We've covered many aspects of anxiety from social anxiety to corticotropin-releasing factor (whaat??).
Seriously though...we've looked at a different aspect of anxiety but it's time to dig down into a most unwanted aspect of anxiety.
We're going to go negative.
In to negative thoughts, that is.
Persistent, ruminating negative thoughts filled with regret, anxiety, and self-doubt.
It sounds like a terrible place to go but we're going to peel back the onion to see what's happening in the brain and body.
New research (last few years really) is finally teasing out where negative thoughts and persistent ruminating come from.
More importantly, we're going to look at what we can do to quiet the storm.
Of course, we'll see if CBD intersects with these pathways to bring relief.
There's also big clues on early trauma/infection (even in utero) and how this whole process works. Plus ways to unwind it!
We'll cover these areas:
- Where do negative thoughts come from in the brain
- Neurotransmitters and negative thoughts
- Aging and negative thoughts
- How gender affects negative thoughts
- The endocannabinoid system and negative thoughts
- Can CBD help with negative thoughts and persistent ruminating
- How much CBD to take for negative thoughts
- What is the best CBD for negative thoughts
Let's get started!
Where do negative thoughts come from in the brain
We're actually getting some research here.
We've discussed the anxiety circuit in detail which primarily involves:
- The amygdala - our fear and emotional center of the "old" brain
- The prefrontal cortex - the newest addition to the brain which counters the amygdala
- Hippocampus - master switch for determining when to act and the seat of memory
See our article on can CBD stimulate the hippocampus for neurogenesis and CBD and brain repair.
Interesting reads (we promise).
For negative thoughts or rumination, we're going to explore the default mode network and the prefrontal cortex.
Before you blank out, don't worry...we'll walk through it slowly.
It's fascinating to anyone who has a brain!
First the default mode network.
Think of the default mode as our brain being in neutral or idling in a car.
The DMN is a part of the brain that is active when we self-reflect, worry, daydream, or reminisce. It has been described as facilitating a wakeful state of rest in which the mind naturally wanders.
This is a brain "state" when we're dreaming, daydreaming, thinking about ourselves, the past, and even...ruminating!
You know that point when you're just staring off into space and someone has to get your attention?
Welcome to default mode!
It's also the autobiography of...us!
All the good and bad things that have happened to us (and even our ancestors) swirled around this sense of self.
Now...when you snap back to "reality", you feel a shot of alertness and that's your other brain mode.
The Executive control system which relies heavily on your prefrontal cortex.
The ECN is considered responsible for extrinsic awareness that regulates executive functions that control and mediate cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, flexibility, problem-solving, and planning
Let's generally call this "thinking" or what makes humans (and primates) different animals.
Why are we dragging you through all this brain area mess?
It's important for persistent thoughts even of the negative kind.
The connection that research found:
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. In this state of mind, we continually reflect on our problems in a repetitive, negatively-toned way,
Right "next door" is the pregenual cortex we covered in CBD for social anxiety which is the seat of shame, self-doubt, regret, and host of nasty self-evaluations.
New research also added a new layer on to this for repetitive negative thoughts.
The salience network!
This is a fancy way to say the parts of the brain that determine what we should focus on.
It's the "switch" for bouncing back and forth between attention and daydreaming.
Dynamic interactions between these networks, and efficient switching between internally- and externally-directed thought by the salience network is hypothesized to contribute to coordination between cognition and emotion, with aberrant coordination leading to various forms of psychopathology
Stay with us!
And as for rumination and negative thinking?
Researchers showed that the amount of rumination was tied to activity in the default mode network:
Another study by the same group showed that, during periods of induced rumination, depressed individuals showed increased connectivity relative to baseline in the default mode network
The default mode is "stuck" on. We see this in PTSD, schizophrenia, and a range of mental health issues.
Looking at a large grouping of students:
Hamilton et al did a meta-analysis of previous research and identified that depressive ruminations are more likely to emerge when the firing and increased cerebral blood flow to a specific region of the cerebrum called the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC) synchronizes with the default mode network (DMN)
Ah-ha! The daydreaming brain area is at it again!
