CBD Instead of Benzos for Flight Anxiety
We received an email the other day with a simple question..
"UK banned benzo prescriptions for flights…can I use CBD instead?"
The type and dose of CBD though is very important as we'll see below.
In fact, we'll go through an entire CBD protocol for flight anxiety.
We'll use research such as the powerful public speaking for people with diagnosed social anxiety (which sounds like torture to us) as our basis since it's the closest equivalent.
After all, 40% of the population has some fear of flying and up to 5% have crippling fear.
Generally, flying these days is stressful for everyone and we'll see how CBD is a powerful stress response buffer while also looking at other tools.
Here's the flight plan:
- Understand what's happening in the brain during fear of flying
- CBD's stress response buffer and flight fear
- The public speaking and CBD study results
- The CBD protocol for fear of flying
- Best type of CBD for fear of flying
- A quick note on why you might have fear of flying (or any phobia)
Let's get started! Takeoff is at 9 am.
Understand what's happening in the brain during fear of flying
We have a massive review of CBD and phobias which neatly captures what's going on with any intense fear.
We'll focus on three key players plus a "network" in the brain:
The circuit actually matters here.
We have an older area of the brain called the amygdala which is tasked with threat detection among other things (emotions and impulses being relevant).
Keeping this area in check is the prefrontal cortex (newest addition to the human brain).
When the amygdala fires too strongly, we can have intense fear or phobias…such as fear of flying.
This sets off a cascade of chemistry in the brain starting with the whole cortisol pathway.
Cortisol is our primary stress hormone.
With enough time or amount of it, we start to overwhelm the opposing forces.
First, there's GABA, our brain's brake pedal…which just happens to be the target of benzos!
Benzos build tolerance and are incredibly addictive which is why the UK no longer allows prescribing for fear of flying.
It's just not worth it as they quickly become the new opioid crisis.
Xanax and Ativan have street names and values now.
Once GABA gives way, serotonin does the heavy lifting for stress response among its many tasks (manages ALL human behavior).
Pain, stress, infection, trauma, etc can all exhaust serotonin. That's why you feel low when sick or hurt.
Serotonin is the target of SSRIs but they build tolerance and are not used "as needed" this way. It's tricky messing with serotonin since it's so integral to every brain system.
Our backup stress response system is anandamide, the so-called "bliss molecule".
THC mimics anandamide which is how it works but it hits the receptors too hard and for too long so you can have resulting anxiety and tolerance longer term.
There are also big histamine issues there for roughly 33% of the population which feels like…anxiety!
Histamine is excitatory (eats up GABA above).
That's the tug-of-war going on in the brain. Why flying? Why not!
The brain is complicated and early interactions, etc can establish certain behaviors as triggers for this whole anxiety cascade.
Longer term, you can work to dislodge this fear but for now, we need to make the flight!
So…where does CBD fit into this process.
CBD's stress response buffer and flight fear
Where THC boosts activity similar to anandamide, CBD supports it…when LOW!
Like a feedback mechanism.
That's why you don't see overdoses, side effects like THC, or effects on cognition/sedation.
You see the effects of CBD on the entire cascade above when stress becomes excessive.
Let's wall through it:
- CBD and stress
- CBD and GABA
- CBD and serotonin
- CBD and anandamide
- CBD and anxiety circuit
Let's get started!
CBD and stress
Double-blind, placebo 2021 study:
All showed that CBD was effective in significantly reducing the stress response and was non-inferior to pharmaceutical comparators, when included.
SO…about the same at meds. Hello benzos and SSRIs!
CBD may be helpful in not only reducing acute stress-associated anxiety but also normalizing abnormal stress responses.
"acute stress anxiety"...i.e. stress caused by a specific stressful situation. Ummm...flying maybe!!
Check out CBD and stress response for lots of studies and detail.
A great deal of this comes down to the first barrier against stress.
CBD and GABA for fear of flying
GABA is the "right now" face of calming fear and anxiety.
CBD has a direct supporting effect on GABA when low. Technically, it's called an allosteric positive modulator.
Essentially, it supports GABA function when low (such as being exhausted by cortisol and stress and take off).
This speaks to its calming effects on seizures, anxiety, sleep, and more.
What we don't see is the one-direction push of GABA like with benzos, alcohol, THC, and more.
That's the trajectory with increasing levels:
Decreasing GABA in one direction follows the same trajectory and we don't see this with even high levels of CBD which is critical when you need to function at an airport!
More research on CBD and GABA versus benzos and alcohol.
Let's turn to the long term player.
CBD and serotonin for fear of flying
This is a major player in the long-term manifestation of flight anxiety.
In fact, phobias are now partially understood as an inability to regulate serotonin (it's either too high or too low).
Serotonin is a stress response buffer (second line after GABA).
CBD also supports serotonin when low.
Here's our favorite example of CBD's effects.
An injury causes pain, anxiety, and dysregulated serotonin function. CBD's effects:
CBD induces analgesia predominantly through TRPV1 activation, reduces anxiety through 5-HT1A receptor activation, and rescues impaired 5-HT neurotransmission under neuropathic pain conditions.
Let's translate that…it's too important.
After the injury (remember…pain exhausts serotonin just like fear):
- CBD reduced anxiety through serotonin function (5HT)
- CBD reduced pain sensitivity
- CBD "rescues" serotonin function.
