Thoughts from a Therapist - CBD and Mental Health

Jen Olson

Is our psychological health less important than our physical health? 

Up until somewhat recently, the western healthcare approach has placed emphasis on treating our physical ailments, while giving little attention to the debilitating effects of mental and psychological imbalances. There is stigma around mental health and many people are left to suffer on the sidelines, lacking resources with nowhere to go to seek help.

Stigma creates shame, guilt and fear for those suffering with mental health issues. Awareness and acceptance are keys to shifting these debilitating feelings so that people can access the inner strength needed to seek help and make necessary changes in their lives. 

As of now, mental health treatments beyond pharmaceutical assistance are inaccessible to most of the population, as therapy and alternative treatments are costly. Hopefully this will change as our society starts to take mental health concerns more seriously. One alternative treatment that is showing effectiveness in treating mental health disorders is herbalism - the therapeutic use of plants. 

Plants Have Power

Plant compounds have been used by many cultures since ancient times to treat a plethora of physical and psychological disorders. More recently, western scientists and researchers have begun to study various uses of plants in treating mental health disorders. 

Cannabis has been a major focus for scientists as it is showing great potential for treating a long list of ailments. Dr. Mallory Loflin is a San Diego-based researcher and psychiatry professor. She is the principal investigator in a 5-year clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of using cannabidiol (CBD) alongside Prolonged Exposure therapy to treat PTSD. Dr. Loflin’s trial is the first cannabinoid clinical trial ever funded by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. To understand CBD’s potential for therapeutic use, one must first learn about cannabinoids. 

Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS)  is a complex network of receptors found throughout the whole body that play a part in several bodily processes and functions including sleep, digestion, reproduction and memory. All animals including humans have an ECS. The ECS kicks into gear when its receptors are stimulated by compounds called cannabinoids. 

There are two types of cannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are created by our bodies to work with the ECS. Phytocannabinoids are plant compounds that are found in many types of plants. Phytocannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are found at highest levels in the cannabis plant. When cannabis is consumed, phytocannabinoids are released into the bloodstream and begin the process of stimulating endocannabinoid receptors. This triggers the ECS to begin regulation of various functions to promote homeostasis within the body. 

So far, two types of endocannabinoids have been discovered. The first one, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), halts neuron over-stimulation therefore preventing the possibility of neuronal death. 2-AG also inhibits inhibitory neurotransmitters which in turn encourages excitation of neural pathways. Just like how one experiences muscle loss from underuse, lack of stimulation of a neural pathway weakens it. This is how 2-AG helps neurotransmitter systems maintain homeostasis. 

Can CBD Make a Change When it Comes to PTSD?

Dr. Loflin notes that CBD is reducing anxiety in people with anxiety pathology, suggesting that the outcome is an actual change in the pathological process. This differs from anxiety drugs such as Benzodiazepine, which works by dampening the central nervous system (CNS) and not actually getting to the pathological root of the anxiety. 

Researchers know that CBD increases 2-AG levels, but aren’t sure how it does this. Dr. Loflin explains that CBD may inhibit production of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that breaks down the endocannabinoid anandamide. It could also activate the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A. Both of these actions could lower anxiety levels contributing to PTSD by boosting anandamide or serotonin in the brain. 

Due to CBD’s inhibition of FAAH, there is the possibility that CBD may increase extinction learning. Extinction learning refers to the gradual decrease in response to a conditioned stimulus that occurs when the stimulus is repeatedly presented with no negative consequences. Extinction learning plays a huge part in treating PTSD and neutralizing triggers.

A New Approach to Addiction

Dr. Yasmin Hurd is a professor and the director of the Addiction Institute at the Mt. Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York. As the opioid crisis continued to grow, Dr. Hurd began to study CBD as a potential treatment for addictions and cravings. 

A 2019 clinical trial led by Dr. Hurd revealed that CBD was able to lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and reduce anxiety. It also lessened drug cravings. Cravings are the driving force behind long-term drug dependencies and CBD could prove to be a beneficial antidote to addiction. CBD’s effect on dampening cravings lasted for up to a week after the last CBD dose. Conventional opioid addiction drugs such as naloxone and methadone block opioid rewards but do not change anxiety levels or severity of cravings. Since cravings play such a huge part in the addiction cycle, the ability to lessen cravings could mean higher rates of success in treating harmfully excessive drug use. 

CBD: A Diverse Tool for Treating Mental Health

Through various studies CBD has revealed itself to be useful in treating other mental health conditions as well, such as social anxiety, schizophrenia and depression. Compared to conventional antipsychotic medications, CBD differs as it does not appear to antagonize dopamine receptors. It also has been shown to reduce the anxiety and paranoia-inducing effects of its cannabinoid-cousin THC. This could prove useful for people using THC therapeutically for pain, tension and stress, etc. 

Approach CBD Use With Care

Current trials and clinical studies involving CBD often test a much higher dose than what is available on the market. This doesn’t mean that lower doses won’t have a beneficial effect. CBD affects each individual differently based on body weight, brain chemistry, constitutional type, tolerance levels, etc. Speak with your doctor or medical professional before commencing treatment. Proceed with care and learn as much as you can about CBD. Start with very low doses and slowly work your way up to a recommended dose. Keep track of your experiences by keeping a CBD journal, and record feelings and sensations that arise upon dosing. Seek the advice and knowledge of trained cannabis professionals. The educated staff at The Green Dragon CBD are available here to answer any of your cannabis-related questions. The Green Dragon CBD is here to help you safely start your CBD journey. 

Read about CBD for ADHD here.

Thoughts from a Therapist - CBD and Mental Health
CBD is becoming more and more recognizable as an option to help decrease symptoms of certain mental health issues. Read more on the research!
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Thoughts from a Therapist - CBD and Mental Health
March 11, 2024
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