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Panic attacks can occur against the background of all anxiety disorders. They can also occur in people with other psychiatric conditions (such as depression). Some panic attacks occur in response to a specific situation. For example, a person who suffers from a fear of crowds may panic if the number of people she is with outside is too large, triggering an attack.
Other crises occur without apparent cause. Many people now use CBD oil for panic attacks, as a significant number of scientific studies have shown CBD’s effectiveness at reducing and ameliorating their related disorders.
What is CBD, and where does it come from?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the primary cannabinoid present and second most abundant natural compound in the cannabis plant, the first being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Following the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — more commonly known as “the Farm Bill” — most CBD product manufacturers have opted to source their CBD from hemp instead of cannabis, to avoid regulatory red tape in non-cannabis legal states.
As of this writing, pharmaceutical-grade CBD from private companies and medical dispensaries is already commonly prescribed for patients suffering from a range of disorders, from Dravets syndrome to the leading conditions associated with panic attacks. Individuals diagnosed with anxiety and mood disorders also use CBD products available online.
There is encouraging evidence for the medicinal and therapeutic potential of CBD in clinical trials and studies, as well as individual and anecdotal testimony from those self-medicating with CBD oils or isolates. CBD has become immensely popular through social media and celebrity endorsements, invigorating interest and energizing medical research efforts across the country.
Panic attacks are common, affecting at least 11% of adults each year. Most people recover from their panic attacks without any treatment, but some people develop panic disorder. We talk about panic disorder when a person is worried about the idea of making new panic attacks and/or when he modifies his behavior to try to avoid crises. Panic disorder affects 2 to 3% of the population over a 12-month period. Women are twice as prone as men to panic attacks. Panic attacks usually occurs in late adolescence or early adulthood.
Overview of CBD’s Medicinal and Therapeutic Properties
CBD is a phytocannabinoid discovered by University of Illinois chemist Dr Roger Adams in 1940. It is the most abundant of 113 identified cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, accounting for up to forty percent of standard cannabis extracts.
CBD is particularly notable due to the main attribute distinguishing it from THC: non-psychoactivity. THC’s ability to produce altered states of consciousness is the primary reason cannabis is still technically federally illegal, and a significant number of states haven’t legalized it for medical or recreational use due to its schedule 2 DEA classification.
On the other hand, CBD shows tremendous promise as a substitute (or outright replacement) for a number of drugs with dangerous side effects — such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and opioids — without possessing any psychoactive properties.
As of 2019, clinical research on CBD and cannabinoids has encompassed studies on anxiety disorders, impaired cognition, movement disabilities and chronic pain disorders, producing significant evidence that CBD can be an effective form of medication for these conditions. However, more research will be required before a comprehensive case can be made to persuade lawmakers toward fundamental changes in prescription drug legislation.
Panic Symptoms and How CBD Can Ease Attacks
The panic attack is characterized by the sudden onset of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by at least four of the following physical and emotional symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feeling of suffocation
- Dizziness, imbalance or fainting
- Fear of death
- Fear of going crazy or losing control
- Sense of unreality, strangeness or detachment from one’s environment
- Flushing or chills
- Nausea, stomach pain or diarrhoea
- Shortness of breath or feeling of suffocation
- Feeling numb or tingling
- Palpitations or increased heart rate
CBD’s modulatory effects on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is key in its ability to ameliorate most common symptoms of panic attacks. For instance, production of the endogenous compound anandamide suppresses feelings of dizziness, nausea and the urge to vomit.
However, anandamide degrades very quickly in the body due to fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), whose production is increased during the onset of panic attacks. CBD proactively inhibits the production of FAAH in the body, which in turn increases the overall presence of anandamide and slows its degradation during panic attacks.
CBD also modulates the production of vital neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, the latter of which is the chief stabilizer of mood and well-being. Acute sensations of terror or the imminent loss of control are fundamentally caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters and hormones. By binding to and inhibiting serotonin-releasing receptors, CBD acts as a natural alternative to SSRIs and maintains a healthy balance of vital neurotransmitters when administered in the correct dosage.
