No panic: How to manage coronavirus panic and anxiety with cannabis and CBD products
Each of us has ever felt anxious at some point in life. Having an exam, a job interview, or a medical test make the palms sweaty and increases the heart rate. Disasters and pandemics tend to cause more severe reactions, such as anxiety and panic.
COVID-19 outbreak in December 2019 has led both to economic insecurity and medical problems. Growing numbers of infected people, cancellations, and closure of favourite events and quarantine measures convey uncertainty about the future.
That is the time to care about the wellbeing and mental health of yourself and loved ones. Following natural and organic trends, people turn to vitamins and supplements. Cannabis and CBD are on the way to legalisation and overall appreciation. Multiple studies prove their benefits for mental wellbeing. Let’s see if CBD may help to cope with coronavirus panic.
What are cannabis and CBD benefits?
Puzzling abbreviation CBD stands for a natural compound made of the Cannabis Sativa plant that has various beneficial properties.
Just as this plant that produces more than 100 different phytocannabinoids, the human body also produces its own cannabinoids named endocannabinoids. There is an endocannabinoid system (ECS) within each organism, comprised of receptors that can be stimulated by cannabinoids. The ECS is responsible for various physiological processes such as pain-sensation, appetite, sleep, mood, and memory. Besides multiple functions performed in each area of the body, the main objective of the ECS is homeostasis.
CBD causes an indirect effect on the endocannabinoid system. Cannabidiol has no strong affinity for the receptors but may inhibit Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH). Such inhibition makes the body produce more endocannabinoids such as anandamide, which is important for the neural generation. CBD can also suppress the harmful effect of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive compound that may be present in the same plant.
Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol, CBD is entirely non-intoxicating and doesn’t cause a “high” effect. CBD or cannabidiol is used in numerous products: from well-known CBD-oils to CBD-infused coffee and granola.
CBD products on the way to legalisation. In the US, CBD is legal to use under the 2018 Farm Bill, and in the UK, CBD products are entirely legitimate. However, in some countries, CBD is still prohibited.
Why does COVID-19 make you panic?
The media widely uses the term “coronavirus” in relation to the frightening virus outbreak. That is a bit inaccurate, as coronavirus covers a group of related viruses, that may cause respiratory infections from the common cold to more severe, such as SARS, MERS, and COVID-19. Here are some interesting facts: coronavirus was first discovered in the 1960s, so it is not new, and the mortality rate of MERS-CoV in 2015 reached 34.5% that exceeds the current outbreak. However, it is the latest outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2, known as COVID-19 that caused panic. Let’s consider the reasons for the overall thrill.
Usually, infected people suffer from:
- shortness of breath
That is confusing as high temperature may be the symptom of flu, and coughing is frequent in allergy and cold. Moreover, the symptoms may be mild or not present.
The virus is usually spread from human to human via airborne droplets during coughing or from touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the face. The symptoms may arise from 2 to 14 days after the exposure. As symptoms may not occur, infected people may spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus without knowing. The latest studies of Chinese scientists have suggested that SARS-CoV-2 might remain detectable for up to 37 days.
Severe health consequences
In some patients, COVID-19 may cause pneumonia. The most severe cases may progress to acute respiratory distress syndrome resulting in septic shock, respiratory, or organs failure. Most of those who die of COVID-19 suffer from preexisting conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart diseases, as in the case of those who are older than 70 years.
Fake news has spread so fast that the experts called the overload of misinformation an infodemic. Fake ideas attract more attention, wreak havoc, and tend to spread faster via messengers, social and mainstream media. Social media companies, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), have begun to fight with misleading information. Google has made an SOS alert, placing WHO information on the virus to the very top of search results, and the WHO has even refuted the most common myth busters about coronavirus on its website.
Travel and tourism, sports, hotels, railways, and many other businesses were hurt by the efforts to slow down the spread of the virus. According to experts, the epidemic keeps challenging the economy and may become even more challenging to combat.
In March 2020, the UK government announced plans to help pay people’s wages during the coronavirus crisis. According to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer, the government would pay 80% of the salaries of workers who were sent on unpaid leave due to the pandemic. The UK government has also issued guidance for employers and businesses, providing advice about the COVID-19.
