The Science Behind CBD and Anxiety Relief

June 16, 2021

How does CBD affect anxiety?

We are going to dive into the science behind CBD’s affect on anxiety, helping you better understand what’s at play when you drop that dose. Our belief is that the more you understand about how CBD does what it does, the more sovereignty you have over your health and wellness.

Knowledge is the most powerful tool you have in defending against scammy products or fancy marketing that distracts from the facts, so we want to help you own that power and feel confident as a CBD consumer.

A Straight Shootin’ Disclaimer

“Can CBD help ______?”. Fill in the blank with literally anything and the default answer these days seems to be “yes”. That’s because cannabinoids like CBD truly do have profound therapeutic potential, BUT there is a lot to unpack there. For example, studies have found that effective doses to manage epilepsy hover around 600mg per day, while effective doses to manage anxiety can range from 20mg to 300mg, depending on the type of anxiety disorder being targeted (Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, OCD, PTSD, etc).

cannabis leaves tinctures and test tubes

There is a great deal of nuance to consider when talking about the effectiveness of cannabinoid therapies. How much CBD should you take? What’s the best way to consume it? How do physiological and lifestyle variables factor into those recommendations? These are all questions that still need to be answered.

While more research is needed before we can truly say we understand how to best treat varying anxiety disorders with CBD, the existing anecdoatal evidence is glaring.

Over 30% of Americans have now tried CBD and, aside from pain, anxiety is the most common ailment they are aiming to treat. The market growth speaks for itself. CBD has been able to “catch on” at such an extreme rate because of the simple fact that users do indeed see results.

Although we still need more clarity around important details like dosing parameters, there is a significant amount of scientific evidence that does confirm CBD’s general ability to reduce anxiety. So, let’s dig in to the different ways CBD carries out those anxiety-relieving actions.

CBD: The Ultimate Influencer

CBD has been proven to act upon over 60 different molecular targets throughout the body. While CBD does not bind directly to the receptors of the Endocannabinoid System, it does have a lot of influence on the system’s condition and tone.


Cher Horowitz Clueless movie

Cannabidiol (CBD), like THC, is a phytocannabinoid, meaning it is produced by the cannabis plant. Phytocannabinoids serve to supplement the functions of endocannabinoids, endogenous cannabinoids that our bodies produce on their own. By influencing the activity of the endogenous cannabinoids that bind directly to our bodies’ endocannabinoid receptors, CBD is able to indirectly activate the endocannabinoid system and optimize its regulatory function throughout our bodies.

That’s not all! CBD’s influence reaches way beyond the endocannabinoid system, affecting the behavior of the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that are responsible for things like anxiety, mood, inflammation, appetite and sleep.

Protecting the Power of Anandamide

Endogenous cannabninoids act as keys to the endocannabinoid system’s network of receptors, unlocking the system’s vast potential of balancing benefits.

Anandamide is the most well understood and recognized endocannabinoid, fueling our ECS to perform its crucial role of manintaining homeostasis, our bodies ideal state of balance. The word ‘anandamide’ comes from the sanskrit ‘ananda’. ‘Ananda’ roughly translates to ‘bliss’, an indication of the cannabinoid’s mood enhancing abilities.

Our bodies create anandamide on demand when we begin to move away from homeostasis. Anandamide helps restore our optimal balance by binding to ECS receptors, regulating inflammation & neuron signaling, and spurring the formation of new neurons.

Just one problem: it’s fragile. Anandamide can be broken down quite easily and doesn’t stick around in the body for very long. That’s where CBD comes into play…

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CBD functions as an anandamide reuptake and breakdown inhibitor, meaning it has the ability to keep more of the endocannabinoid active in our systems for longer. This function is carried out by CBD’s ability to block the action of an enzyme called FAAH.

FAAH is the enzyme responsible for the rapid breakdown of anandamide in our bodies. By preventing FAAH from getting its grubby little hands on anandamide, CBD promotes a greater activation of the endocannabinoid system, which results in greater feelings of well-being and overall balance.

Ain’t nothing but a G thing, baby

Another way that CBD affects anxiety and mood is through its actions outside of the ECS. Namely, its ability to inhibit or enhance the binding action of certain G-protein coupled receptors.

WTF are G-protein coupled receptors? Glad you asked!

G-protein coupled receptors mediate most of our cellular responses to external stimuli. In other words, they receive signals from outside of the cell and translate them to allow the cell to respond accordingly.

