,” Sam tells me.

If someone tells you they’re having suicidal thoughts, try not to freak out on them. This can make things worse. By staying calm, you make it safe for them to open up to you. But even then, we all struggle to communicate and listen.

“A person is not a problem to be solved,” Sam says. “It’s a process, it’s not about solving things.”

“We’re all bad communicators,” he says, “and we all have the same problems when it comes to communication.”

Careful! Even when we think we’re helping, we unconsciously find ways to try to control the conversation, whether because we feel uncomfortable and we’re nervous, because we think we know better, maybe we’re too eager to help, or even just eager to get out of the conversation.

“Have great respect for that which you do not know,” he says. “Just because you don’t understand someone, it doesn’t make them confused.”

Here are a few communication traps to avoid:

  • Patronizing, or treating the person as if they’re a sociological category. 
  • Trapping. Or asking leading questions like, “Have you tried… therapy?” “Have you tried… exercise?”
  • Minimizing the persons concerns. We might think it would help to reframe what seems like a difficult problem as “not that bad” or that it “could be worse”, but this can also make a person feel dismissed and unheard.
  • Anticipating – or finishing another’s sentences or thoughts for them.
  • And there’s scoreboarding, which is focusing on making your points instead of listening out of some need to be right.

 

How do you know if someone is depressed or suicidal?

“It’s often intuitive,” he says. “Look for clues, like has their behavior changed, are they taking care of themselves?”

Because so many people are isolated these days, it can be difficult to know who’s in trouble. It’s good to check in with friends you think might be vulnerable or having a hard time. And if you think someone you know is seriously depressed and might harm themselves, don’t ignore it. 

Don’t avoid the person, or act like everything is okay. “Depressed people are very observant,” Sam says, and they’ll usually notice if people are acting differently around them. So if it’s the elephant in the room, don’t be afraid to say that you notice it.

“They know it makes people uncomfortable, because it forces them to consider something that most people would prefer not to think about,” he says. So a lot of people who are suffering with suicidal thoughts may not bring them up because they think it will make people uneasy.

On the other hand, there’s a certain finesse involved. If your friend is depressed and you want to create a safe space where they can open up to you, maybe don’t just come out and say, “Hey buddy you seem really depressed lately wanna talk about it?”

Try to avoid judgmental language. Obviously if they’re hinting at it, or otherwise confided in you, they’ve opened up a door that makes it easier to communicate with them about serious issues.

If they’re more secretive, or not a close friend, you’ll have to use your best judgment to determine if and how to bring these issues up with them.

Sam suggests “tip-toeing your way into the conversation,” as you would into a pool, for instance by bringing up changes in their behavior.

For example, you might “tip-toe” your way in by asking something like, “I noticed you haven’t been leaving your room much, is everything okay?” or “You’ve been quiet lately, is something on your mind?”

Even if they say they’re okay, if they’re clearly not, you can leave your proverbial door open for them to chat with you. Make sure they know that they can text or call you if they need anything or just want to talk. Or invite them out for a coffee just to talk about life.

On the other hand, if someone is practically begging for help, pay attention.

“Take people seriously if they express or hint that they’d like to kill themselves,” Sam says. “Whether or not you think they’ll go through with it, it’s a call for help and a sign of something being seriously wrong.”

However, before diving (or tip-toeing) into a conversation, first ask yourself “Do I really want to get into this?” Because if you’re not willing to sit down and really listen, maybe you shouldn’t be the one having that conversation. If not, hotline numbers are below.

Remember, the golden rule: listen.  And empathy helps. That whole “do unto others” bit.

However if it becomes too much for you, or you don’t feel like you’re helping, get them to talk to a mental health worker or crisis counselor. Even calling a suicide hotline with them might help them overcome anxiety about making a call that could be the first step in getting help.

 

Just being there

There are other ways of supporting your depressed friends. Remember, they’re likely feeling alone, so just spending time with them or watching a movie (or chatting with them online or on Zoom) can make a big difference.

“Just being there has value,” says Sam. “We’re social creatures.”

listening to your friends

 

Sam adds that it may be tempting to want to hear a “thank you” at the end of the conversation. But people in distress are often so preoccupied by their problems they can’t think beyond them. 

“So sometimes you won’t get a thank you and that’s fine. Just being there listening – especially if they feel like they were heard,” can save someone else’s life, or at least get them through a moment.

