What is Stress from – medical point of view
Stress is the body’s natural and instinctual reaction to physical or emotional stimuli that are perceived as potentially dangerous and/or harmful. Short bursts of situational stress are essential in the avoidance of danger, spurring action, and performing optimally. This is due to survival mode being activated through the primal reptilian brain, releasing hormones that flood make the higher functioning cortical regions, increasing alertness, and readying the body with a fight-or-flight response.
Stress typically comes in two forms:
Acute stress, which is the normal, high-grade stress with a fast onset, gets the heart pumping and subsides quickly. This kind of stress is experienced in high-stress situations such as having to slam on brakes or a roller coaster ride. It ensures alertness in times of danger but can also occur when doing something fun or exciting.
Chronic stress is a low-grade but omnipresent level of stress that lasts much longer than a single episode. It will often stem from an ongoing worry or concern such as money trouble or relationship issues. Any type of stress that goes on for weeks or months is considered chronic. If stressful stimuli are constant, the body’s stress response becomes chronic with it continuously being in a state of high alert, with stress hormones building up over time. This can cause health complications, both mentally and physically, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Depression or anxiety
- Skin problems, such as acne or eczema
- Menstrual problems in women
In severe cases, stress-related disorders can result as an atypical response to both short- and long-term stress due to physical, mental, and/or emotional stress. These can include acute stress disorder, more commonly referred to as panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Both of these are serious conditions with debilitating symptoms that can have an immensely negative impact on sufferers. As such, we will discuss these separately in other articles.
Symptoms of Stress
Stress can cause many types of physical and emotional symptoms, with many people not even realizing that many issues are being caused by stress. These can include symptoms such as:
- Upset stomach, diarrhea, or constipation
- Lack of focus and energy
- Sexual issues
- Stiff neck or jaw
- Chronic tiredness and fatigue
- Problems sleeping, either sleeping too much or too little
- Aches and pains with no clear source
- Use of alcohol or drugs to relax
- Weight loss or gain
Stress Medications & Treatments
The treatment of chronic stress conditions usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes, self-help, psychological interventions, and sometimes medications. The type of recommended treatment is often based on the severity of symptoms and the person’s response to it.
Medications are usually only prescribed in cases where moderate-to-severe chronic stress has a detrimental effect on the individual’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. The most prescribed anti-stress medications are selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as paroxetine, fluoxetine, and citalopram. They work by increasing the serotonin levels, which are thought to enhance the mood that allows the individual to handle stress better. However, SSRIs also come with a set of side-effects ranging from relatively benign headaches, nausea, and dry-mouth, to severe such as increasing the risk of self-harm and even suicide.
In cases where SSRIs are ineffective, sleeping pills and sedatives like Benzodiazepines are prescribed. These include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), triazolam (Halcion), temazepam (Restoril), and chlordiazepoxide (Librium). However, just like SSRIs, these come with side effects that include drowsiness and impaired coordination, dizziness, trembling, confusion, vision problems, headaches as well as feelings of depression.
Sometimes other medications to treat physical symptoms of stress such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or high blood pressure are also necessary.
Non-pharmaceutical interventions can include dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as psychotherapeutic interventions. Using a combination of these that are appropriate for the individual is usually effective in reducing symptoms and the treatment of mild-to-moderate chronic stress.
Dietary and lifestyle changes include things like regular exercise, limiting social media, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and eating a healthy, balanced diet. Often herbal supplements such as kava root, passionflower, lemon balm, theanine, valerian root, lavender, and chamomile are thought to have some anti-stress and anxiety properties while B-Vitamins can help keep focus, energy, and mood levels up.
Alternative therapies can help the individual deal with self-regulating stress responses. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT tapping) which is similar to acupuncture and focuses on meridian points, is thought to restore balance to your body’s energy and to reduce stress. Similarly, breathing exercises have been shown to have an immediate impact on stress reduction while other relaxation techniques such as meditation, massage, and acupuncture can help with daily relaxation.