In that article, the researcher describes two ways to potentially right the ship which we'll discuss below.
In another study, with older adults, loss of prefrontal cortex activity would lead to negative persistent thoughts.
First, there was a loss of executive functioning (think prefrontal cortex):
Typical signs of executive decline include disinhibition, rigid thinking, inattention and a decline in working memory.
Then, look what followed:
"Second, we saw that executive decline was associated with rumination – a tendency for repeated negative thinking patterns -- among those with late-onset depression,"
The fascinating fact was this.
Rumination was the KEY linking loss of executive functioning and depression (for older people).
Executive function decreases for all of us as we get older but those who did not ruminate did not go on to develop depression!
This makes sense after researching or CBD and long term anxiety where both anxiety and depression appear to be a "retrenchment" or series of reduced brain activities over time or due to outside insult (ding ding ding).
Okay...let's make our way out of the brain area.
Repetitive negative thoughts is definitely a residual effect of networks with ties to anxiety and depression:
The common dimension of our RNT measurements (according to Confirmatory Factor Analysis) was significantly associated with comorbidity among depressive and among anxiety disorders, the severity of depressive and anxiety symptoms, as well as persistence and relapse of depressive and anxiety disorders.
This may sound like bad news but we'll look at how to strengthen areas like the prefrontal cortex below.
The key take-aways:
- The "thinking part" is downregulated or "injured"
- The "emotional" part is to active (not constrained by thinking area"
- The default mode is "stuck" on
- Trauma and infection, even early in life, can lead to all of this!
It's not all bad news!
A quick stop at the messengers between and within all these brain areas.
Neurotransmitters and negative thoughts
There's interesting research on neurotransmitters at the heart of both repetitive negative thoughts AND anxiety.
Let's meet GABA.
It's the "brake" in our brain activity.
Not only does it slow actual activity in the brain but it generally makes us calm and even sleepy.
GABA is the target for benzos such as Xanax, Ativan, or Valium with anxiety (see CBD versus benzos for GABA and anxiety).
The first sign we saw was for GABA's positive effect was for OCD.
Repetitive negative thoughts are really just a different flavor (albeit negative) of OCD. (big review here)
What does GABA do with repetitive negative thoughts?
The team’s study showed that the brain’s ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts relies heavily on a neurotransmitter called GABA.
Anderson’s team discovered that the presence of GABA in the hippocampus is directly indicative of a person’s ability to halt the retrieval of thoughts.
Check our article on whether CBD can boost GABA for anxiety.
We'll give some highlights below.
The fact that the GABA was in the hippocampus is very interesting since that area is the most vulnerable to stress, trauma, infection, and all manner of insults.
Big review on supporting hippocampus here.
We'll see how we can actually reverse that below.
For now...the net effect:
The study results showed that people who were best at blocking the unwanted thoughts — in this case, the word pair — also had the highest concentrations of an important chemical messenger called GABA in their brain's hippocampus
What about the other major target for anti-anxiety medications, SSRIs (See CBD versus SSRI for anxiety) and negative thoughts?
It's listed right there in the symptoms of low serotonin:
Negative thoughts, low self-esteem, obsessive thoughts and behaviors, PMS, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are also symptoms of low serotonin.
The issue is that SSRIs build tolerance (which means your natural levels drop with time).
Put a note next to both GABA and serotonin for later (with some good news for a change).
Now, let's look at aging and negative thoughts.
Aging and negative thoughts
We discussed the link above between loss of executive functioning (the prefrontal cortex) and rumination as a precursor for depression.
What else would affect the circuits behind negative thoughts AND anxiety?
First, let's start in the hippocampus.
The hippocampus shrinks with every year of our life unless we're actively working to replenish it.
Remember that the study above looked at GABA levels specifically in the hippocampus for controlling unwanted thoughts.
This area of the brain also figures into the anxiety circuit being a primary "switch".
Of course, as we get older, sleep usually gets affected.
What's the relationship between sleep and repetitive negative thoughts?
Sleep disruptions may partially mediate these relations and/or act as a “second hit” to individuals with OC symptoms and RNT.
OC is obsessive-compulsive and RNT is repetitive negative thoughts.