 

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: dial 711, then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can also find resources at the Samaritans website.

 

 

What is trauma? Recognizing the causes, signs, and symptoms of PTSD & C-PTSD

By Tina Phillips, MSW 

 

“Vulnerability is our susceptibility to be wounded. This fragility is part of our nature and cannot be escaped. The best the brain can do is to shut down conscious awareness of it when pain becomes so vast or unbearable that it threatens to overwhelm our capacity to function.”

~ Dr. Gabor Maté

When Alyssa came out of an abusive relationship, she was relieved, and thought things would get better. But she didn’t feel like herself; just because it was over, it didn’t mean she was okay. Like many who have been in abusive relationships, she had become isolated from friends and family. She even moved away so her abuser couldn’t find her, but still, everything put her on alert. She didn’t understand her feelings or recognize the symptoms of PTSD; after all, it was over, wasn’t it?

Moving and starting a new job with undiagnosed PTSD led to chronic stress. The only way she knew to deal with her hyperarousal, episodes of panic, and depression was by drinking. It was only after a breakdown that she received medical attention, connected with a network of survivors, and began to recover. Even though the traumatic event was over, Alyssa was still in survival mode. Recovering from trauma can be an ordeal in itself. It takes time to heal, and it’s hard to do it alone.

 

What is trauma?

Trauma is a natural emotional response to an event or an emotional experience by a person that felt a threat to their life or safety. Examples of such events can range from childhood abuse and neglect, to military combat, to sexual assault, or even poverty and chronic stress. These experiences can be jarring for a person’s brain, stress hormones, and create a feeling of being overwhelmed and not in control. These events can be a one time experience or could be over a period of time, which can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)orComplex PTSD (C-PTSD).

 

Symptoms of PTSD & C-PTSD

PTSD can present itself as emotional distress, distrust of others, fear and anxiety, and emotional dysregulation. Childhood is one of the worst times to experience trauma, and can affect a person life-long and have consequences on overall healthlater in life.  Repeated or long-term trauma, especially during childhood, is more likely to cause C-PTSD.

C-PTSD manifests with most of the same symptoms of PTSD, but usually in greater severity. People with C-PTSD are more likely to experience prolonged feelings of low self-esteem, shame, isolation, emotional dysregulation, difficulty in relationships, and sometimes feelings of intense anger or shame. They’re also more likely to be revictimized. 


Emotional dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation can throw a person off from interacting with the world around them. The “inability of a person to control or regulate their emotional responses to” input around them, causing exaggerated or inappropriate emotional reactions, especially when triggered. This can cause trouble with relationships, create barriers for daily functioning, and can contribute to anxiety and depression. Barriers in daily functioning could mean one is distracted by intrusive thoughts, bombarded by reliving their trauma or being reminded of it when stressed or emotionally hurt by others, paralyzed by anxiety and fear, overwhelmed from demands in their life, and unable to properly care for themselves. This may mean the struggle to keep themselves well fed, get enough sleep, shower, go to work or school, do chores, maintain relationships, or seek help.

Triggers 

Triggers are when things happen to us that remind us of our trauma. It can send us into an emotional shut down. It can be anything that elicits our symptoms. Furthermore, during emotional dysregulation people often become hypervigilant, experience hyperarousal, and can disassociate. Some also have flashbacks and nightmares, where they relive their trauma. 

Hypervigilance

Hypervigilance causes people to be on guard and scan their environment looking for danger, that may not really be there. It’s an exaggerated response by the nervous system that has been hurt by trauma.

Hyperarousal 

Hyperarousal is when the central nervous system is firing and keeping one awake and alert to be prepared for an impending attack. Often there is no real danger, but our minds and bodies are tricking us into thinking there is. 

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”

~ Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Dissociation

Dissociation is when you lose touch with yourself and anything around you. It’s almost like daydreaming, except it’s often more like a fog you get lost in that shuts down the world outside your inner reality. This is our brain’s way of coping with overwhelming stress, and is a defense mechanism. 

Somatization

Somatization is when a psychological stressor manifests itself in physical symptoms. Examples include upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, headaches, muscle aches and weakness, and fatigue. 