CBD directly activates the 5HT1a Serotonin receptor, a G-protein coupled receptor that is involved in a range of biological and neurological processes, including (but not limited to) anxiety, sleep, addiction, appetite, pain perception, and nausea. These recceptors are usually activated by the neurotransmitter Serotonin. Common anti-anxety medications are classified as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), which influence anxiety levels by influencing the activity of serotonin at these receptor sites.

Through its direct activation of these receptor sites, CBD is able to function similarly to these commonly prescribed class of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication like Prozac or Zoloft.

To be clear, we do not recommend simply replacing your prescription medication with CBD. Always speak with your doctor or pharmacist before making any adjustments to prescribed medications.


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CBD interacts with the GABA-A receptor, helping to make the receptor site a more welcoming home for its native activator (aka soulmate), gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). A sexier receptor site not only attracts GABA more effectively, it makes it stick around for longer.

GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in our central nervous system. We like to think of it as your body’s brake pedal, allowing you to slow down. GABA is the messenger telling your nervous system to relax, settling down rampant nervous system activity that is at the root of those racing thoughts and pounding heart beat. GABA signals your Autonomic Nervous System to switch off the ‘fight or flight’ stress response and switch on the ‘rest and digest’ recovery mode. The more GABA is active in your system and binding to those GABA-A receptor sites, the more effective and pronounced that calming response becomes.

Common sedating medications like Valium, which fall into the category of benzodiazepines (“benzos”), work by manipulating GABA activity. There is a key difference between how benzos and CBD work when it comes to GABA activation though.

Rather than flooding your system with GABA like benzos do, CBD reduces anxiety by actually changing the shape of the GABA-A receptor in a way that amplifies the natural calming effect of GABA without getting you stuck in that ‘flood, deplete, repeat’ cycle.

How TONIC accounts for CBD’s “unknowns”

The O.G. and Chill (and Flex, but we’ll save that for another time) were thoughtfully designed to take a lot of the guesswork out of CBD. The most amazing thing about CBD is also the most challening – it carries out such a diverse array of actions throughout the body, but it can be hard to focus that action on one target inparticular. To address that variability, we use a mindful selection of botanicals that support CBD in very specific ways in order to produce more targeted, consistent results.

The O.G.

The O.G. TONIC features ashwagandha root, an adaptogen that is on the same mission as CBD: get you in the Goldilocks Zone where everything is just right. They both increase your capacity to handle mental and physical stress; they both balance mood and energy levels; they both promote healthier sleep cycles; they both improve mental clarity, but the key is that they take varying paths to get there.

Woman using a TONIC cbd tincture the og cbd and ashwagandha

Ashwagandha affects your Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis to a higher degree than CBD. While CBD is letting the anandamide get to work and taking care of serotonin activity, ashwagandha is handling your hormones. Ashwagandha has been shown to lower cortisol levels.

Cortisol is the stress hormone that can cause a lot of damage when chronically elevated. Unfortunately, most of us are dealing with chronically elevated cortisol as a result of just being alive these days. When cortisol is high, so is norepinephrine and noradrenaine. Remember when we said GABA is like your brake pedal? Well, norepinephrine, noradrenaline and cortisol are like the accelerator. They are putting you into overdrive and into full on fight or flight mode.

Ashwagandha not only lowers cortisol to help you break the cycle, it also crosses paths with CBD to keep those GABA and serotonin levels in check. Remember: GABA is what signals your body to get out of fight or flight and into rest and digest, so it is an important one!


Chill TONIC features the dynamic duo of CBD and ashwagandha as well, but takes the calming effects up a notch with the addition of lemon balm and passionflower, as well as a higher dose of CBD.

The goal with Chill was to take the incredible benefits and efficacy of The O.G., but make it more geared for nighttime use or for more severe anxiety. So, the goal was to really push CBD and ashwagandha’s ability to affect nervous system activity. It needed something that was going to really enhance the sedating effects of CBD.

man holding Chill TONIC CBD

One more time – what is our bodies’ brake pedal? GABA! What allows CBD to provide calming, sleep-supporting benefits? It’s ability to increase GABA activity! So, what do we do to make sure that we have that action covered and then some? We add herbs that naturally promote GABA activity and receptivity in the same way CBD can!

Lemon balm and passionflower have been shown to be incredibly effective natural methods for managing anxiety and insomnia. This is all (well, mostly) due to their influence on that GABA GABA Good Stuff.


We hope this helps you have a better understanding of how CBD actually works and why our formulas are formulated the way they are. Everything we do is purposeful and done with the true intention of creating a better way to feel better.

Peace and love!

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