CBD Oil for Panic Attacks: Can It Help Treating This Disorder?

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Woman with hand on chest having a panic attack

The prevalence of anxiety disorders in modern societies is alarming. In recent years, the sales of books about anxiety have increased by 25, and the disorder affects around 284 million people.

Anxiety is like an invisible cage that many people feel trapped in. Being a ‘prisoner’ with no definable reasons can place a serious burden on one’s mental health.

Panic attacks, also known as Panic Disorder, are defined as an anxiety disorder that affects around 2.4 million people in the United States. Women are twice as likely to suffer from the condition than men, and half of all people with a panic disorder develop it by the age of 24.

Whether panic attacks directly stem from anxiety or are triggered by other stress factors, they are real, emotionally debilitating, and challenging to treat.

Doctors generally recommend a combination of pharmacology and psychological therapy. However, conventional anti-anxiety drugs can have severe side effects on both mental and physical health.

Recent research supports an alternative option that may be both effective and safe for panic disorders — without causing the said side effects.

This alternative has a very short name: CBD.

Today, we will reveal the health benefits of CBD for panic attacks. We’ll also take a closer look at how to take CBD for panic disorders for optimal results. 

But first, let’s shed more light on panic attacks.

What You Need to Know About Panic Attacks

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are two different things, although many people think of them as the same conditions. 

Anxiety attacks usually have a stressor that triggers them. For example, a person may feel stressed or apprehensive about specific situations. Anxiety attacks disappear at the same time the stressor goes away. They are short-lived.

Panic Disorders, on the other hand, don’t relate to any stressor. Instead, it involves unexpected and recurring episodes of strong fear. They usually involve symptoms like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, abdominal discomfort, and dizziness. Sometimes, the signs of a panic attack may mimic the symptoms of a heart attack or another life-threatening event.

For this reason, Panic Disorder may require extensive testing.

People with Panic Disorder often feel intensely anxious between their episodes. In fact, a person suffering from panic attacks may eventually develop a phobia about a place or situation where a previous attack was triggered, such as a restaurant or shopping center.

Breaking Down the Progression of Panic Attacks

Man having a panic attack while holding a paper bag outside

As panic attacks become more frequent, people tend to avoid situations where they believe another attack might occur, feeling afraid they may not receive immediate help. An isolated panic attack is generally short-lived, but it can take a serious toll on a person’s mental well-being.

The memory of fear experienced during a panic attack may compromise your self-confidence and negatively impact your everyday life. 

Here are the most common symptoms of developing Panic Disorder:

  • Agoraphobia: back in time, this condition was linked exclusively to open and public places. Now, researchers believe that agoraphobia can develop after a panic attack. Although it may occur at any time, it usually shows up within a year of your first recurring panic attacks. The symptoms of agoraphobia include fear of having a panic attack in a place that is difficult to escape from. This, in turn, may lead to a fear of being in crowded places and enclosed areas.
  • Anticipatory anxiety: this condition can severely impact your daily life. Rather than feeling relaxed in the period between panic attacks, you feel anxious, tense, and nervous due to a fear of the next attack.
  • Phobic avoidance: this term refers to the avoidance of certain environments or situations because a person believes they resemble locations where you have experienced a panic attack. It is closely connected to agoraphobia.

Telltale symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Pounding heart
  • Dizziness
  • Chills
  • Tingling in various parts of the body
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying
  • Terror

What Causes Panic Disorder?

Doctors have yet to identify the reasons why certain people develop Panic Disorder, although it seems to stem from genetic factors. Other triggers could be traumatic life events and thinking in a manner that makes your body feel stressed.

Studies on humans and animals are trying to map out specific regions of the brain that could be involved in fear and anxiety signaling during a panic attack. There’s a complex structure deep within the brain known as the amygdala. This brain area could produce anxiety disorders as a result of abnormal activation.

Another reason why Panic Disorder may occur is a physical injury or a medical condition such as:

  • Withdrawal symptoms from drugs
  • Use of stimulants such as caffeine, cocaine, or methamphetamines
  • Thyroid hyperactivity
  • Mitral valve prolapse, which is a minor cardiac problem when one of the heart’s valves doesn’t close properly.

Can CBD Oil Help with Panic Attacks?

CBD Oil bottle and dropper with hemp leaf

Humans have been using cannabis to relieve stress and anxiety for centuries. The cannabis plant has been mentioned in ancient pharmacopeias as well as in many sacred texts for its anxiolytic and antidepressant properties.

Recent studies have given us an insight into the mechanism of action behind the herb’s deeply relaxing effects.

For example, we know that THC may reduce anxiety and tension in low to moderate doses, especially when accompanied by at least 1% CBD. Not only can THC curb feelings of anxiety, but it also has a calming effect on the body. However, high doses of THC taken without considering a person’s tolerance to this compound may backfire and aggravate feelings of anxiety.

