‘All things in moderation’ is a generally good rule to live by. A healthy diet with the odd treat, a balance of work and play, even a small amount of stress is good for you, encouraging the growth of new neurons and reminding your body to enjoy a little competition or excitement now and again. But, all stress is not created equal. While ‘good stress’ (known as eustress) is a part of what makes us humans tick, chronic stress or acute stress can be extremely damaging to health and wellbeing –triggering premature ageing, illness and even death.
Eustress can be accessed via ‘positive’ stressful activities, such as exercise, sex and feeling the fear and doing it anyway – perhaps going for a job interview, taking part in a competition or, for the more adventurous, sky diving or rock climbing. But prolonged stress or traumatic stress often leads to a flooding of cortisol in the body and, in many cases, an inability to switch off the ‘fight or flight’ response, which can lead to your brain and body receiving minor shocks (even a phone ringing or knock at the door) as a life-threatening event.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria slammed into the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, devastating a 38-acre islet called Cayo Santiago, which is home to a colony of some 1,500 rhesus monkeys. Researchers at the University of Washington compared blood samples taken from the monkeys before and after the post-traumatic event of the Hurricane and found that this immense stress appeared to have affected their immune system in ways that accelerate the ageing process.
Marina Watowich, the lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of Washington, told Scientific American the adult macaques that lived through the hurricane showed changes in their DNA corresponding with monkeys two years older than them. When scaled to humans' current average lifespan, that difference in gene expression translates to a whopping seven to eight years of human life.
While living through an extreme natural disaster is, fortunately, not something many of us have been through, the type of stress experienced by the rhesus monkeys is not subject specific. Acute, traumatic stress could come from any number of things – a car accident, a death of a loved one, COVID or war, like we’re currently seeing in the Ukraine. These sorts of incidences can also lead to a more common form of stress, chronic (long term) stress, which is often triggered when we experience something new or unexpected, that threatens our sense of self, or leaves us feeling like we have little control over a situation.
While the stress response is in and of itself a positive thing, designed to protect us from imminent threat of a predator perhaps, back in our hunter gatherer days, today it’s rarely produced for its real purpose. Stress rarely occurs in a moment that we genuinely need it to survive anymore and, as a result, we’re left with an incomplete cycle. The fight or flight response switches on, and it stays on – unless we do something about it.
While we all deal with stress differently, and our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, long-term or chronic stress can severely affect every system in your body.
Professor Janet Lord, from the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham says "We know physical and emotional stress ages people, not just immunologically but also biologically." In a study performed by Lord, it was noted that older adults who suffer hip fractures show measurable ageing of their immune systems 6 months after the event.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the unprecedented circumstances we’ve found ourselves in over the past few years – facing climate change, war, COVID and alarming levels of poverty and essential bill increases – anxiety, a condition characterised by prolonged stress, is at an all time high. Between 20 and 30 March 2020 almost half (49.6%) of people in the U.K reported high anxiety and average anxiety scores were 5.2 out of 10, a marked increase from 3.0 in the last quarter of 2019. Demand for alcohol has increased, presumably as many people associate its use with relaxation. Sleep or the lack of quality sleep has become a significant issue globally, indicated by the number of Google search queries for insomnia which increased worldwide by 58% during the first five months of 2020 compared with the same months in the previous years.
It's clear that we all need to be working towards reducing stress levels, but how?
Recognising when stress is a problem is key, as is building supportive relationships, which was demonstrated as a natural instinct when the monkeys broadened their social networks following the Hurricane. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is also a must, as is opting for mindful lifestyle habits like keeping smoking and alcohol to a minimum, taking regular exercise and making regular wellbeing exercises, like meditation or mindfulness, part of your routine.
In addition to these habits, there are also a number of supplements shown to reduce and manage stress, such as functional mushrooms, adaptogens and high quality cannabinoid products.
CBD oil products such as CBD oral drops, CBD patches, CBD capsules and CBD gummies are now up there with the world’s most popular supplements for combatting stress. But, how does it work?
The potential of the full spectrum of over 140 cannabinoids, as well as terpenes and flavonoids are vast and many experts believe these can all work together in synergy to produce ‘the entourage effect’. However, even CBD and CBG isolates, for example, have sprawling mechanisms within the body that can help keep the fight or flight response in check.
As well as directly activating serotonin receptors, the CBD molecule has a unique interaction with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) – a physiological system made up of receptors and neurotransmitters called ‘endocannabinoids’, which can be found throughout the body and brain, that works to achieve balance in all bodily processes. Interestingly, it’s thought that chronic stress can lead to an endocannabinoid deficiency, which can then lead to a wide range of issues including (you guessed it) more stress!
Fortunately, we now know that by inhibiting the enzyme that ordinarily breaks down one key endocannabinoid, Anandamide, the CBD molecule helps to support the ECS and encourage a boost in endocannabinoids. This is great news when it comes to keeping stress at bay, because Anandamide acts rather like a gate-keeper for stress in the brain, relaying when it’s appropriate to trigger the fight or flight response, and when it’s not. When Anandamide levels are low, there’s nothing to prevent this cascade. When Anandamide levels are healthy, as can be promoted through the support of CBD, our brain can be re-trained to only release cortisol when absolutely necessary.
Although CBD can be an effective tool for helping to manage stress, it’s important to understand dosage and the most effective ways to utilise the benefits for best results. Cannabinoids are very dose dependent, as demonstrated by one 2014 study that showed while 300mg CBD was effective at reducing stress, 600mg made no significant difference. Bioavailability (the amount of the drug that becomes active in the body) is also a vital point, as is onset of effects. These are just a few reasons why not all CBD products are made equal – anecdotally, some products can be life-changing, whereas other appear to have little to no effect.
If you’re thinking of developing a CBD product to help make life a little less stressful, make sure you do it the right way. Get in touch with us here at True North Labs – we’ll set you on the right path. We specialise in effective, cannabinoid formulations linked to clear objectives. Let our lab team discuss the type of products best suited for your drivers and motivations.
P.S. A lot of people turning to Smoking or Vaping to control anxiety. If you are smoking, maybe consider trying CBD vaping as an alternative. See our article Are you wondering whether or not vaping is right for you?