“The bodies of traumatized people portray ‘snapshots’ of their unsuccessful attempts to defend themselves in the face of threat and injury. Trauma is a highly activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. For example, when we prepare to fight or to flee, muscles throughout our entire body are tensed in specific patterns of high energy readiness. When we are unable to complete the appropriate actions, we fail to discharge the tremendous energy generated by our survival preparations. This energy becomes fixed in specific patterns of neuromuscular readiness. The person then stays in a state of acute and then chronic arousal and dysfunction in the central nervous system. Traumatized people are not suffering from a disease in the normal sense of the word- they have become stuck in an aroused state. It is difficult if not impossible to function normally under these circumstances.”

~ Peter A. Levine

 

Stress response as an evolutionary adaptation 

There is an evolutionary function for the trauma response causing intense bouts of stress. This response is the body’s natural reaction to perceived threats of harm. Back in the savannah days our ancestors did have very real threats to their lives, such as large, predatory animals. Later, warfare or raiding was a reality between some tribes and villages. Though violent attacks are no longer imminent threats for most of us, now we have a leftover stress response that can be out of proportion to our everyday modern life. “[If you’re] a normal mammal, you had better turn on the stress response or else you’re dead. But if you get chronically, psychologically stressed, like a Westernized human, then you are more at risk for heart disease and some of the other leading causes of death in Westernized life,” says  Robert Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurological sciences at Stanford University. In fact when we are under stress our bodies secrete hormones such as cortisol, and blood rushes to our vital organs to keep us alive in case of an attack, causing physical symptoms we associate with anxiety– tight chest, tingling/cold hands, sweat, dry throat, gastro-intestinal upset, back and headaches, and rapid heartbeat. But now instead of real physical threats to our lives, most of us have everyday stressors and trauma throughout our lives that can come back to torment us over and over.

Furthermore, mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental conditions that come about in part due to stress and trauma, end up being risk factors for real physical diseases. We may be susceptible to certain conditions biologically, but it’s our social environment that elicits those traits to be expressed. The social environment is that which we live in, and can involve social interactions, family structure, schooling, political and cultural factors, a community in which a person grew up, relationships a person has, and any abuse or trauma they endured throughout their life, particularly in childhood. The reason childhood is such a large factor is because the human brain is still developing at this time and the trauma will shape the brain, causing patterns a child learned in order to survive their abuse into potentially life-long conditions, both physical and mental. 

 

Capitalism causes trauma 

“It is the economic and political system under which we live—capitalism—which is responsible for the enormously high levels of mental-health problems which we see in the world today.” 

~Iain Ferguson

It has been demonstrated and bared out in data that existing in a capitalist society doesn’t help most people psychologically. In fact, “research since at least the 1930s has consistently documented that mental illnesses are more common among those with lower levels of income, education, and occupational prestige.” 

The economic system we live under is exploitative, oppressive, and leads to stratification, political and cultural polarization, and isolation. There are a lot of “have-nots” these days. Millions can’t pay their rent, and are being threatened with losing their homes. When the stock market goes up, it just means that CEOs get more money, while income inequality and costs rise, and wages stay flat. So many young adults are now saddled with student loan debt, but don’t have high paying jobs and suffer without affordable housing, healthcare, or other social safety nets.

Some work themselves to the bone, yet they just aren’t making it, and are forced to live with their parents or several roommates, and delay starting families. For others, job insecurity means housing or food insecurity, and can in itself be a source of enormous stress, leading to states of hyperarousal similar to that in PTSD. People with less control over their jobs have higher rates of mental health issues like depression, especially when the jobs are also demanding. We too often don’t have enough time off or benefits to adequately take care of our mental or physical health, and many people have to work more than one job to survive.

People can’t wait until the weekend, but when the weekend hits it’s all chores, errands, caring for loved ones, and catching up on sleep. When Monday hits it starts all over again, leading to burnout and for many, mental distress. It is soul crushing. If we’re in poverty because we’re unemployed or can’t find a job that pays enough we’re more vulnerable to further traumatic events; we’re more likely to suffer from violence and abuse, not to mention extremely stressful situations such as homelessness or incarceration. All of these situations can be traumatizing, and the ways people may try to cope can lead to more problems, such as when people try to self-medicate and become addicted to substances. #ba6db5

Too many of us find ourselves where we’re overworked, in poverty, or both. Businesses seek to maximize their profits at our expense, and then discard us when the toll on our health leads to a crisis. Our economic system isn’t working for most people, causing more problems than it solves, and in many cases causing mental health issues, which we’re made to feel inadequate for. In so many ways, capitalism is just plain bad for our mental health. In this sense, trauma is often systemic.

