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Can Cannabis Decrease Social Anxiety as the COVID Pandemic Winds Down?

byhellomdApril 7, 20215 minutes

During this past pandemic year, four out of ten American adults.reported having symptoms of anxiety. That’s a fourfold increase from 2019 when just one in ten Americans were experiencing those symptoms.

As cases of COVID-19 surged in the US and around the world, people have struggled with the new reality of limited social interactions, disrupted work, and the ever-present threat of falling ill.

Now, though, the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight. Vaccines and offer a way to reenter the world after more than a year of isolation, rolling lockdowns, and other restrictions. But nearly half of all Americans in a recent survey said that they feel uneasy or distressed when they think about returning to in-person interactions as the pandemic winds down.

This unease is a form of social anxiety – a condition in which social interactions cause anxiety, self-consciousness, and even fear. For people who already have social anxiety, the prospect of venturing out into the world again may make their symptoms worse.

But even people who have never experienced those feelings may be worried about their first encounters with other people, family and friends. Research reveals that cannabidiol, better known as CBD, can help to relieve anxiety from a variety of causes – and it just may help to ease the jitters around those first post-pandemic meetups too.

“Re-Entry Anxiety”: A New Kind of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is recognized as a mental health condition even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020. It’s a type of anxiety disorder which arises from a person’s interactions with other people.

One of the most familiar forms of social anxiety is the discomfort many people feel when they’re in front of an audience, such as public speaking. But this kind of anxiety can strike in many other circumstances, too. For some people, social anxiety strikes during events such as parties or celebrations. Others might feel anxious about making and taking phone calls, or meeting someone new. In all these cases, though, anxiety arises from the feeling that people are judging every move you make, and that you’ll do or say something inappropriate that causes them to laugh or reject you.

As restrictions around the COVID pandemic begin to ease, a new kind of social anxiety is emerging – and it’s just one of the many pandemic-related mental health conditions concerning healthcare professionals.

This “re-entry anxiety” or “reopening anxiety” can come from lingering worries about getting sick or fears that social and workplace skills have become rusty from lack of use.

The idea of returning to the world can produce typical anxiety symptoms such as:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • “Butterflies” in the stomach or nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • “Brain fog,” trouble focusing or a feeling that your mind has gone blank

Mental health experts point out that it’s possible to manage “re-entry anxiety” just like other kinds of anxiety by taking small steps and gradually pushing the limits of your personal comfort zone until social activity becomes less stressful. If anxiety is severe, therapy can help, and so can anxiety medications. But numerous studies show that CBD can also relieve many kinds of anxiety without the problematic side effects of those medications.

How Can CBD Help With Re-Entry Anxiety?

CBD is one of the many compounds in the cannabis sativa plant. It’s non-psychoactive, which means that it doesn’t cause the euphoric high that’s usually associated with cannabis. But it can help to balance mood and support the production of brain chemicals that produce feelings of calm and well-being.

The human body produces cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, and they trigger responses in a sprawling network of receptors found in organs and tissues throughout the body. This endocannabinoid system, or ECS, responds to these natural cannabinoids in order to maintain homeostasis, or balance, in the body’s many subsystems – and it responds in the same way to cannabinoid compounds produced by outside sources such as cannabis.

Some cannabis compounds, such as the psychoactive THC, can directly activate ECS receptors in the brain. But CBD appears to act on many different mood-related brain functions in ways that calm anxiety.

Anandamide is a natural cannabinoid chemical that produces feelings of calm and an upbeat mood. Researchers think that anandamide might be the source of the “runner’s high” resulting from intense exercise. But anandamide’s mood-boosting effects are brief because it’s broken down by a chemical called FAAH. CBD inhibits the effects of FAAH so that anandamide, the so-called “bliss chemical” stays available in the brain for a longer time.

CBD also supports the activity of other neurotransmitters that damp down anxiety. Serotonin is a well-known “feel good” chemical that promotes positive feelings and calm, and CBD also activates the brain’s serotonin receptors. In that way, CBD can supplement the brain’s natural production of serotonin and encourage its mood-boosting effects.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It counters the effects of excitatory chemicals such as cortisol and norepinephrine, which cause agitation and anxiety. CBD supports the production and expression of GABA in the brain so that it’s better able to suppress these anxiety-producing chemicals.

How to Use CBD for Anxiety

You can get the anxiety-relieving benefits of CBD in various ways, including CBD-infused edibles, tinctures, and oils that can be added to foods. Because the skin contains plenty of ECS receptors, topical CBD products such as salves, lotions, and creams can also be useful. Smoking a cannabis strain bred for high levels of CBD can also help relieve anxiety – but it’s essential to keep in mind that strains containing significant amounts of THC alongside CBD can also trigger anxiety in some people. A few great strains that contain high CBD are: Harlequin, ACDC and Charlotte's Web.

Psychologists say that it’s normal to feel anxious about stepping back into the world once the pandemic is past. “Re-entry anxiety” may not look the same for everyone, but CBD in all its many forms could make it easier to manage in-person encounters once again.

  • Anxiety
  • CBD
  • Depression