Working from home or self-quarantine may be helpful in slowing down the spread of the virus. While causing discomfort and stress to many people, these precautionary measures may feel like heaven for introverts. Finally, no unnecessary travelling, parties, and hand-shaking. There was a headline from the satirical website, The Babylon Bee, “Church Introverts Praise Lord For Coronavirus As Greeting Times Canceled.” It seems that introverts have been preparing to fight coronavirus in advance. And, even when the pandemic is over, they’ll be ready for further challenges.
Feel anxious? Know your enemy!
The COVID-19 outbreak in 2019 has caused a lot of stress for people. Anxiety and fear about the virus may become overwhelming and cause panic. Coping with stress can make you feel more energetic and withstand any circumstances around.
What is anxiety?
It is important to know that anxiety is an entirely normal and often healthy emotion. Usually, anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. This emotion is characterised by feelings of tension, excessive worrying, recurring thoughts, and even physical changes such as high blood pressure.
Regular posts in social media with a hidden message “We will all die” may cause many unpleasant effects:
- Fear and worry about the health
- Nervousness and tension
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Sleep and eating problems
- Sense of impending danger or panic
- Loss of concentration and focus
- Worsening of chronic health conditions
- Boost in the use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
People who may react more strongly to coronavirus crisis:
- People who are at higher risk for COVID-19: older people and those who suffer from chronic diseases
- Children and teenagers
- Medical personnel and health care providers who help with the response to COVID-19
- People with mental health conditions including problems with drugs use
Why should one manage anxiety?
During the coronavirus crisis, feeling anxious is perfectly normal. However, it may be hard for some people to control their emotions: anxiety becomes constant, affects daily life, or causes distress.
Moreover, anxiety can develop into or be the symptom of several conditions, that require specialised treatment:
- panic disorder
- phobias, such as claustrophobia
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- social anxiety disorder
With the proper treatment, people may control their anxiety levels and handle arising problems much easier.
Is there anything good about anxiety?
You might be surprised, but anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing and may have some “silver linings.”
Anxiety may act as the warning sign that you need to pay attention to your current situation and change something in your life. Constant worries and tension can indicate that some areas of your life are of control and need a tune-up.
Anxiety is also known as the fight-or-flight response. Our ancestors managed to attack or run away from a mammoth or storm. Now, anxiety protects us from dangerous situations and helps to react to emergencies quickly. A study conducted in the UK showed anxiety in adolescence is related to a lower level of accidents and accidental death in early adulthood. However, the same anxiety was linked to higher levels of non-accidental mortality in later life. Anyway, anxiety may help you keep safe.
How may CBD help to deal with panic and anxiety?
To bring you a better understanding of how CBD products may alleviate anxiety, let’s learn how our body copes with it. Along with sweating and accelerated heartbeat, chronic stress and negative emotions may affect your brain. In essence, it adjusts to your emotions and, if needed, makes the body release cortisol, the hormone associated with stress and fear. If discomfort becomes prolonged and excessive, the body keeps releasing more cortisol. This unregulated hormone boost can make your brain make some changes to handle the overload. These changes affect both the structure and chemistry of the brain: some regions become hyperactive, while others shrink, and the number of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and endocannabinoids, and their receptors also change.
The good thing is that CBD may be helpful with these changes. In 2014, researchers in Hungary had concluded that endocannabinoids might influence stress and emotion responses due to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. In further studies, CBD has shown the potential to alleviate a variety of anxiety-related disorders, including:
- Panic disorder (PD) is an anxiety disorder that includes sudden panic attacks. Panic attacks feel like intense fear that may include palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling that something terrible is going to happen. CBD can influence the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor, a protein receptor engaged in various biological and neurological processes, including sleep, pain perception, anxiety, addiction, appetite, nausea. The 5-HT1a receptor can turn on other 5-HT receptors, causing effects that help to manage anxiety. A 2017 study has shown that activation of this receptor with CBD may exhibit anti-panic properties. CBD can alleviate and prevent anxiety by mediating and modulating stress response.