 

Racism, oppression, and trauma

Furthermore, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression intersect with capitalism, and America has a long history of exploiting people to extract wealth such as through slavery, imperialist occupation, wars, policing, and colonization. There is also historical trauma. For example, Black people may experience Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome (however there is also criticism of this theory, as some argue it presents Black culture as dysfunctional, instead of locating problems in continued institutional and everyday racism, as well as an economic system which denies people their basic needs). The point is that the legacy of slavery and racism may cause intergenerational, even epigenetic trauma, that causes both mental and physical health issues to be passed down to the next generation. Low-income Black people in the US have a rate of PTSD higher than combat veterans; some studies have estimated that 20-30% of people in these communities meet the criteria for PTSD. Given this we have every incentive to fight for a better world and do away with white supremacy, racism, and capitalism, which is a root cause of trauma.

 

Trauma isn’t always obvious

Though they may not pose direct threats to our lives, experiences of psychological abuse, such as bullying, neglect, isolation, exclusion, harassment, mistreatment in the workplace, racism, and other forms of oppression are responded to by our brains in a similar way to physical pain, and when acute or chronic, can result in PTSD or C-PTSD. Emotional abuse that takes place in childhood, repeatedly, or over time is more likely to cause PTSD, and factors such as having a support network play a role. While victims of violent situations may understand they’ve undergone trauma, in these less obvious circumstances, trauma may go unnoticed or misdiagnosed. 

People can experience PTSD or C-PTSD for months, years, or even decades if left untreated. Since symptoms can look like depression, anxiety, or Borderline Personality Disorder, and because some people block out certain traumatic events from their pasts, many go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years. Recognizing PTSD and the source of trauma can help survivors and those around them to better understand their thoughts and behavior, seek support and treatment, and begin to recover.

 

What can we do?

“The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce in the way a developing child will continue to interpret the world and her situation in it. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives. We create meanings from our unconscious interpretation of early events, and then we forge our present experiences from the meaning we’ve created. Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past…Mindful awareness can bring into consciousness those hidden, past-based perspectives so that they no longer frame our worldview.”   ~ Dr. Gabor Maté 

Given how common and frequent trauma is in our society, how overwhelming it can be and difficult to overcome, what can we do about it? There are individual solutions and systemic solutions. Both are needed, and both have potential to aid mental health and help heal trauma. Individual solutions may be more immediate in relieving symptoms of trauma, while systemic solutions may take longer, but have longer-lasting impacts for society as a whole.

Now that we’ve looked at how to recognize trauma, it’s causes and it’s symptoms, it’s time to look towards solutions. There are so many ways to heal ourselves, be there for others, and transform our society. I go into some detail on them in 30 individual and collective ways to heal from trauma.

 

A bottle of CBD oil for anxiety

 

CBD as a treatment for social anxiety

 

 

 

 

Cannabis has been used as a treatment for anxiety and depression for ages, and since medical marijuana has been legalized in many places it now often comes with a doctor’s recommendation. However in some patients – especially at high doses – cannabis can have an adverse effect, triggering anxiety and even panic. This is mostly due to THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – meaning it doesn’t get you high. It’s known as an anxiolytic and an adaptogen, relieving anxiety and stress through a few different mechanisms.

A few recent studies – which I’ll review here – have found CBD to be effective in treating social anxiety. CBD is also being investigated as a treatment for conditions as diverse as PTSD, addiction, and Alzheimer’s.

cbd for social anxiety

How does CBD work?

Cannabidiol appears to work in a few different ways; by supporting our body’s natural endocannabinoid system and lowering the secretion of stress hormones, activating serotonin, and attenuating the response of the amygdala, which is responsable for our fear response.

Among other functions, the endocannabinoid system regulates stress hormones. You may have heard of cortisol. It’s known to go wild in those of us susceptible to stress and anxiety, but CBD limits its secretion. That’s right, studies have found CBD to significantly decrease cortisol levels.

