Can CBD Help With Anxiety at Work?
I have a friend who works in entertainment.
Yes, I know...that sounds really cheesy but give me a second and I'll prove I'm not a total tool with that lead-in.
The interesting thing is that when you speak to him about his day to day work…
It's just a constant series of putting fires out!
The nature of the work is incredibly variable and dynamic.
Nothing goes to plan and you're fighting "surprises" from people, locations, and even the weather!
It's incredibly stressful and the only glamorous thing about it is an occasional chance for your friend to say, "my good friend's in entertainment".
The point is...even the most sought after professions carry with them the potential for anxiety at work.
The issue is when it becomes overwhelming or "separate" from the actual stress of the job.
There can be many factors of course.
Whether it's a difficult boss, impossible workloads, or office politics...the body's pathway for anxiety at work is the same.
We're going to look at the intersection of four key areas for anxiety:
- General anxiety disorder - when our filter at work is prone to anxiety
- Social anxiety - navigating social politics, public speaking, and more
- Stress response - when sheer workload is overwhelming our systems
- Negative thoughts - how do we turn down the chatter
Of course, we'll look at how CBD affects these pathways which is interesting in itself.
Finally, we'll look at practical questions like how much CBD to take for work anxiety based on research and what's the best CBD to this end.
Lots to cover.
Let's get to work!
Did I mention that my friend's in entertainment??
General anxiety and work
First, we have to address systemic anxiety in the workplace.
This just means that our anxiety circuit is not functioning correctly and work happens to be the place we're in.
It could have been school, sports, or even driving in the car.
Work just provides a highly stressful environment in which anxiety rears its ugly head.
Let's first look at this "trait" anxiety.
The bulk of research on anxiety revolves around three main areas of the brain:
- Amygdala - the fear and emotional processing center
- Prefrontal cortex - the counterbalance to the Amygdala - seat of rational thought
- Hippocampus - the seat of memory and "manager" of the anxiety response
There are connectors and other actors of course but research is really pointing to these players as the core anxiety "circuit".
Let's dive into the core circuit based on new research.
There's a ton of research you can find at our general anxiety disorder article.
The net-net is this.
The amygdala (fear and emotional center) appears to be overexpressed or the prefrontal cortex appears to be weakened in restraint.
Communication links between these areas (cingulate cortex and white matter) can also figure in.
Since we wrote our CBD benefits for anxiety article, there's even been new, finer detail exposed on this circuit.
Scientist found a specific protein in the amygdala that they could use to turn anxiety on and off:
This led to a large increase in signaling by dynorphin, a peptide made by these neurons. This aberrant signaling interfered with normal inhibition of SOM+ neurons in the BNST and resulted in their becoming overactive. The net result was a display of anxious behavior.
That's a mouthful.
Basically, they traced the elevated anxiety to a specific type of cell (SOM+) between the amygdala and the BNST and its core messenger...dynorphin.
Folks...we're getting closer and closer to unraveling what anxiety is in the brain!
Again, learn all about it at our general anxiety disorder and CBD for anxiety articles.
Then, there are the neurotransmitters at work.
We can take a cue from how roughly a quarter of people suffering from work anxiety try to cope with the medications they take:
- consuming more caffeine (31 percent)
- smoking (27 percent)
- exercising more frequently (25 percent)
- taking over-the-counter or prescription medication (23 percent)
- consuming more alcoholic beverages (20 percent)
The two most common classes of medications for work anxiety are:
- Benzos - Xanax, Ativan, Valium and the like
- SSRI's - Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac, etc
Benzos primarily juice up GABA levels (our "braking" chemical in the brain)
SSRI's primarily juice up serotonin (a workhorse transmitter in the brain and gut)
It's a fascinating read that you won't soon forget.
Of course, there are other elements for trait anxiety that can come out at work:
- Gut microbiome health - see CBD and specific probiotics for work anxiety
- Stress response - see CBD and stress response for work anxiety
- Inflammation - see CBD and inflammation for work anxiety
There's a good review of ways to deal with anxiety beyond medications and CBD here:
This is the lay of the land for a general anxiety "filter" that people bring to the workplace with them.
Let's drill down to subtle aspects that really pop out at work.
We'll start with the pesky co-workers and bosses.
