What is Hangxiety? The Science Behind it and How CBD Can Help

January 05, 2020

GABA (relaxation) glutamate (excitement) and noradrenaline (fight or flight) are the primary victims of alcohol’s yo-yo effect…

…and, hey guess what?! CBD helps to regulate these neuro-chemical messengers without the risk of falling into the same cycles of flooding and depleting.

Hangxiety – in case the headache wasn’t bad enough…

the hangover movie

Hangxiety: a term that describes the heightened anxiety that you feel after a night of drinking.

It is caused by your body’s attempt to rebalance the chemical changes that alcohol created the night before.

David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, is the scientist who was fired in 2009 as the government’s chief drug adviser for saying alcohol is more dangerous than ecstasy and LSD.

When Nutt explains the mechanics of how alcohol causes crippling anxiety, he points to some pretty specific neuro-chemical reactions.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)

GABA effect in brain https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fgabatea.asia%2Fwhat-is-gaba-tea-why-is-it-so-good-for-you%2F&psig=AOvVaw2XlhXyVzmEcUphaM-spWph&ust=1578332418203000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCLDoqPaA7eYCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAK

Alcohol targets the GABA receptor, which sends chemical messages through the brain and central nervous system to inhibit the activity of nerve cells.

Put simply, it calms the brain, reducing excitement by making fewer neurons fire. “Alcohol stimulates Gaba, which is why you get relaxed and cheerful when you drink,” explains Nutt.


After the first couple of drinks, that GABA is flowing and you’re starting to feel relaxed.

The next couple of drinks is when you really start to let loose, and that is due to the next phase of neurotransmitter activity: the inhibition of Glutatamate.

Glutamate is the main excitatory transmitter in the brain.

glutamate and gaba - the importance of their relationship via nourished blessings blog

After 3 or 4 drinks your brain starts to block glutamate.  

“More glutamate means more anxiety,” says Nutt. “Less glutamate means less anxiety.” This is why, he says, “when people get very drunk, they’re even less anxious than when they’re a bit drunk” – not only does alcohol reduce the chatter in your brain by stimulating GABA, but it further reduces your anxiety by blocking glutamate. (The Guardian)


Alcohol also causes a small rise in noradrenaline – known as the fight-or-flight hormone.

“Noradrenaline suppresses stress when you first take it, and increases it in withdrawal,” says Nutt. “Severe anxiety can be considered a surge of noradrenaline in the brain.”

Again, there is a chemical reaction happening while the alcohol is kicking in and first streaming through your bloodstream that is causing you feel like you don’t have a care in the world.

But, in reality (and scientifically) they are bringing you up just to create a further fall once the drinks stop flowing.

Withdrawal: Your Body’s Attempt to Rebalance

Your body registers this new brain-chemical imbalance (higher GABA, less glutamate, changing noradrenaline levels) and attempts to put things right.

Think about what happens when you go too hard on the sweets:

Your body goes into insulin-producing overdrive to get the blood sugar levels down to normal; as soon as the sweets have been digested, all that insulin causes your blood sugar to crash.

When you are drunk, your body goes on a mission to bring GABA levels down to normal and turn glutamate back up to correct the imbalance.

So, when you stop drinking, you end up with unnaturally low GABA function and a spike in glutamate – a situation that leads to anxiety, says Nutt. “It leads to seizures as well, which is why people have fits in withdrawal.”

CBD and the Good Kind of Retrograde

Let’s hit the obvious points first:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) can help regulate GABA levels to increase relaxation
  • CBD blocks glutamate in order to reduce anxiety
  • CBD affects your stress response by regulating synaptic activity of noradrenaline and serotonin.

This is all great, but didn’t we just say this is exactly what alcohol does?

So, what is the difference between CBD creating these chemical reactions vs. when they are alcohol-induced?

It’s all about Retrograde Signaling and plasticity: the true power of the Endocannabinoid System.

Retrograde Signaling

The endocannabinoid system was the first retrograde system discovered.  

Endocannabinoids are ligands (molecules) that act as signaling messengers.

The special thing about endocannabinoids?