CBD is an endocannabinoid agonist, meaning it binds to and activates the  endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. The endocannabinoid system is still not well understood, but CB1 receptors are thought to influence our mood, thought, motor activity, pain, and short-term memory. The euphoria you feel after a workout? That’s in part the result of natural stimulation of your CB1 receptors. CB2 receptors support other essential systems including the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, immune system, reproductive system, skin, and eyes.

In addition to supporting the complex endocannabinoid system, CBD binds to serotonin 1A (5-HT1A) receptors. Activation of serotonin 1A receptors is generally thought to decrease aggression, increase sociability, and reduce impulsivity, drug-seeking behavior, and food intake. Serotonin 1A receptors are targeted by antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. A lack or dysfunction of serotonin 1A receptors is a common feature of people with panic disorders, and so in theory, CBD should also help with that more severe, sudden anxiety we know as panic as well.

 

Studies on CBD and social anxiety

Because of its wide range of uses, many studies have been carried out and more are underway to discover the full therapeutic potential of CBD. 

One promising use is the treatment of social anxiety. With social media replacing real life interaction, and many of us self-isolating for the past year, we’re more socially anxious than ever. Official numbers say that around 7% of Americans suffer from some form of social anxiety, however census data tells us that 37% of the population is now struggling with some form of anxiety.

So it’s worth taking a look at the research studies carried out to test the impact of CBD on social anxiety. In experiments, usually measured by having subjects complete a public speaking test, because this is a common trigger for the socially anxious.

The first study compared self-reported feelings of anxiety as well as physical symptoms in a group with social anxiety that took 600mg CBD before the public speaking test with control groups; one without social anxiety and one with social anxiety that didn’t take CBD. The study found that  the effects of CBD on social anxiety were significant; CBD substantially relieved anxiety in socially anxious participants before, during, and after the test. It also reduced symptoms of anxiety such as cognitive impairment and discomfort.

The study also measured negative self-statements after the test, finding that CBD almost completely eliminated negative self-evaluation in subjects with social anxiety.

600mg is a rather high dose of CBD. And so a more recent study set out to test the outcomes of three different doses of CBD: 150mg, 300mg, and 600mg. It found the middle dose of 300mg to be the most effective. This is a relief, because CBD is expensive!

The authors of the study speculate that 300mg of CBD was the most effective dose as a treatment for social anxiety because higher doses of CBD may trigger a paradoxical response by activating the brain’s TRPV1 receptors. This stimulates the release of glutamate, producing an excitatory response and negating some of the anxiolytic effects of the CBD (I know, the brain’s weird).

Anyway, the takeaway is that the effects of CBD as a treatment for social anxiety peak around 300mg, and there’s likely not much benefit in going higher than that. However, sensitivity to CBD is highly variable, and everyone has a different optimal dose, and doses as low as 25mg may be effective.

And it’s not just for the socially anxious; another study just published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology repeated these speaking test studies, finding that 300mg of CBD also reduced anxiety and tremors in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

All around, the findings are promising for CBD as a treatment for anxiety.

CBD is also being researched for its ability to alleviate stress, cognitive disorders, insomnia, pain, addiction, PTSD, and even schizophrenia. It’s also an anti-inflammatory and appears to have neuroprotective properties, and so is also being investigated as a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

 

Where can I get it?

cbd for social anxietyCBD is now legal in all but three states: Idaho, South Dakota, and Iowa. So you may be able to find it at a local pharmacy or shop, or order it online. However because CBD is a supplement and not controlled by the FDA, quality and potency will vary. If you live in a state with legal medical marijuana, try getting a doctor´s recommendation; dispensaries may have higher quality CBD products.

If you buy online, read reviews to find a good product. Most reputable CBD sellers will make the milligram amount of a tincture available on their website or packaging.

CBD is now sold in a few different forms: CBD oil, capsules, flowers, and topical creams.

Obviously, higher percentage CBD oil of 10% or 20% will be more potent than a 2.5% or 5% tincture. Capsules will give you a more precise dose, while with flowers or topical and cosmetic products the dose will be much harder to gauge.

Everyone responds differently and the optimal dose will vary. so you may have to experiment a little at first. Check out this CBD dosage guide to see how much might be right for you.

Though doses of 300mg to 600mg were used in experiments to measure the response of the socially anxious to CBD, a fraction of that will be enough to experience beneficial results for most.

And if you’re pregnant, maybe wait a few months: a study on rats just revealed that CBD exposure during natal development increased anxiety in the offspring.