Then there are hormones (listen up ladies).
I found out the hard way (my story here) how powerful hormones can be for anxiety.
What about negative thoughts?
How gender affects negative thoughts
There are definitely differences in both anxiety prevalence and negative thoughts between gender.
Some of this is brain structure but don't discount the power of hormones.
The first clue comes from monthly cycles:
Increases in symptom severity have been observed during periods of declining or low sex hormones in women with panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, PTSD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which share clinical features of anxiety.5
First, there's testosterone (and yes Ladies, we have it too):
The researchers found that subjective ratings of negative images were higher in women compared to men. Higher testosterone levels were linked to lower sensitivity, while higher feminine traits (regardless of the sex of tested participants) were linked to higher sensitivity.
They've documented a general "it will all work out" effect from testosterone levels.
There was a difference in the connectivity between the two key players in the anxiety circuit which may partially indicate why women are hit by anxiety at a much higher clip:
the connection between the amygdala and dmPFC was stronger in men than in women, and the more these two areas interacted, the less sensitivity to the images was reported.
This connectivity was partially moderated by...testosterone.
But really, progesterone and estrogen are huge players with anxiety and negative thoughts.
Finally, researchers are actually starting to test these effects.
One study looked at progesterone and estradiol (E2 - your dominant estrogen):
Conversely, rumination was associated with greater negative effect only in women with low estradiol.
By the way...both progesterone and estradiol drop significantly during perimenopause!
I found out the hard way.
Why does this matter?
Sex differences in these disorders emerge after puberty (Paus et al., 2008), and post-pubertal women commonly report increases in non-pathological anxiety and mood disturbance during the pre-menstrual period, when estradiol and progesterone are declining
That study also found that the ability of reappraisal, a powerful emotional regulation strategy whereby an original fear is looked at it in a different context was tied to higher estradiol and progesterone.
Think about this.
We have 1/3rd of women in the US in peri or menopause.
That's roughly 50 million people who are losing (or have lost) key protections for both anxiety and negative thoughts.
By the way, those hormones start to drop in your 30's!
Another study looked at the complex relationship between progesterone and estradiol for women with borderline personality disorder:
For example, at higher-than-usual P4, predicted current anger rumination moves from “often” at lower-than-usual levels of E2 to “almost never” at higher-than-usual levels of E2.
P4 is progesterone and E2 is estradiol, your main estrogen.
This was anger rumination as opposed to anxious or negative thoughts per se but the correlation is interesting.
Estradiol appeared to be protective against negative thoughts.
More research is pointing this way for negative thoughts as well:
Low levels of estradiol are associated with elevated conditioned responding during fear extinction and with intrusive memories in daily life
Estrogen drives serotonin and progesterone drives GABA. Goodness!
No wonder so many women are prescribed benzos (highly addictive) and SSRIs (build tolerance). Billions and billions of dollars!
We took a detailed look at Pregnenolone (the mother of all these hormones) and by the time we were done, it was almost 7000 words!
Definitely worth looking at for men and women as we get older.
Speaking of too many words, let's move on to one last stop before CBD.__
The endocannabinoid system and negative thoughts
Everyone on this earth has this system naturally in our bodies and brains.
It's dated back to about 600 million years old so we share it with all animals as well.
It's basically your body's "stress" responder.
I don't mean stress as in rush hour traffic or a job interview but anything that pushes key systems out of balance.
It could be a change in temperature. An increase in carbohydrates from your lunch. Even a happy experience (the body adjusts eventually for this...boooo).
Key systems are governed by this oversight:
- Nervous system - including neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin; even default mode
- Endocrine system - hormones including estradiol, testosterone, cortisol, histamine, and others
- Immune system - inflammatory responses including cytokines and others
We've touched on how this system interacts for anxiety (an imbalance if you will) but let's look at the pathways for negative thoughts we discussed above:
- Default mode activation
- GABA and Serotonin
Let's start with the default mode since there's a clear connection between that and negative thoughts.
First, is there any interaction?
The default mode is tough to pin down because it's really a brain activity pattern more than a specific chemical or interaction.