- General anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder associated with excessive, uncontrollable nervousness, stress, and worry about events or activities. Studies have shown a good interaction between CBD and 5-HT1A serotonin receptors. CBD has exhibited anti-anxiolytic and antidepressant properties in animal models, which may help alleviate GAD and other mental conditions.
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is among the most common mental disorders, characterised by excessive anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected during social interaction. CBD may alleviate SAD just like any other form of anxiety — by activating the serotonin receptor and adjusting the brain’s stress response. A 2011 study showed that pretreatment with CBD significantly alleviated anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort in their speech performance. A 2019 double-blind study showed that the anti-anxiety properties of CBD might reduce symptoms and provide relief in the case of SAD.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition caused by experiencing or witnessing a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Symptoms of PTSD can range from mood swings, and nightmares to anxiety, panic attacks and eating disorders. Recent studies have shown the ability of CBD to facilitate the extinction of aversive memories in humans, alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, and adjust brain responses to stressful situations that trigger PTSD.
CBD consumption may relieve many anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder if administered acutely.
A 2019 retrospective case study has shown that up to 80% of outpatients who were given 25 mg of CBD daily in addition to treatment for three months, felt an improvement in anxiety. However, some patients reported that anxiety symptoms of their condition worsened after taking CBD. Different results prove CBD as a bidirectional medicine, meaning it can cause opposing responses at different doses.
By engaging with the endocannabinoid system, CBD may also regulate anxiety with the following mechanisms:
- Cannabidiol can quiet the stress signals by easing the neural activity in stress areas in the brain.
- CBD can regulate the HPA axis that controls the secretion of glucocorticoids, hormones responsible for moderating stress response.
Anxiety can also be triggered by discomfort from other health conditions, such as pain and inflammation. CBD can act against inflammatory disorders and has a potential for lessening the impact of inflammation on oxidative stress. That is helpful in the alleviation of various types of pain, including neuropathic pain, muscular pain, and inflammatory pain. CBD products are promising treatments for painful conditions that do not respond to standard therapies, such as neuropathic, inflammatory, and oncologic pain.
It is important to consider that most CBD studies are either done on animals or a small group of respondents with a specific medical condition; therefore, further studies are needed to prove the long-term effects of cannabidiol.
How to choose the right CBD product for your anxiety?
There are several things to consider when choosing the most appropriate CBD product for your emotional health:
- The type of CBD product
Hundreds of different CBD products may be confusing. Should you start your day with CBD-infused granola or place a couple of CBD oil drops under your tongue before a workout? Well, each CBD type has its own benefits: CBD capsules require no dosing, CBD oil or tinctures have the highest concentration, CBD gummies are easy and fun to eat. The choice is up to your preferences.
- CBD dosage
The most appropriate dosage depends on your weight, age, product type, and severity of your anxiety. You may consult with your doctor, calculate the dosage depending on your weight, or use an Online dosage calculator. Dosage calculators can provide a recommended CBD dose in milligrams based on your body weight and the severity of your condition.
- Consider the bidirectional effect of CBD
CBD is well-known for its two-way effect. Overstimulation of the endocannabinoid system with high doses may worsen your anxiety instead of alleviating it. Moreover, high levels of CBD may cause sleepiness and excessive relaxation. On the other hand, low levels of CBD may induce wakefulness and alertness.
- Start with a lower dosage
The best way to prevent unwanted bidirectional effects of CBD is to start with a lower dosage. Even though CBD has been shown to stay safe even in high doses, it’s recommended to increase it gradually. That is how you can pay attention to changes in your body and its response to cannabidiol. There is no universal dosage and tolerance, so this process helps you to get acquainted with your perfect dose.
- Check the quality
The best way to prove the quality of the CBD product is to consider its Certificate of analysis or any other quality certificates. This document is issued by an accredited laboratory that proves precisely what’s in a particular CBD product content. CBD Certificate of Analysis shows the concentration of various cannabinoids in a product and other possible contaminants.