Social anxiety at work
It's pretty obvious how this might come into play on the job.
Just look at the self-reported sources of anxiety at work here:
- workplace performance (56 percent)
- relationship with coworkers and peers (51 percent)
- quality of work (50 percent)
- relationships with superiors (43 percent)
There's a whole theory that millions of years ago, our brain's sophistication exploded with size and ability to deal with the complexity of social interaction.
Our results suggest that as in primates, and group size is associated with large brain size.
All the subtle cues that say one thing but mean something completely different.
Social anxiety takes our initial anxiety circuit above (amygdala and prefrontal cortex) and adds another layer.
The Pregenual anterior cingulate cortex.
Goodness...that's a mouthful.
This is the seat of negative self-evaluation.
Shame. Embarrassment... Self-doubt.
As we shared in our CBD for social anxiety review:
right pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC) gray matter volume was the only brain region that was a significant predictor of self-conscious emotion.
Maybe more importantly….
Smaller pACC volume was associated with attenuated physiological and behavioral self-conscious emotional reactivity, and this relationship was not specific to diagnosis.
This means that smaller versions of this area were tied to less self-conscious behavior.
Before you fret that everything's locked in stone in our brain, remember that the brain is incredibly dynamic and plastic!
Plastic just means that it has the ability to change, grow, and morph over time.
We'll learn about ways to increase this plasticity below including CBD.
We're not going to just leave you with a lot of bad news.
Again, check out CBD and social anxiety for more detail.
Next up...something that applies equally to work and the anxiety circuit.
Stress and work anxiety
Work stress has two powerful effects on the anxiety circuit.
First, chronic stress or acute stress during key times of brain development can be at the heart of why the anxiety circuit is out of whack!
Essentially, stress can shrink key parts of the brain in this circuit:
Scientists have learned that animals that experience prolonged stress have less activity in the parts of their brain that handle higher-order tasks — for example, the prefrontal cortex — and more activity in the primitive parts of their brain that are focused on survival, such as the amygdala.
Goodness...more activity in the fear center and less in it's constraining rational area, the prefrontal cortex.
Chronic or acute stress' effect on the manager of anxiety, the hippocampus is even more destructive.
In another study on social anxiety, activity in the hippocampus was the difference between treatments helping or not:
In treatment-responders, irrespective of the type of treatment, improvement was accompanied by a decrease in regional cerebral blood flow in the hippocampus, amygdala and the periamygdaloid, rhinal and parahippocampal cortices.
Check out the CBD and hippocampus article on a specific cell scientist found there that can turn anxiety on and off!
Taking the effects of stress in context with work anxiety, let's look at common sources of work stress:
- deadlines (55 percent)
- interpersonal relationships (53 percent)
- staff management (50 percent)
- dealing with issues/problems that arise (49 percent)
We already covered the other two with social anxiety.
So, the stress response is key to work anxiety.
Put a checkmark next to that for when we get to CBD.
Finally, a specific but important part of anxiety at work.
Negative thoughts and being too hard on one's self.
Negative thoughts at work
Ever stuck in a loop of negative self-evaluation?
Welcome to the club.
This can really impact work anxiety and general satisfaction on the job.
Scientists are actually teasing out what's going on here.
Remember the area of the brain above tied to negative self-evaluation...the pregenual frontal cortex (we won't blame you if you don't).
Let's meet it's slightly more negative neighbor..the subgenual frontal cortex.
There can usually be an aspect of depression here but the results:
In depression, the subgenual PFC seems to go haywire, hijacking normal self-reflection into a state of mind that is negative, self-focused, and withdrawn.
Sub out depression for a faulty anxiety circuit at work and you can see where that leads.
There's some fascinating research on how exposure to nature can actually help with this negative self-rumination:
participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.
New studies like this are popping up quite a bit now.
Check out specifics on so-called "forest bathing" (trips to beach work as well) here:
GABA is also shown to play a major role in calming negative or ruminating thoughts in the workplace.
It's also critical to anxiety as we've seen with benzos (see CBD versus antianxiety medications).
Guess what eats up GABA in the brain?
Stress and cortisol!
See our Does CBD reduce cortisol levels article.
Okay...so that's the bad news.
Can CBD do anything for work anxiety? Are there other tools we can use as well?