CBD’s ability to attune the ECS with health-positive implications can be increased further by its interaction with terpenoids (also known as the Entourage Effect). Terpenes hold unique therapeutic properties of their own, and have been shown to produce powerful effects when functioning in tandem with CBD. A very good example of this is terpenes like Limonene, which when combined with CBD’s impressive ability to lower blood pressure is highly effective at reducing palpitations or sensations of a racing heart.
With the additive properties of carefully selected terpenes, CBD may go further, again not fully proven in enough scientific studies, to ameliorate even more symptoms that typically accompany panic attacks, such as tingles, chills and chest pains.
Contemporary Research & the Feasibility of Anxiolytic CBD Medication
There’s an impressive amount of data in current research that substantiates the case for developing CBD-based anxiolytic medication to treat or reduce the effects of panic attacks. A 2020 comprehensive review by Professor Mortimer Mamelak from the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry found that cannabinoids are uniquely effective at interposing and suppressing somatic manifestations of acute anxiety, such as panic attacks that can occur with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A 2020 systematic review by Lancet Psychiatry’s Black, Stockings, Campbell et al also acknowledged CBD’s early and effective onset of anxiolytic action when compared to commonly-prescribed drugs such as antidepressants – which have a much longer latency period of response – and benzodiazepines, which carry a caveat of dangerous side effects. CBD has no potential to induce motor impairment, sedation, dependency or withdrawal and is thus a prime candidate for extensive study.
Black’s review also emphasized the need for sound laboratory practices, as established and maintained by international standards, in the testing and study of CBD’s viability in developing new medication. According to the review, “randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials with larger sample sizes and chronic administration are still necessary to ascertain the safety, adequate dose range, and efficacy of cannabinoids as medicines,” whether for the management of anxiety or other conditions.
Key Principles of Existing Panic Attack Treatment
Panic attacks can be difficult to overcome if you get them consistently, but there are effective treatments and therapies. Sometimes you have to try several or combine them. The vast majority of people successfully reduce or even eliminate their acute anxiety attacks through these measures.
Any effective treatment begins with an accurate diagnosis. The simple fact of identifying the disease brings enormous relief to the person who feared that their problem would not be taken seriously. Then, psychotherapy and drug treatments are the first-line treatments.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for panic disorder. It reduces the frequency and severity of panic attacks, reduces anticipation anxiety and phobic avoidance linked to panic. It thus makes it possible to limit the functional incapacity linked to anxiety.
If psychotherapy is not enough, medication such as CBD can be used to reduce the intensity and frequency of attacks, as well as anticipatory anxiety. They also help limit the disability and improve quality of life. You should know that antidepressants are as effective as CBT in the treatment of panic disorders.
It is therefore up to everyone to see with their doctor what is best for them. CBD is still an “alternative medicine” to many with respect to psychological challenges, as it’s not regularly prescribed by MDs and lab studies are just now being done on a large scale.
Complementary, helpful approaches such as relaxation and meditation techniques can act quickly on anxiety and panic attacks by reducing the overall degree of stress after regular practice for a few weeks. Developing a better understanding about the attack also makes it possible to effectively complement psychotherapy, CBD, and prescriptions by promoting education of the causes symptoms, and the treatment of the disease.
Finally, support and self-help groups are essential to break the isolation of those affected but also for those around them. They make it possible to exchange, share experiences and receive information and support.
The Battle to Reinvent the Drug Prescription Wheel
It’s likely that given time and additional research, sufficient evidence will be available to inform the debate over alternative medicine among US lawmakers. There is enough in contemporary scientific literature to prove the viability of CBD for panic attacks, but it could be some time before CBD replaces current prescription mainstays, due to the presence of special interest lobbies bankrolled by drug companies.
As a more substantive consensus is reached as to what CBD is suitable to prescribe for, dangerous mood and anxiety disorders — particularly those believed to trigger panic attacks — may significantly change how we treat these scary, often debilitating episodes.