Scientists are teasing out interaction by the effects of THC on how it functions.
Reductions in functional connectivity (relative to placebo) were seen in the DMN (PCC+) and SAL (AI+) networks for both strains of cannabis, with spatially dissociable effects.
For THC to have an effect, it must be tied to the endocannabinoid system.
Essentially, THC reduced activity in the default mode area and the salience area (determining what the brain should focus on).
What was interesting is that they used two different strains:
- THC with low CBD
- THC with high CBD
CBD offset the disruption from THC:
CBD restores disruption of the salience network by THC, which may explain its potential to treat disorders of salience such as psychosis and addiction.
This is not surprising.
Think about that...the ability to shift focus from addictive cues and negative thoughts are closely related.
What is addiction other than persistently ruminating about the drug of choice (with a side helping of self-judgment, regret, and guilt)!
If you check our CBD versus THC or weed for anxiety, you'll see how two are usually diametrically opposed in their effects.
Back to the default mode…
Remember that when we need to solve a problem, we switch from the default mode (idling) to executive control (task-oriented).
THC made people linger in default mode which affected their performance on tasks:
This was associated with reduced deactivation in a set of brain regions linked to the default mode network, including posterior cingulate cortex and angular gyrus. Less deactivation was significantly correlated with lower performance after THC.
This is bad news! CBD appears to offset this effect.
We've seen similar results in pretty amazing studies on CBD and schizophrenia where brain area activity was normalized in brain scans.
See more on CBD and schizophrenia here.
Being "stuck" in default mode is tied to persistent thoughts or ruminating.
THC would appear to be bad for this while CBD offsets this "stickiness".
Remember that the salience network is the "decider" between the two different networks which THC negatively affects:
If CBD can restore disruption to the salience network, this could be a neuroprotective mechanism to explain its potential to treat disorders of salience such as psychosis and addiction,”
Re-read that please!
GABA and serotonin are intimately tied to the endocannabinoid system.
Let's go-to CBD specifically now to look at its effect on these.
Can CBD help with negative thoughts and persistent ruminating
We've looked at CBD's effects on the default mode network, executive mode network, and salience network above.
They all have been tied to intrusive thoughts directly.
Intuitively, negative thoughts are a "side effect" from an anxiety state.
We looked at how CBD offsets THC's negatives with the default mode being stuck on.
What about GABA and serotonin which we tied to negative thoughts above.
We'll start with serotonin.
Interestingly, one of the side effects for SSRI's is negative and even suicidal thought
It's pretty well documented that CBD affects the serotonin (call 5HT) pathways.
Probably our favorite finding in research on CBD and serotonin:
Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain.
Why is it our favorite?
SSRI's boost serotonin in one way and a doctor can't even tell you if you have low serotonin.
They're just guessing by your symptoms (although there's a litany of reasons that anxiety and negative thoughts may be present).
If you boost serotonin too much, many bad things can happen.
Really bad. I've been there and at one point, it was suicidal thoughts.
See our article on CBD versus SSRIs for homicial and suicidal ideation.
Go research SSRI's and teenage homicidal tendencies.
We digress...back to why it's our favorite.
The keyword in that statement from the research is "modulates".
It doesn't boost. It doesn't drop.
That's the beauty of the endocannabinoid system which CBD supports.
It's trying to right the ship...find balance.
In that same study:
Overall, repeated treatment with low-dose CBD induces analgesia predominantly through TRPV1 activation, reduces anxiety through 5-HT1A receptor activation, and rescues impaired 5-HT neurotransmission under neuropathic pain conditions.
"Rescues impaired 5-HT neurotransmission".
Basically, they exhausted or disrupted serotonin pathways with a pain-delivery chemical which resulted in anxiety.
CBD offset all three of these but it doesn't just keep boosting serotonin.
Otherwise, you would see the terrible side effects of Serotonin Syndrome in very high doses of CBD which aren't showing in research.
There have been studies up to 1500 mg and even one gram without this effect.
What about GABA, which was tied directly to negative thoughts and even OCD?
We know that benzos primarily boost GABA for its results (aside from the addiction piece which is dopamine).
