Stress & CBD
Freud claimed that humans ultimately have 2 basic impulses: libido (life/procreation) and thanatos (death). There is a theme across these two impulses: The desire to merge. In the act of sex, we merge with the other; in death, we merge with the infinite.
Theological references aside, the symbolic resonance of Jesus Christ on the Cross is such a powerful representation of the human condition. He is suffering on that cross alone, a burden that, in a way, all humans take on when coming into this world where we are separate from the other. The yogic path, as well as Buddhism, preach that oneness with the infinite is the end of suffering; losing the self and merging with the present.
In existence as an individual, the ultimate reality of “aloneness” seems to be the root of much suffering. When it comes to anxiety, it can feel like this loneliness is enhanced. Anxiety can make the separation of the physical world so much more terrifying than it already is.
Anxiety = the body’s response to stress.
Understanding anxiety means understanding stress and coping mechanisms. In 1955, Psychologists Edward M. Gordon and Seymour B. Sarason set out to understand what anxious thought patterns were. To do so, they developed the “Think Aloud Paradigm.” They had participants take a test and during the test a bell would ring. When this bell rang, those taking the test would have to say their thoughts aloud. It turned out that those with low test anxiety were thinking exclusively about the problems they were solving, while those with high test anxiety were thinking things such as, “Ugh, I knew it was going to be math,” “I should have studied that concept,” and “What is the matter with me? I can never plan anything right.” Those low in test anxiety did significantly better on the tests.
This told psychologists a story of the processes by which anxiety works. It allowed psychologists to understand that test anxiety (to be generalized out) is mediated by the onset of self-preoccupied thoughts.
Examples Of Anxiety Disorders:
What is a Panic Disorder?
People with panic disorders have hypersensitivity to changes in their physiological state. For example, if you have a panic disorder and are running late, forget something in your home and run back to get it, your heart starts beating faster. This should not mean anything, as it is a normal change in your physiological state, but individuals with a panic disorder end up developing a hypersensitivity to this changed state, which then makes their heartbeat even faster—then there’s a panic attack. Attentiveness sets the stage to train the hypersensitivity, which then creates more and more attendance, and a cyclical pattern develops.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
GAD is a heightened level of anxiety, concern, agitation, and arousal to everything, all the time. Worry is an especially fundamental concept to GAD. Those with GAD seem to have the idea that if they can anticipate everything awful that will happen to them, then they have a way of facing or even preventing these things from happening. The problem with this is that one can think of an endless number of horrible things that could happen, and as we know from the “Think Aloud” paradigm, the nature of worrying is ounterproductive to problem-solving.
Modern Day Possession:
It is a thought possession. Those high in anxiety are, in a way, possessed by self-preoccupying thoughts. These thoughts function as a very problematic coping skill in life. The brain creates automatic patterns of thought that become connected to a network of related thoughts. When these concepts/ideas/thoughts are perpetually activated together, the neural connections between them become strengthened.
For example, every time I make a mistake and then tell myself “this means I am worthless,” I am strengthening that thought pattern/neural connection. Eventually, this becomes an automatic thought. People’s automatic thoughts might peddle the story that it’s all their mom’s fault, that they are bad people, or, hopefully, that mistakes are inevitable learning tools. The patterns in which we think are just practiced behavior that we have repeated (probably since we were children) and made into automatic ways of thinking. These automatic thoughts become our coping mechanisms as the neural connections are strengthened over time.
(Andersen, Susan. “Anxiety: Stress/Coping Literature” Personality. New York
University, New York, NY. 20 November, 2018. Lecture.)
What do CBD and the Endocannabinoid System have to do with this?
When you go to see a psychologist, the first thing that should be addressed is your physiology. Is the body running optimally? If it is not, there is a problem, as the mind is essentially a bunch of chemical reactions. This is why mental health should be a full spectrum approach of mind, body, and spiritual wellness.
I do not know if you have noticed, but the people of the 21st century are fairly stressed. Stress can lead to inflammation and disharmony in the systems of the body, such as in neural functioning. One possible example of this is oxidative stress: this condition is characterized by the body being unable to maintain a balance of free radicals and antioxidants. Oxidative stress is created by factors that people of the 21st century really struggle with, such as chronic stress, activity levels, diet, toxins in the environment (i.e., pollution or smoking), and chronic disease. Many researchers are proposing that conditions of inflammation have physiological effects that result in conditions such as anxiety.
The endocannabinoid system specializes in the reduction of inflammation and it is centrally enmeshed in the manifestation of stress. Endocannabinoids are able to alleviate overstimulation of the HPA axis (our central stress response system) during times of stress by way of signalling in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hypothalamus.
Problem: the HPA axis has a central role in modulating our endocannabinoid system as well—when we become chronically stressed, the endocannabinoid system can be thrown out of balance, as there are not enough endocannabinoids present in the body to activate the CB receptors.
This is especially relevant to modern life where endocannabinoids can become exhausted at the hands of pollution, inflammatory foods, too little sleep, too much worry, too much phone/social media/alerts – we live in a time where everything has to be done ASAP. Many of us are walking around with too much stress and too little cannabinoids. If one has a depleted endocannabinoid system and he or she is stressed, there could be too much inflammation in the cells of the body.
2AG and anandamide are endocannabinoids that activate the CB receptors of the endocannabinoid system; they are the molecules that are depleted in a deficient ECS. CBD works by creating more of these molecules – it replenishes a depleted system. Having an efficient endocannabinoid system is vital to physical and mental health, as it is very challenging to maintain a healthy mind in a drained body. The mind is a function of the body: treat the mind by starting with the body.
No One Deserves To Suffer From Anxiety:
Anxiety is the norm for a citizen of the modern world. While we cannot change what modern life is, we can develop strategies to cope with it. This means attaining wellness of the body, the mind, and the spirit to balance out the insanity of the world around us. Regaining our health is like climbing a mountain. It is hard and we may feel weak at certain steps, but it never makes us weak. In a way, learning from a struggle with anxiety is a gift – as we grow, we become ready for the next, steeper climb.
An Article By Evie Louise
Evie Louise is a recent psychology graduate from New York University. She is a certified in International Cannabinoid Clinical Therapy. Evie sees all forms of the cannabis sativa plant as the future of psychiatry, and hopes to use it in her therapy practice as a full spectrum approach to mental health and wellness.