- Consume CBD regularly
Scientific research shows that an appropriate level of cannabinoids takes some time to accumulate in the body. Therefore, a regular, preventative dose of CBD, along with taking CBD during a panic attack, may help keep your endocannabinoid system in balance. You may not feel the effect instantly, but your body will make use of the cannabidiol even without notice.
- Consider contraindications
In February 2020, the Food Standard Agency advised against CBD consumption for pregnant and breastfeeding women and people taking any medications. The latest findings by the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products, and the Environment has recommended healthy adults to take no more than 70mg of CBD per day (approx. 28 drops of 5% CBD). They suggested that higher amounts may cause harmful health effects, such as on the liver. In any case, prior consultation with your doctor is necessary.
Is vaping or smoking cannabis a good idea to cope with anxiety?
Along with widespread shortages of masks and hand sanitiser in drug stores, people turn to cannabis, weed, and vapes. There are two main reasons for the heightened demand. The first one is that people are advised to #StayHome and try to stock up as many things as possible. The other reason is that people search for an easy way to cope with stress and not to care about coronavirus.
A few puffs of a CBD vape pen or smoking weed seem to be the right way to relax. Some studies even prove that cannabis users are more likely to self-isolate while enjoying their favourite stuff. Vaping or smoking are also believed to bring the fastest effect, among other CBD products effects.
However, worldwide experts do not recommend smoking cannabis and CBD vaping during any respiratory diseases. Even though smoking provides a calming effect and CBD products are well-known for pain-relieving, relaxing and sleep-inducing properties, inhaling hot vapour is dangerous for infected lungs and may impair the lungs’ ability to fight off infection. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that smokers are more susceptible to novel coronavirus. Studies suggest that smoking and vaping may become a risk factor for respiratory disease. Moreover, the liquids from unreliable suppliers that contain psychoactive THC may lower the lungs’ ability to manage the infection.
Anyway, if you keep smoking, it’s better to use your own devices and not to share mouthpieces with others. That is a precautionary measure not just due to COVID-19, but because of viruses that may cause colds and other diseases.
The right thing during the pandemic is to switch from smoking to edibles or a wide range of CBD products.
What else can you do to support yourself?
Chronic personal worries and global fear about Covid-19 can be overwhelming. Hopefully, some tips can make you feel better:
- Take care of your body and physical health. Meditation, deep breaths, plenty of sleep, and walking with a dog is a simple way to take your mind off. You can use quarantine as a good time to start eating well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and avoid alcohol and harmful drugs.
- Take breaks from the news feed, including social media. Constant exposure to frightening news can cause excessive worries. A bit of digital detox will help to unwind.
- Stay informed. Lacking information can also be upsetting. Try to get updates from the official sources. There may be inaccurate information and rumours about the coronavirus crisis, especially on social media. It is important to turn to reliable sources of information such as the UK Coronavirus Action Plan.
- Stay in touch with others. Connect with friends, family, and loved ones through video chats, phone calls, and messengers. It will help to feel the strength of your connections and discuss your concerns.
- Seek help if needed. If anxiety and stress significantly influence your daily activities for several weeks, talk to a healthcare provider. If you need medical help or medical advice in the UK, you can use NHS 111, an online coronavirus service, or dial 999 for a medical emergency.
Do not forget about practical steps to lower the risk of catching and spreading the novel coronavirus:
- Avoid unnecessary travel, crowds, and public spots.
- Wash the hands often with water and soap or use hand sanitiser for disinfection.
- Keep your hands away from your face, especially eyes, mouth, and nose, and try to avoid shaking hands.
- Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use your sleeve.
- Avoid contact with people who feel unwell.
- Do not share personal stuff such as CBD vape pens with other people.
It is important to remember that some people infected by the coronavirus have symptoms such as fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath during the incubation period (up to 14 days). However, some people may develop no symptoms. The virus can spread via airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Anyone can get the virus if they breathe in the viral droplets or touch the surfaces that infected people have touched.
It is high time to be careful and cautious. The best thing you can do is take precautionary measures to protect ourselves and loved ones. However, there is no reason to stay on high alert all the time as it may wear you down both emotionally and physically.
Verified by a Healthcare Professional
Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.
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