From our article on whether CBD can increase GABA for anxiety...
Another study on mice showed a similar anti-anxiety effect from CBD and diazepam (benzo):
mice treated with cannabidiol and nabilone spent a greater amount of time in the open arm of the maze, an effect similar to that produced by diazepam, the reference anxiolytic agent.
Finally, the anxiolytic effects of systemic CBD partially depended on GABAA receptor activation in the EPM model
Anxiolytic just means anti-anxiety but we established the effects of both serotonin and GABA on negative thoughts specifically above.
Stress hormones eat up GABA!
Histamine (our allergy hormone) also eats up GABA.
That becomes important below.
This is the key to actually "unwinding" the root cause of the ruminations.
Early trauma/infection can completely disregulate all the pathways above (and more). There are ways to remove this from the "history" which is generally recorded in our immune system.
Keep in mind that trauma effects (epigenetic) can go back up to 10 generations!
Let's look at more practical questions on CBD for negative thoughts and rumination.
How much CBD to take for negative thoughts
We don't have good research on the specific question of how many mg of CBD for negative thoughts.
Anxiety does have research and negative thoughts is definitely associated with an anxiety "state".
Long term, the max level appears to be around 300 mg since that affords the most neurogenesis which is key to repairing brain areas.
Check out CBD and hippocampus neurogenesis.
See how many mg of CBD for anxiety for more detail on that research.
As for the short term, it's really a function of a person's makeup.
A general trial amount to test how CBD works for you is around 25-30 mg.
That's about ½ a dropper of a 1000 mg bottle.
Most people respond with results from 40 - 100 mg depending on body weight, level of anxiety and negative thoughts, hormone balance, etc.
Sleep help was shown at about 160 mg based on studies.
We know that's not very definitive but a rule of thumb is to start at 30-50 mg and work up to find when you have a benefit.
Neurogenesis takes about 2 weeks to build up and that's the key to long term changes.
There are definite rules on the best type of CBD for negative thoughts.
What is the best CBD for negative thoughts
First, the basic guidelines are a must.
- Organically grown in the US at FDA registered farm
- CO2 processed (the cleanest approach)
- 3rd party tested free
- No THC (see CBD versus THC for anxiety)
- No Heavy metals
- No Pesticides (see CBD and probiotics for anxiety)
- No Bacteria
- No Mold
We actually test IndigoNaturals twice for this reason.
After all, our entire families use it.
Let's touch base on anxiety and negative thought specific requirements.
We already discussed how we don't want THC.
Remember how THC actually interfered with default mode "release" in the brain which CBD offset?
A lot of full-spectrum CBD on the market has up to .3 THC.
Check out our article Do you need THC to activate CBD to clear up all the misinformation.
That's why we only deal with CBD Isolate.
All the research above and the 100's of studies we reference throughout the site are based on CBD by itself.
We base everything on research and leave the slick marketing claims to the others.
Speaking of full-spectrum, what about histamine?
We originally tried 3-4 big brands of full-spectrum CBD (recommended by friends, acupuncturists, and others).
We had immediate allergic reactions (anxiety, itchy throat, nausea).
That's the short story of how and why we developed IndigoNaturals.
All that plant material in full-spectrum is going the wrong way for 40-60% of the population (especially for women with progesterone leaving and as we get older).
Histamine eats up GABA! It's part of the immune system's inflammatory response but also governs the sleep/wake cycle (see histamine and insomnia).
Let us know what works for you and how much CBD is beneficial below.
We need to help each other.
Also, here are some great resources for immediate tips on negative thoughts while you're waiting for the CBD to arrive:
Check out the amazing work on exposure to nature and negative thoughts:
Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation
The Japanese call it Forest Bathing!
We discovered it while researching our CBD for Work Anxiety article.
The current theory is that we are showered in beneficial bacteria from the forests (and ocean visits) which have powerful effects on our emotional state:
Based on their findings, scientists suggest that we take in beneficial substances when we breathe in forest air from three major inhaled factors — beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils, and negatively-charged ions.
The effects of one visit can last for a long period after.
We're not surprised after researching CBD and probiotics for anxiety.
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.