Likewise, psychotherapeutic interventions such as talk therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy with a trained counselor can help the individual find strategies to deal with stressful events and situations.
CBD for Stress
Research & Scientific Evidence for using CBD for Stress
The clinical evidence for cannabidiol (CBD) as a viable treatment option for several of the symptoms of chronic stress is promising. However, most of what is known about CBD for stress comes from studies investigating other conditions (e.g., anxiety), from which we can deduce how CBD may help reduce the symptoms of chronic anxiety in humans.
In a literature review published in The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2002, the authors found that several research groups independently discovered that Cannabidiol (CBD) has sedative and anti-anxiety properties suggesting it as being a viable treatment option for several of the symptoms of chronic stress.
From the literature, they found that CBD improved avoidance learning in stressful situations, decreased the occurrence of stress-induced ulcers, decreased response suppression in punished response tasks as well as reduced conditioned anxiety-like behavior in aversion models in mice.
From this, the authors concluded that CBD presents with powerful sedative and anxiolytic effects. However, from the literature, CBD dosages were vital due to the biphasic nature of their effects. For instance, 2,5 – 10 mg of CBD per kilogram effectively reduces stress markers, while dosages of 20 mg/kg d not produce any effects.
In a 2003 double-blind clinical study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers wanted to investigate the anxiolytic effects of CBD using functional neuroimaging to measure regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) over two sessions.
10 healthy participants were divided into two experimental groups. During the first session, subjects were given an oral dose of CBD (400 mg) or a placebo in a double-blind procedure. In the second session, the same procedure was performed using the drug that had not been administered in the previous session. The researchers used SPECT imaging to assess rCBF with within-subject, between-condition comparisons being performed.
They found that CBD has a significant effect on rCBF in the hypothalamus which is a major component of the central autonomic nervous system and is often involved in mediating the effects of stress. Similarly, the posterior cingulate cortex, which is activated during symptom provocation in post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.
A more recent 2006 animal study published in Behavioural Brain Research investigated the effects of CBD and diazepam on behavioral and cardiovascular responses induced by contextually conditioned fear in rats.
In this experiment, the rats were divided into an experimental and a control group. The experimental group was submitted to a 10 min. fear conditioning session, after which they exhibited more freezing behavior and a larger increase in blood pressure and heart rate as compared to non-conditioned animals. Before the test session, both experimental groups were given either diazepam or CBD.
The data showed that the fear behavior in the experimental group was attenuated by CBD and diazepam in the conditioned animals while not having any effect on the non-conditioned rats. This led the researchers to conclude that CBD reduces behavioral and physiological stress responses in a similar manner as diazepam in a conditioned fear to context.
Anecdotal Evidence for using CBD for stress
Anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD helps induce feelings of relaxation and overall well-being that can be beneficial for people dealing with chronic stress as the following testimonials attest to.
CBD as a Complementary Treatment for Stress
While the research suggesting that CBD can help reduce psychological, physiological, and behavioral stress responses, it can also help attenuate many of the other symptoms people with chronic stress have to deal with.
Sleep problems are often one of the first things that affect chronic stress sufferers. This is often due to the constant feelings of anxiety that accompanies stress. However, in one large case series study investigating the effects of CBD on anxiety and sleep, the results indicate that CBD helps improve sleep and/or anxiety in a clinical population. CBD can further support people suffering from stress by helping to promote REM sleep that is thought to help improve mood overall and help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Similarly, CBD’s analgesic properties can help with pain-related complaints like headaches and unspecified aches and pains.
Both scientific and anecdotal evidence indicates that CBD can reduce physiological, behavioral, and psychological responses to stress. Researchers believe that CBD’s anxiolytic effects along with the mediation of endocannabinoid and 5-HT1A receptors account for this. However, more research is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn. It is also important to remember that stress can become a serious, chronic condition that can have a long-term impact on health. If you or a loved one are suffering from chronic stress, talk to your medical practitioner. He or she can help put together a plan that includes CBD along with other treatment options to help you deal with it safely and effectively.