Can CBD help with work anxiety
Let's look at the key pieces.
First, is the general anxiety pathway.
We just wrapped up our CBD and long term anxiety review here.
There were two critical elements:
- Prevent further damage to the anxiety circuit
- Repair existing brain loss in key areas like the hippocampus
The first has to do with stress response and the second has to do with neurogenesis (building new brain area).
What does CBD do there?
Let's introduce Cortisol.
Cortisol is our primary stress hormone.
When excessive (in amount or duration), it literally shrinks the brain.
The effect is cumulative:
Adults in their 40s and 50s with higher levels of cortisol -- a hormone linked to stress -- performed worse on memory and other cognitive tasks than peers of the same age with average cortisol levels, the research found. Higher cortisol in the blood also was associated with smaller brain volumes, according to the study
So...what does CBD do for cortisol levels?
This decrease in cortisol levels was significantly attenuated after CBD (basal measurement = 10.5 +/- 4.9 micrograms/dl; 120 min after 300 mg CBD = 9.9 +/- 6.2 micrograms/dl; 120 min after 600 mg CBD = 11.6 +/- 11.6 micrograms/dl).
Another study looked at the effects of reduced cortisol from CBD:
Anxiety scores decreased within the first month in 57 patients (79.2%) and remained decreased during the study duration. Sleep scores improved within the first month in 48 patients (66.7%) but fluctuated over time.
That's just one aspect of our stress response.
Let's go to our favorite study on stress response...CBD and public speaking.
This study was very relevant to work anxiety.
Public speaking is a great proxy for work meetings. Working in groups. You name it!
Anywhere we are concerned about being judged by others.
To make things even more interesting, they also ran the study on a separate group with a diagnosed social anxiety disorder.
Essentially, they gave CBD to different groups (health group, social anxiety group) along with placebo for either group.
Pretreatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance, and significantly decreased alert in their anticipatory speech.
More importantly, it is what happened on the SSPS-N.
It's a self-reported questionnaire to gauge negative self-evaluation.
The SSPS-N scores evidenced significant increases during the testing of the placebo group that was almost abolished in the CBD group.
Learn more about the CBD and public speaking study here.
Again, it's a great test for key elements of work anxiety:
- Social anxiety. Check
- Intense stress. Check
- Fear of judgment or evaluation from others. Check
To piggyback off of that, take a look at our CBD for performance anxiety.
This is very relevant for work stress and anxiety as well.
For example, there's an interesting chemical called NPY in our nervous system.
It's our resilience chemical:
These data also replicate our previous finding that greater levels of NPY release are associated with less psychologic distress suggesting that NPY confers anxiolytic activity.
Anxiolytic just means anti-anxiety.
For further reading on how CBD works with stress response:
- CBD and stress for anxiety
- CBD and inflammation for anxiety
- CBD and corticotropin-releasing factor for anxiety
The next piece...repairing brain areas that are under duress from work stress or even prior life experiences.
Remember that we want to look at trait anxiety that's BROUGHT to the workplace as well.
Stress does most of its damage in the hippocampus so let's start there.
Our body has a powerful system for repair and rebuilds under the assault of work stress.
Two big players there are serotonin and BDNF as we discussed.
It turns out that CBD's effects on anxiety are similar to SSRI's in that it supports this repair system.
Let's walk through this because it's really fascinating.
First, they took mice and blocked out the area (SGZ) where new cells are created in the brain:
Chronic treatment with fluoxetine and imipramine induced anxiolytic-like effects in the novelty suppressed feeding test in control mice but not in animals that were submitted to x-ray-irradiation of the SGZ (SGZ-x-irradiation), a procedure that blunts neurogenesis by killing cells undergoing proliferation.
The anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) from a common SSRI effects went away when the brain was unable to create new cells.
Not only did CBD boost the survival of newly created brain cells and support the system that turns them into different cells…:
More recently, a study conducted with transgenic mice (GFAP-TK mice) showed that the anxiolytic effect of chronic CBD administration (14 days) in stressed mice depends on its proneurogenic action in the adult hippocampus by facilitating endocannabinoid-mediated signaling
So...back to our checklist for brain repair due to stress and anxiety:
- Anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) effects. Check
- Stressed mice. Check
- Brain growth and repair (proneurogenic). Check
- Adult hippocampus (area under most duress from stress). Check!