Not boost. Not increase. Rescue! You see this all over the research with words like normalize and modulate.
THC pushes in one direction so you get a rebound effect (the other way).
CBD doesn't build tolerance or have withdrawals!
Remember…too much serotonin is just as troubling as too little (maybe more so…see serotonin syndrome).
Huge review on CBD and serotonin.
CBD and anandamide for fear of flying
This is one of our primary endocannabinoids…the system that CBD works in!
It's made on demand and quickly broken down. It's a big wet blanket in the brain on anything excessive (stress, inflammation, etc).
THC jacks up levels of activity similar to anandamide but as a result, it can have side effects, rebound, and even cause anxiety!
CBD supports anandamide when low by blocking FAAH, the pathway that breaks down anandamide.
We don't see the "high" with CBD which speaks to its feedback effect.
A big review on CBD and endocannabinoids including anandamide can be found here.
That's all great for the upcoming flight at 9am…but can we can adjust our long term trajectory for flight anxiety?
CBD and anxiety circuit for fear of flying
This is fascinating! You can actually unwind the marbelized fear response in the brain!
They can actually see it on brain scans:
Individuals who suffer from phobias have been shown to display increased activity of the amygdala when exposed to phobia-inducing stimuli, noted on functional MRI
There's that amygdala/pre-frontal cortex overwhelming effect (too much primitive fear response).
Here's the exciting part. CBD supports the system that FORGETS fears.
Especially important for PTSD and trauma but let's walk through this:
The evidence indicates that cannabidiol reduces learned fear in different ways: (1) cannabidiol decreases fear expression acutely, (2) cannabidiol disrupts memory reconsolidation, leading to sustained fear attenuation upon memory retrieval, and (3) cannabidiol enhances extinction, the psychological process by which exposure therapy inhibits learned fear.
- CBD makes fear less strong RIGHT NOW (check-in time!)
- CBD breaks up the old pattern (boarding call - panic, etc)
- CBD reduces the fear response longer term
- CBD helps you forget the fear cascade (called fear extinction)
Goodness. We can drop the mic now.
A great deal of this comes from effects on BDNF, our brain's growth/repair pathway.
Learn all about CBD and past trauma here.
You don't have to have phobias…it's not locked in stone (just locked in brain pathways that can be erased).
Let's jump to our best proxy for fear of flying.
The public speaking and CBD study results
This is a great example of CBD for episodic and intense anxiety.
They took people with a diagnosed social anxiety disorder and subjected them to a public speaking test.
Goodness..just poke me in the eye with a sharp stick (I have irrational fears around my eyes!!)
Pretreatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance, and significantly decreased alert in their anticipatory speech.
There's a test called N-SSP…essentially a questionnaire of how you see yourself in terms of positive or negative.
The SSPS-N scores evidenced significant increases during the testing of the placebo group that was almost abolished in the CBD group.
So…pretreatment with CBD made people with social anxiety "feel" like the control group without social anxiety!
Public speaking requires a lot of mental functions…speech, thinking, etc.
CBD did not adversely affect any of that!
Translation…you'll be able to get through customs without them thinking you're a terrorist or "on something".
That study is great because it really points to how much CBD and when to take it.
Let's go there!
The CBD protocol for fear of flying
This is where many people go wrong with CBD. They're way undershooting levels of CBD according to research.
25mg is not going to do it!
The study above gave the participants 600mg 1 and ½ hours before the speech test.
Also, they used CBD isolate (more on that below…super important).
So…our CBD and flying protocol:
- 300-600mg CBD isolate
- 1 ½ hour before take-off (peak CBD is around 4-6 hours so add as needed for longer flights later on)
- Hold under tongue for up to 60 seconds to boost or speed availability (Oh no…flight's in 30 minutes)
- Take after meal ideally but not necessary
That's it! You may find that 300mg does it for you since we're all different but 600mg is the gold standard based on multiple studies for "acute" (right now, really bad) situations.
Let's talk about the kind of CBD.
Best type of CBD for fear of flying
First, the CBD needs to be from FDA-registered farms in the USA.
The following is mandatory:
- Zero THC (more on this below)
- 3rd party tested
- No pesticides
- No heavy metals
- No solvents
- No mold
- No bacteria
Testing is available at top of any page.
Next is the type of CBD.
CBD isolate matches the research but most importantly, it takes into account…histamine.
Histamine (source of allergic reaction) is excitatory in the brain. It eats up GABA and drives a fight or flight response since it's tasked with getting bad things out of the body.
That's the exact opposite direction we want to go before getting on a flight.
CBD itself calms histamine but full spectrum materials can actually trigger histamine and even anxiety itself!
40-60% of the population has histamine issues and this number goes up as we get older and for women (when progesterone leaves the scene).
99% of the research is on CBD isolate while 99% of the marketing is for full spectrum.
Then there's cost and levels.
Cost per mg of CBD is the key number. The 6000mg bottle is 2-3 cents per mg of CBD before discounts up to 40-50%.
Each dropper is 200mg so 3 droppers would hit the 600 level right away.
Again, with the under-tongue trick, you may find fewer works as well.
Longer term, 300mg daily is the key to the "fear extinction" piece since that's peak neurogenesis (brain repair/rewrite).
Let us know of any questions and safe flights! Much calmer flights.
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.