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Endocannabinoid Tone and Stress

Endocannabinoids or CBD for Stress?

Stress is the body's natural reaction to any situation that is or could be a threat.

It makes you aware of the problem but may feel overwhelming and can lead to feelings of anxiety or depression.

When a threat occurs, an area of the brain called the amygdala sends signals to the adrenal glands to release stress hormones.

These hormones prepare the body to take action; this is known as the flight or fight response.

However, what one person may perceive as a threat another may not.

This is because we each experience different negative experiences that can build fear associations with specific situations.

Consequently, anything that triggers a negative association may also trigger a stress response.

For most people, stress is a common experience and many of us have experienced it to a level that affects our quality of life.

In 2018 a UK survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of adults 'have at some point over the past year felt so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope'. 

 Symptoms of stress include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • muscle pain
  • stomach pain
  • increased heart rate
  • chest pains
  • low concentration
  • low libido
  • indecision
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • anxiety
  • lack of sleep or too much sleep

Situations that can cause prolonged or regular bouts of stress include:

  • genetics
  • our personal experiences
  • relationship problems
  • big life events
  • money worries
  • health concerns
  • problems at work
  • feeling isolated

Stress can be classified into three common categories:

  • Acute stress
  • Episodic acute stress
  • Chronic stress

What is CBD?

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Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many natural compounds (cannabinoids) found in plants of the cannabis family.

It's often extracted from hemp to be used as a natural health supplement in the form of oils, capsules, e-liquids or gummies. 

When CBD is consumed, it is transported in the blood to the cells and tissues.

Then it interacts with receptors and enzymes to support the body's ability to send chemical messages and maintain a state of healthy balance.

Learn more about CBD with our guide: CBD 101 – Everything you need to know

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What are Endocannabinoids?

Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring neurotransmitters found throughout the bodies of humans and animals.

They're similar in structure to the cannabinoids found in cannabis plants.

They bind with receptors in the nervous system to send chemical messages and modulate the signals sent between nerve cells.

Find out more about endocannabinoids: A deeper look at the endocannabinoid system

CBD and Your Endocannabinoid Tone

Endocannabinoid Tone

Endocannabinoid tone is the level of potential endocannabinoid activity in your body and the ability of your endocannabinoid system (ECS) to respond to any problems.

When you take CBD, it blocks the breakdown of endocannabinoids which stimulates your ECS and contributes to raising your endocannabinoid tone.

CBD Oil can raise your Endocannabinoid Tone

A low endocannabinoid tone means that your body is unlikely to be able to respond to changes and health issues as effectively as when the tone is medium or high. As a result, you may feel unwell or more stressed. 

To learn more about your endocannabinoid tone, you can read our article: Endocannabinoid Tone and CBD.

Key terms:

CB1 and CB2 – These are the most common endocannabinoid receptors.

  • CB1 is found in the central nervous system.
  • CB2 is present in the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous systems and in immune cells throughout the body

Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) – These are endocannabinoid signalling molecules present in humans and animals. They can interact with a range of chemical receptors, including CB1 and CB2.

Acute Stress and your Endocannabinoid Tone

Acute Stress

Acute stress is a short term physiological response to a situation that could be a challenge or threat.

The sensation usually lasts for up to 30 minutes and the experience is usually linked to a one-off or infrequent occurrence.

For example, acute stress could include your body's reaction to:

  • An approaching deadline
  • Completing a challenge or receiving an award
  • Narrowly avoiding being hit by a car
  • Rising on a rollercoaster or fairground ride

When your body responds to acute stress, it releases various hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine.

Together cortisol and epinephrine prepare your body to respond to the danger by giving your muscles an immediate supply of glucose, narrowing blood vessels and increasing heart rate.

Endocannabinoid Tone with Epinephrine and Cortisol

Studies have found that endocannabinoid tone directly affects the level of cortisol and epinephrine and provides greater control over them during times of stress.

For example, people with a naturally high endocannabinoid tone experience a smaller heart rate increase during a stress response than those with a lower tone.

Naturally high endocannabinoid tone

This is likely due to the endocannabinoids exerting a modulating influence over the release of hormones.

This was verified in 1993 when research scientists found that people with a medium or naturally high endocannabinoid tone secreted less cortisol.

This could indicate that people with a naturally high endocannabinoid have a less intense physiological response to acute stress.

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Episodic Acute Stress and your Endocannabinoid Tone

Episodic Acute Stress

Episodic acute stress occurs when situations that trigger acute stress happen frequently.

There are only short periods between each stressful situation which enhances the emotional component of the stress response.

This can lead to worries and anxiety.

Episodic acute stress is common in people with high-stress jobs or a hectic home life.

When a person experiences regular episodes of acute stress, many parts of their brain must work together to produce the correct response.

It's been found that a medium or naturally high endocannabinoid tone supports effective communication between many of these brain structures involved in controlling your stress response, including the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala and the hypothalamus.

prefrontal cortex

When endocannabinoids bind with receptors, they can adjust the release of hormones and chemical signalling molecules. 

Studies have concluded that this control allows them to modulate the communication between the physiological and emotional responses to stress.

This ensures that when stress occurs, the brain produces the appropriate behavioural response.

With episodic acute stress, the frequency of each episode causes a greater emotional response.

It's likely that a higher endocannabinoid tone may address this by reducing the emotional and behavioural effects of each incidence of stress.

Chronic Stress and your Endocannabinoid Tone

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is long term condition that can have an almost continuous effect on your quality of life.

It is usually the result of a stressful situation that lasts for a long time. 

This type of stress can produce feelings of being overwhelmed and has a significantly detrimental effect on health.

People who experience chronic stress are likely to suffer from anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weak immune system.

Studies have found that chronic stress may also change the structure of some areas in the brain.

When a stress response is triggered, the amygdala signals to the hippocampus.

When this occurs regularly in a brain suffering from chronic stress, the hippocampus reduces in size and its ability to carry out some tasks is impaired.

However, scientists have discovered that a naturally high endocannabinoid tone can reduce these changes by promoting the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus.

Consequently, this reduces the long term effects of chronic stress, reduces anxiety and promotes recovery. 

Some studies have also linked this action to a reduction in the anxiety experienced by those with chronic stress.

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