Recent studies have shown that a different cannabinoid, CBD, may also have significant benefits for panic sufferers. A study published in Neurotherapeutics analyzed CBD as a possible treatment for anxiety disorders. The authors concluded that preclinical trials suggest CBD’s effectiveness in lowering the levels of stress and anxiety (1).

The said study also pointed to CBD as the potential remedy for various anxiety disorders, such as PTSD, GAD, SAD, PT, and OCD. The researchers noted that the anxiolytic mechanism of CBD resulted from its interaction with CB1 receptors and 5-HT1A serotonin receptors in several brain areas. They also stated that further research into the additional CBD-receptor interactions is needed to uncover more positive effects of CBD on the brain.

According to preclinical discoveries, CBD has a minimal sedative effect and lacks anxiogenic (anxiety-provoking) properties. Furthermore, its safety profile is incomparably better than that of commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications.

Latest Research into the Effectiveness of CBD for Panic Attacks

The majority of studies investigating the benefits of CBD for panic attacks and anxiety have tested acute CBD dosing in healthy people. This means that we need additional research to determine if consistent dosing is effective in the relevant clinical subjects.

One of the most recent reviews of studies on CBD and anxiety was published in 2017 by Soares and Campos in the Current Neuropharmacology journal. The review was titled “Evidences for the Anti-panic Actions of Cannabidiol.’ The authors of the paper underlined that SSRIs, the current treatment of choice for Panic Disorder, lack consistency and aren’t effective in the long run. They also pointed out that these medications carry a range of side effects that causes patients to give up the treatment (2). 

At the same time, the researchers are touting CBD as a potentially effective alternative for Panic Disorder. 

As we can read in the conclusion part of the paper:

“CBD seems to be a promising drug for the treatment of PD (Panic Disorder). More clinical trials involving patients with Panic Disorder are needed to determine the specific mechanism of action of CBD along with its safe and ideal therapeutic doses.”

 In September 2018, Crippa and his team of researchers published a review in Frontiers in Immunology that analyzed the therapeutic potential of CBD. The paper was written to describe the efficacy of CBD in neuropsychiatry. The authors found CBD had anxiolytic, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective properties — all of which may be helpful in treating panic attacks (3).

Clinical studies have also found that CBD offers relief from a wide range of mental disorders, such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, insomnia, Parkinson’s Disease, and social phobia. The researchers concluded that CBD was a “useful and promising molecule” that could be used as a safe alternative treatment for an array of clinical conditions. For example, one 2019 study found that a single dose of 300 mg of CBD caused a considerable drop in anxiety in people with a social anxiety disorder (4). 

How to Use CBD for Panic Attacks

Woman taking CBD Oil using dropper

There are several product types to choose from when it comes to using CBD for panic attacks. CBD comes in the form of oil, capsules, edibles, vapes, topicals, concentrates, and more. This section covers the most common formats that people take to manage Panic Disorder.

CBD Oil for Panic Attacks

CBD oil drops are hands down the most popular product right now. In this form, CBD is administered sublingually, meaning the user needs to place the desired dose under the tongue, hold it there for about 60 seconds, and swallow. The CBD will reach the bloodstream through the tiny blood vessels in your mouth, avoiding the first-pass metabolism in the liver. The effects of CBD oil are noticeable within 15–30 minutes after administration, lasting 4-6 hours on average. 

CBD oil is good if you feel a panic attack is coming and you want to prevent it by calming your nervous system.

CBD Capsules & Edibles for Panic Attacks

Capsules and edibles (e.g. gummies)  take the oral route of administration. They need to pass through the digestive system before being released into the bloodstream. For this reason, it may take anywhere between 30–90 minutes before the effects of capsules and edibles take hold. On the other hand, the effects last longer because the CBD is released gradually. Relief from anxiety may last 8–10 hours depending on your metabolism and the potency of your capsules/gummies.

CBD Vape Pen for Panic Attacks

Using a vape pen infused with CBD liquid is the most efficient way to deliver cannabidiol to your body. Vaporization allows the user to heat the CBD vape oil to the point where it releases CBD-rich vapor. This vapor is then inhaled through the lungs and absorbs into the bloodstream through the lung tissue. Vaping CBD provides the fastest effects; they usually appear within 5–10 minutes after inhalation. CBD vapes also deliver the highest concentrations of CBD to your system, as 56% of the inhaled compound ends up in the bloodstream. The only concern about CBD vape pens is their relatively short duration; relief from anxiety and stress usually lasts 3–4 hours.

CBD Dosage for Panic Attacks

CBD oil dropper with measurements

If you’re planning to try CBD oil for your panic attacks, we advise you to consult a doctor experienced in cannabis therapies. A qualified professional should be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to the dosage and should be able to establish the right routine in order to avoid potential CBD-drug interaction if you take anti-anxiety medications.

In the aforementioned  2019 study, male participants took CBD before undergoing a simulated public speaking test. The research team found that an oral dose of 300 mg applied 90 minutes before the simulation was enough to significantly reduce the speakers’ anxiety.