They do not follow the typical path for chemical synaptic signaling:

  • Usually, a neurotransmitter flows from a presynaptic neuron to a postsynaptic neuron and attach to a specific receptor. 
    • Remember in science class, when you learned about neurotransmitters, the analogy of a lock and key was always used to describe how the chemical messenger fits into the appropriate receptor site? That sums up the traditional path.

Instead, what is seen with endocannabinoids is: retrograde inhibition.  (Lab Roots)

  • The ligands (EC molecules) will travel backward from the postsynaptic neuron to the presynaptic neuron.

Endocannabinoids can actually change the neurotransmitter activity between synapses by regulating the signals being released from the presynaptic site – not just by blocking or receiving the signals at the receptor site.

They are controlling what messages are being sent, not just how they are being received.

Retrograde signaling increases action potential (activity) from the presynaptic neuron.

The result: increased number of receptors at the postsynaptic neuron. 

  • Promotes binding with the neurotransmitters being released at the presynaptic neuron.

Another increase of neurotransmission will be triggered until:

  • Communication is strong AF
  • Higher resolution synapses are formed
  • Plasticity is achieved.

Create Lasting Change

Plasticity is the important thing to understand here:

  • The brain’s to adapt to new information in order to actually create lasting change.

This is why there is no known risk for dependence when it comes to CBD use; no withdrawls.

It’s like the old saying: “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

  • Alcohol “feeds” you temporarily, while Endocannabinoids are teaching your brain how “to fish”.

The role of endocannabinoids as a way for neurons to regulate the strength of their synaptic inputs is actually perfectly demonstrated by their ability to to regulate “excitement” (or anxiety) via GABA and Glutamate activity!

This is a lot of science, I know, but bear with me.

The way that the Endocannabinoid System behaves is really amazing.

It is what qualifies cannabis as a full-fledged adaptogen – it truly forces your body and mind to adapt to the situation at hand in order to create real, lasting change.

This is also the difference between CBD and painkillers when it comes to the pain and inflammation response.

  • CBD doesn’t just block pain receptors like some pharmaceuticals do.
  • It actually has the ability to regulate your immune response and the resulting neurotransmitter activity.

CBD works through various pathways of the body, binding to cells of the immune system and directing action of these cells via this fairly unique retrograde signaling system.

The TONIC Difference

TONIC goes further to help CBD do its job and create consistent, efficient results.

We do this through the use of synergistic plant-based ingredients like black seed oil, ashwagandha, lemon balm and passionflower.

Black Seed Oil

Black seed oil works to reduce inflammation through its high concentration of beneficial phytochemicals like thymoquinone.

Our cold-pressed, organic black cumin seed oil has a powerful antioxidant effect coupled with amazing antibacterial abilities, making it a great complement to CBD.


Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen.

This means that, like CBD, it adapts to what the body needs in order to maintain optimal internal balance despite a changing external environment … aka keep you balanced no matter what kinds of stressors are thrown at you.

blue-bite nfc tonic cbd products

Ashwagandha has been clinically proven to lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone that contributes to our fight-or-flight response.

Very similar to the noradrenaline we discussed before, remember?

So, while CBD is taking care of things from the noradrenaline side, ashwagandha is covering cortisol.

They are working together to cover more ground and increase your chances at keeping stress and anxiety at bay.

Lemon Balm and Passionflower

Lemon balm and passionflower both work to regulate GABA levels.

They work similarly to benzodiazepines (sleeping pills), but in a way that is sustainable for the body therefore avoiding the hangover effect that pills like that can often cause.

Again, they work together with CBD to create more reliable effects.

The Entourage Effect Goes Beyond Cannabinoids

The thing to remember about CBD and cannabis in general:

  • It is very dependent on our individual body chemistry and unique Endocannabinoid System.

This means that it could require different dosages or different CBD:THC ratios, etc, for 2 people to achieve the same effect.

We guard against this by reinforcing CBD with other plants that elicit similar effects and help CBD along its journey, creating a more predictable and individualized wellness solution.

cannabis scienceendocannabinoid systemwellness
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