It's all right there in that experiment.
We can't go back in time and change infections your mother had while pregnant or antibiotics are given at age 2 or even a traumatic event.
Combine that with years of work-related pressure and stress or a dictatorial boss (lop off the first 4 letters there).
We CAN, however, boost the system in the brain that tirelessly tries to offset this damage so that we don't have an anxiety response to work.
How does CBD do this repair support?
Repeated treatment with CBD (5 mg/kg/day, subcutaneously [s.c.], for 7 days) increased 5-HT firing through desensitization of 5-HT1A receptors
For those many decades away from a biology class (like me), 5-HT1A is a serotonin pathway.
The net result of this activity:
Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain
Allodynia is nerve pain by the way in case you were wondering why you have body pain along with your anxiety.
To wrap it up, let's look at NPY (our resilience chemical).
Remember Anandamide, our "bliss" molecule which happens to be an endocannabinoid?
Intuitively, there's a direct connection between NPY and anandamide:
The cannabinoid agonists anandamide (AEA) and CP55,940 both significantly augmented resting and KCl-evoked NPY release.
What does CBD do for anandamide?
Cannabidiol enhances anandamide signaling and alleviates psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia
Really check out CBD and performance anxiety. It's fascinating!
Our goal with work anxiety was simple.
- Help with the immediate anxiety on the job (public speaking is our proxy)
- Help with stress response
- Help with "trait" anxiety responses (that's the long term repair process)
The master article for CBD and anxiety is found here.
Let's look at some practical matters for CBD and work anxiety.
How much CBD to take for work anxiety
We're going to mix research info with just good old experience.
First, for the research side of things.
Studies showed that the maximum neurogenesis effect occurred at 300 mg.
It actually starts to go down from there even if the anti-anxiety effect continues.
That's a high amount!
That public speaking study was based on 600 mg about 1 hour before the speech.
This is higher still!
Most people test around 25-30 mg first to see how they respond.
One good note...the CBD did not appear to affect cognitive skills and is was not sedative.
Our experience from customers points to 40 - 80mg for work anxiety.
It's still important to test your response.
You can take it 1 hour before work and the peak blood level is usually about 3-4 hours after.
For faster uptake (say for a meeting), you can hold it under your tongue for up to 60 seconds.
Let's talk about the type of CBD for this use.
What's the best CBD for work anxiety
The work environment has requirements beyond our typical list.
Of course, we want the following as a baseline:
- Organically grown in the US (can't trust hemp grown in other countries)
- CO2 processed (the cleanest)
- 3rd party tested free of:
- No THC (can cause you to fail a drug test and can affect cognitive abilities)
- No Pesticides
- No Heavy Metals
- No Mold
- No Bacteria
We actually test twice at IndigoNaturals and meet all these requirements.
Our entire family uses our CBD so we don't mess around (hopefully obvious from our research habits).
Then there's the whole question of full-spectrum versus CBD isolate for work anxiety.
We have an entire article on this here but work anxiety adds a few wrinkles.
You don't want to smell like hemp at work!
CBD by itself has no smell. We then add CBD isolate to MCT oil which is an extract from coconut.
It has a light, slightly sweet scent of the coconut.
Full-spectrum can smell downright weedy!
Check our should my CBD smell like hemp page.
Everyone out there is pushing full-spectrum CBD.
Not sure what research that's based on since CBD isolate is what shows in all the studies.
Also, 40-60% of the population will have histamine (allergy) responses to all that plant material.
Histamine is excitatory in the brain!
It eats up GABA our natural "brake" that benzos juice up.
We're going the wrong direction there.
Check out CBD isolate or full spectrum for anxiety to see all the research.
Finally, we need enough CBD to actually have an effect.
Any product out there with 250 mg or less of total CBD for the bottle is just ripping you off.
It makes us angry because we originally went through 3-4 big brands who were basically overcharging us for hemp oil which gave us allergic responses!
Hopefully, we can help you skip THAT process and get back to work!
Master overview of CBD and anxiety pathways to look at various aspects we can directly affect.
Links to CBD and anxiety research with dozens of anxiety-specific topics.
Always work with a doctor or naturopath with any supplement!
The information provided here is not intended to treat an illness or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.