The study involved three other groups: a placebo group and study subjects who receive 150 mg and 600 mg CBD. Each group saw little effect on their anxiety.

However, the study had its limitations. First, it tested pure CBD, which is considered inferior to full-spectrum extracts due to the lack of the entourage effect. The entourage effect occurs when all the natural compounds in hemp, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, act synergistically to enhance the potency of the main ingredients in CBD oil. There’s also a methodological concern, as the study only looked at 57 subjects — all of them were male.

More research, including studies on large groups that also include female subjects, is needed to determine an effective dosage range for people with panic attacks.

You can experiment with different dosages based on your weight, metabolism, and the severity of your panic attacks. The best approach is to start low and gradually make your way up to the amount of CBD that brings you the desired relief.

CBD vs Conventional Treatments for Panic Attacks

People who decide to go down the traditional route to treat panic attacks usually have two medications to choose from. The decision is based on a consultation with a psychiatrist, who should be able to adjust the therapy to the patient’s individual needs. Doctors will generally prescribe two types of medicine:

  • Anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) — using benzodiazepines for panic attacks is a controversial subject among medical researchers. Although The American Psychiatric Association found positive evidence and state that doctors can prescribe benzodiazepines based on the individual patient’s medical record, The National Institute of Clinical Excellence has a different opinion in that regard. They claim that benzodiazepines are not an effective long-term treatment for panic disorder. According to the institution, benzodiazepines shouldn’t be used for longer than four weeks when it comes to panic attacks.
  • Antidepressants — these medications are less controversial than benzodiazepines. This is generally the go-to treatment recommended by doctors. Regular use of antidepressants results in the alteration of neurotransmitter configurations which help alleviate the symptoms.

Substances to Avoid for People with Panic Disorder

Liquor being poured into glass

  • Alcohol — Alcohol is mistakenly believed to be a stress reliever, but in fact, it’s a toxin that results in more stress and can damage your physical and mental functions. This is a consequence of fluctuating serotonin concentrations in the brain. Alcohol also impairs the nervous system and can contribute to hypertension.
  • Artificial and refined sugars — Sugar is present in virtually everything we eat today, so it’s important to cut down on its intake whenever possible. Studies have linked excessive sugar consumption with a deterioration in anxiety symptoms.
  • Caffeine — Caffeine is a widely available stimulant. While healthy people can drink up to 4 cups of coffee with no remorse, it can trigger negative symptoms in people with Panic Disorder, including nausea, lightheadedness, nervousness, and jitteriness.
  • Trans fat — Also known as hydrogenated fat, trans fat is one of the worst ingredients in the Western diet. Studies have found that it can increase your risk of depression and may result in exacerbated anxiety-like symptoms.

Final Thoughts on CBD and Panic Attacks

Current research into CBD’s benefits for panic attacks and Panic Disorder has concluded that the cannabinoid can be a safe and effective alternative to the conventional treatment options. CBD is available in many different forms. The least processed form includes CBD-rich flowers, but this is also the least concentrated type of product.

If you’re looking for a potent form of CBD, opt for products like CBD oil, capsules, edibles, or vapes. You can experiment with different consumption methods and potencies to find the one that suits your needs. 

Most CBD products available for sale are sourced from industrial hemp, which is legal to grow in the U.S. as long as it contains no more than 0.3% THC. With such an abundance of different CBD extracts, scientists have now more opportunities to evaluate the efficacy of whole-plant products and compare them with their isolate-based counterparts.

The studies we have discussed above back up any claims about CBD’s effectiveness for panic attacks, but it’s only a drop in the ocean of its potential health benefits.

As things stand, anecdotal evidence from CBD users also seems to support this form of therapy, although it’s not an officially acknowledged one. Since the FDA doesn’t regulate CBD products, it’s important to do your research on any company that sells CBD oil online before handing out your hard-earned money. Look for reputable companies that make organic products tested in third-party laboratories for their potency and purity.

What is your experience with using CBD for panic attacks? Does it help? What dosage works best for you?

References:

  1. Blessing, E.M., Steenkamp, M.M., Manzanares, J. et al. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics 12, 825–836 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
  2. Soares, Vanessa P, and Alline C Campos. “Evidences for the Anti-panic Actions of Cannabidiol.” Current neuropharmacology vol. 15,2 (2017): 291-299. doi:10.2174/1570159×14666160509123955
  3. Crippa, José A et al. “Translational Investigation of the Therapeutic Potential of Cannabidiol (CBD): Toward a New Age.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 9 2009. 21 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2018.02009
  4. Linares, Ila M et al. “Cannabidiol presents an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve in a simulated public speaking test.” Revista brasileira de psiquiatria (Sao Paulo, Brazil : 1999) vol. 41,1 (2019): 9-14. doi:10.1590/1516-4446-2017-0015

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