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Calm Thy Nerves: CBD for Panic Attacks

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panic attacks

Panic attacks are a sudden onslaught of intense fear. Most of the time, there is not any known stressor that causes a panic attack. A person having a panic attack could feel not only emotional symptoms like abject fear, feeling detached from the world and themselves, and the sense of losing control of oneself; panic attacks also manifest physically. A person experiencing a panic attack could feel their heart beating faster, heart palpitations, chest pain (some people even attest to feeling like they are having a heart attack), choking, hot or cold flashes, shaking, nausea, stomach pain, and even dizziness or feeling faint. 

Panic Attacks

These symptoms often come without a warning, and unlike anxiety attacks, they don’t disappear when triggers or stressors leave. While anxiety attacks can either be mild, moderate, or severe, panic attacks are mostly severe and very disruptive. 

Causes 

Panic attacks can either be expected or unexpected. Unexpected panic attacks come right out of the blue and have no clear triggers. Expected panic attacks, on the other hand, can be triggered by similar things. The most common trigger would be coming face to face with something one fears — phobias. People with phobias, an intense fear of something be it something material or a situation will experience panic attacks when faced with their phobias. 

Other triggers could include trauma or reminders of past trauma, heavy and stressful social situations, and withdrawals from drugs or alcohol. Even chronic illnesses such as IBS, diabetes, or heart ailments can trigger panic attacks. 

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder (PD) is a chronic psychiatric disorder that is characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. This disorder affects approximately 5% of the world’s population. 

Someone with PD will have anxiety. Anxiety is a pervading feeling of unease, worry, and fear. The most severe form of anxiety is panic. Often, people with PD will learn to avoid situations that cause them anxiety or fear. This will lead to a damaging cycle of living in fear of fear, and this cycle could lead to more anxiety and more panic attacks. Sometimes, people with PD could even develop agoraphobia from avoiding situations that they feel would trigger a panic attack. 

Another symptom someone with PD will have is panic attacks. These mostly sudden, mentally, and physically disruptive attacks could last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. Sometimes even longer. The number of times one gets a panic attack depends on how severe their panic disorder is. Since the symptoms of panic attacks often mimic the symptoms of other physiologic diseases like heart ailments, it is best to get a diagnosis from a specialist to rule out any other diseases that could cause the physical symptoms of a panic attack. 

Traditional treatment

Doctors would often prescribe two types of treatment — talk therapy and medication. 

Talk therapy is just what it sounds like. A PD patient will talk to a trained and certified therapist about their experiences and therapists will then teach their patients how to cope with their panic attacks. 

Medicating patients is another, more physiologically direct way of treating PD. Though this type of treatment usually goes hand in hand with talk therapy. 

Most doctors will prescribe any of the following medications:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These are antidepressants that are the usual first-choice medications by doctors because they have fewer side effects compared to other forms of antidepressants. Antidepressants usually take 2 to 4 weeks before patients feel their effects. 
Anti-seizure medications. Usually, benzodiazepines treat not only seizures but psychological conditions as well like anxiety, panic disorder, and depression. 

CBD treatment

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid present in hemp plants. Another well-known cannabinoid is the controversial THC, a cannabinoid that triggers euphoria. THC has been known to cause the human body to relax. But studies done on CBD and its effects on anxiety and panic disorder have had promising results. 

The human body is lined with receptors (the endocannabinoid system lines our bodies with receptors). CBD interacts with these receptors in a way that helps maintain balance in our bodies. 

Research

Researchers believe that CBD interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors found in the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. CBD controls the serotonin levels in our bodies. Serotonin is responsible for our sleep, our moods, and our behavior. Traditional medicines, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors work to control serotonin levels in our bodies much like CBD does. It is believed that CBD has anxiolytic effects. 

One study found that CBD is a promising treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), SAD (social anxiety disorder), and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).  

Scientists found that CBD reduced the physiologic symptoms of GAD in mice. CBD improved the subjects’ heart rate and lower behavioral signs of anxiety were observed. 

In 2011, a study was conducted to explore the effects of CBD in people with SAD. A group of participants were given 400mg of CBD orally while another group was given a placebo. The group dosed with CBD reported reduced anxiety levels. 

Another study was conducted to see if CBD had any effect in people with anxiety specifically with regards to public speaking. The results showed that CBD reduced anxiety levels in people with SAD who took CBD before speaking publicly. 

Pre-clinical studies have shown that CBD, administered systemically, has reduced anxiety in several animal models. Human trials have only reinforced these findings and have suggested that CBD can help decrease symptoms of general anxiety disorder. 

Side effects of CBD

One of the more appealing aspects of using CBD as a treatment for panic disorder is that it boasts very few side effects. The side effects observed during clinical studies include diarrhea, fatigue, and changes in appetite which affect weight. These are considerably less daunting than the side effects of more traditional medications used to treat panic disorder or other types of psychological disorders. 

Outlook

More studies still need to be conducted to truly explore the long term effects of using CBD, how CBD interacts with the different receptors in our bodies, and the other disorders and ailments that CBD can help treat. As for now, with the promising results that point to CBD being an effective tool to treat anxiety and other psychological disorders, using CBD to manage panic disorder might be something worth looking into. 

About the Author

Heather Smith is the Communications Manager at Sunday Scaries. She’s a composed copywriter and content strategist. She’s also a CBD advocate, promoting a healthy lifestyle free of stress and scaries.

 

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