Gut Health, Anxiety and CBD
Dr. Caroline Hartridge
What’s the gut-brain connection and what does it have to do with CBD?
By now, you have probably heard about CBD (cannabidiol) and how it can aid in supporting optimal wellness, namely when it comes to things like anxiety and inflammation. You’ve also likely heard that your endocannabinoid system is the reason cannabinoids like CBD are able to deliver the benefits that many experience. But, did you know that a majority of your endocannabinoid receptors are located throughout your nervous system and gastrointestinal system? Your gut is not only home to a whole lot of endocannabinoid receptors, it also contains a majority of the body’s immune cells.
What does that have to do with helping you manage anxiety? Let’s dig in and learn a little about CBD and the mind-gut connection.
How the Body Works
Your Nervous System: Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic
In the most basic essence, our nervous system can be split up into two parts: the parasympathetic and sympathetic.
The parasympathetic portion is responsible for rest, digest, and procreation. The sympathetic portion governs our fight or flight response. I like to refer to the parasympathetic as classical music and sympathetic as heavy metal.
Most of my patients have heavy metal blasting and classical music turned way down. The balance of these two systems is called the autonomic tone. Our bodies are dynamic and constantly in flux, seeking homeostasis.
What’s going on inside a body with too much heavy metal blasting (i.e., a constant state of fight or flight)? I refer to this as the neurochemical soup in which you live. A heavy metal dominant environment is laden with epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. These are stress hormones, and, in small amounts, they help us accomplish extraordinary tasks, like running from a bear or keeping your child safe. When you are in a constant state of fear, anxiety, or stress these hormones, in excess, can lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, poor sleep, and stubborn belly fat.
Changing up our internal response
How can we make this classical music raise its volume? When you rest, practice meditation, experience joy, create loving connections and eat non-toxic/non-inflammatory foods your body switches into a parasympathetic dominant state. Serotonin and GABA are the key players in this neurochemical soup. Disease states consistent with lower levels of these hormones are depression, anxiety, and elevated inflammatory markers.
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Right?
Nope. The body doesn’t play by that rule.
Your body doesn’t do compartmentalization. You are actually your mind, your body, and your spirit. And, if the word spirit bothers you (I cringed when spirituality was mentioned in my medical school journey and now embrace it; we can all grow and change) consider your electromagnetic field (EMF). Whatever happens to part of you happens to all of you.
Now, back to Vegas.
The vagus nerve travels from your brain all the way down to your bowels. This nerve, fondly called the wanderer, has two pathways: 1) from the brain to gut, 2) from the gut to the brain, afferent and efferent, respectively.
The connection between your immune system and your gut
So, there is a structural connection between your brain and your belly. What you think and feel affects the neurochemical soup in which you live. On top of all of this please note that 70% of your immune system exists in your gut. This connection effects how and what you feel
Neat. But what does this have to do with CBD and hemp? We are getting there.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
Your autonomic tone (the balance of the two types of music) is dictated by your Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is your body’s master conductor controlling your sleep-wake cycle, digestion, perception of pain, libido, ability to forget traumatic events, and thermoregulation.
Your body is an elegant system; you make your own (endogenous) cannabinoid called anandamide (named for the Sanskrit word for bliss, anada), which interacts with the ECS. Anandamide works like a key to locks, or receptors (CB-1,2), in your body. The majority of these receptors are in the central nervous system (brain) and within the digestive tract (gut).
CBD and Anandamide
CBD structurally looks like anandamide and can interact with the same receptors. CBD is a phytocannabinoid; phyto meaning plant. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid; endogenous meaning it came from self. Both can aid in bringing your body back into balance. This sets the stage for self-healing on the cellular level.
Inflammation, on a cellular level, can leave patients with chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety, brain fog, poor sleep, and digestion. CBD is an effective tool in treating this inflammation and imbalance.
The Optimal Way to Consume CBD?
Given what we know about CB (cannabinoid) receptor locations and density, ingesting CBD (pills, tea, edibles) may offer a more thorough treatment. When a patient consumes CBD orally it travels via the digestive tract. That process allows the molecule to interact directly with the ECS receptors and to the brain via vagus.
CBD and cannabinoids are not the only supplements that can affect your state of mind by way of the gut. Probiotics are shown to alter mood because they alter your gut microbiome, thus affecting the neurochemical soup in which the patient lives.
Starting a CBD regimen could feel overwhelming. If you’re not familiar with CBD, it could be difficult to even know where to start when it comes to starting your supplementation. If that sounds like you right now, here are the steps I suggest for starting your CBD journey:
- Seek a healthcare provider familiar with CBD
- Discuss pills vs. edibles and which may be best for you and your particular needs.
- Start your dosing low and slowly work your way up as needed until you find what works for you. It is a good idea to give yourself a few days at a particular dosage level before deciding if you need to increase.
- Keep a journal to track your experience. Paying attention to your body is key to really understanding what it needs. This is especially key when you combine it with #3 up there.
- Acknowledge diet, sleep, and relationships as part of your bigger brain-gut health picture. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts; if you’re eating poorly or not sleeping well, CBD will only take you so far.
CBD and self care: a holistic approach to health
Ingesting CBD may be a direct way to manage your own gut-brain connection. However, consuming any form of CBD in the setting of poor diet, negative self-talk, toxic relationships, and zero physical movements is like peeing on a raging house fire. Your effort is noticed but will do little to change the circumstances.
If you are considering traditional pharmaceuticals to alter your quality of life, know you have evidence-based, plant-based options. You don’t have to live in chronic pain or anxiety. You can turn down that “heavy metal” and rebalance your mind, body and spirit holistically, and ingesting CBD can help.
Dr. Caroline Hartridge, DO
Dr. Hartridge is a doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and is licensed as a General Practitioner in both New York and Georgia. She completed her Internship in a Family Medicine residency program at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in Patchogue, NY, studied Osteopathic Medicine and Public Health at Touro University, California and Environmental Education at Davidson College, North Carolina.
Dr. Hartridge is available to guide you and your specialists through this alternative, evidence based approach to disease management. She also focuses on Sustainable Medicine, which acknowledges a connection between environment and health.
“Our health or manifestation of disease is a reflection of what we put in our bodies and the environment and relationships we experience. My goal with the practice of sustainable medicine is to be a conduit of evidence based information who helps guide my patients as knowledgable consumers of health care.”— Dr. Caroline Hartridge