Anxiety disorders are one of the biggest issues currently facing Americans today with an estimated 40 million US adults said to be suffering from one or more related conditions.
Whilst anxiety and depression are two of the most commonly known conditions, panic disorders while affecting more than 6 million Americans, are far less commonly discussed and remain something of a mystery for many of the general public.
However, recent studies have emerged that suggest CBD could well provide an alternative and effective treatment method for a variety of anxiety disorders and panic attacks.
Before we look at the potential of CBD, let’s first understand what Panic Disorders actually are.
What is a Panic Disorder?
Panic Disorder is defined as an anxiety disorder that is characterized by sudden attacks of fear and panic. Panic attacks can occur randomly, without reason, but are more commonly brought on by fear-inducing events like exams or being confined to a cramped space.
An estimated 2.7% of the American population currently experience panic attacks while women are said to be twice as likely to suffer from the condition.
During an attack, an individual will likely suffer from at least four of the symptoms detailed below:
- Dizziness or faintness
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Numbness or tingling in the feet, hands, or face
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Fear of losing control or impending doom
- Feelings of detachment or isolation
- A fear of dying
- A sensation of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of unreality
- Palpitations, fast heart rate, or pounding heart
- Trembling or shaking
- Sweating, chills, or hot flashes
Panic disorders are believed to be caused by an abnormal activation of the hormonal system that causes a rapid “fight or flight response” in sufferers of the condition.
Panic attacks can last for several minutes or longer and are hard to predict both in their timing and in their formulation.
While some people may pass out when they suffer a level of anxiety that draws an attack, others will have issues with their breathing or may even begin to sob heavily. An angry or violent reaction is also common in these types of attacks.
At present, treatment for Panic Disorder includes medication such as long-term selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and while current treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and the use of medication have helped some, many others continue to search for an effective treatment for their ongoing condition.
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Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack - What’s the Difference?
The terms panic attack and anxiety attack are used interchangeably, with many assuming them to be one in the same, but they are, in fact, different conditions.
There are some important characteristics that distinguish one from the other, however, they also share several of the same symptoms. These types of attacks both have different intensities and durations.
Panic attacks are generally considered to be more intense than anxiety attacks. They can occur randomly and involve very intense and often overwhelming feelings of fear. Physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat or shortness of breath are also common.
The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) that serves as an authoritative guide, that helps define and classify mental disorders, in order to help practitioners diagnose and treat disorders, now recognizes panic attacks and categorizes them as either unexpected or expected.
Unexpected attacks occur without any obvious cause, last usually a matter of minutes and can occur without any apparent rhyme or reason, while expected panic attacks are brought on by external stressors, such as phobias or fears.
While a Panic attack can happen to anyone, it is thought that more than one occurrence of such an incident would suggest a potential panic disorder.
Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, are often associated with a trigger. They are typically brought on by stressors that may have built up over a few days, weeks or even months.
While anxiety attacks are considered to be less severe than panic attacks, they can actually last for a long time and cause enormous difficulties for the sufferer in their day to day life. Symptoms of these attacks are distress, worry, and fear.
These symptoms of anxiety are linked to numerous mental health conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and trauma.
Anxiety attacks, though are not recognized within the recently published DSM-5. They do, however, define anxiety as a feature of a number of common psychiatric disorders. Anxiety is usually related to the anticipation of a stressful situation, experience, or event and may progress slowly over a longer period of time.
Unfortunately, the lack of a diagnostic recognition in the DSM-5 means that the symptoms of an anxiety attack are much more open to interpretation.
For example, one person may describe having an “anxiety attack” and report symptoms that are entirely different from another person who also describes having an “anxiety attack”. It is certainly something of a grey area and needs to be clarified in the coming months and years.
Could CBD be the Answer?
A study conducted in 2015 suggested that CBD could be a potential treatment for numerous forms of anxiety, including panic disorder and an increasing amount of CBD users are now reporting that CBD can possibly help with these types of issues.
CBD could well prove a vital treatment for panic disorder because of its unique interaction with the endocannabinoid system.
Those that suffer from a panic disorder usually have a highly active fear response as well as a strong “fear memory”. Panic attacks usually occur when the brain is overwhelmed with fear and begins to send so many warning signals that it cannot actually process them
CBD is said to elevate an endocannabinoid called anandamide which actually helps to reduce the number of fear signals being transmitted and therefore helps to calm the brain down.
Given this knowledge, there is real hope that CBD could help with Panic Disorder by regulating the brain's chemistry through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system.
If correct, this could help to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety in sufferers of the condition.
The report also indicated that CBD could help to reduce panic thanks to its interaction with the serotonin receptors in the dorsal periaqueductal gray area of the brain (the area responsible for our fear and emotion).
The 2015 study concluded that “current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders, with a need for further study of chronic and therapeutic effects in relevant clinical populations”.
More analysis is necessary to determine if CBD could help to provide a genuine alternative to existing treatment methods, but on current evidence, there certainly seems to be significant potential in the use of CBD for a multitude of anxiety conditions, including that of panic disorder.