This article has been scientifically reviewed for accuracy by our Chief Science Officer, Dr. John Streicher, Ph.D. of the University of Arizona.
Stress, Inflammation, and How CBD may Help
As tech improves and expectations of productivity increase, humans are losing touch with their ability to manage pressure; our health is blowing the whistle.
Stress has become one of the greatest threats to our quality of life and health. If unaddressed, it can cause chronic inflammation and irrevocable damage. Studies reveal cannabinoid supplementation is the unkept secret to reclaiming vitality by reducing stress.
We live in high-strung times, folks. Despite our flashy upgrades, the human biological response to stress hasn’t evolved past the savannah. Stress is a product of the primitive judgments our brains make in order to survive. The genes of our ancestors wouldn’t have made it this far without it. Managed with awareness, stress is the reason we gather focus to accomplish tasks and resolve conflict. It’s our oldest friend and strongest ally; so what’s gone wrong?
Evolution happens over the course of millions of years. Our ape-like organ structures are not up to date with the speed and stimulus-overload of modern society. Without the brain’s awareness and control of stress, the body can’t override anxiety; our biology suffers as a result.
To understand the effect stress has on our bodies, we have to unpack why we villainize it so much. Perceived stress is the way your brain assesses intense events in your life, and the priority you place upon them. The way we interpret and recover from stress determines how it manifests physically.
The body mirrors our perception through the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
The ANS regulates the functions of your muscles, internal organs, and glands. It operates on a 24/7 feedback loop; sending orders and making coordinated adjustments according to sensory input.
Their orders are distributed through a chain of command. If your body was the Starship Enterprise, the ANS steers the ship through the Sympathetic (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems (PNS) like Starfleet officers at the bridge.
Let’s do some roleplay here:
You’re asleep in bed and you catch a whiff of smoke. Your family’s hut is on fire.
The SNS alerts the endocrine system to secrete stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. The body enters a state known as “fight-or-flight,” optimizing its chances of survival. Blood rushes to your extremities, and away from all presently-irrelevant organs.
Some sympathetic responses include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and muscle tension. All essential functions unrelated to the emergency are put on the back burner. The body is primed to escape or confront the conflict.
Its counterpart, the PNS, plays the subsequent “rest-and-digest” role. The parasympathetic mode recalibrates the body back into homeostasis. Once the fire is put out and the stress has subsided, other vital functions proceed so the body recovers.
Respiration rate, heart rate, digestion, and physical awareness are restored. This is why people in car accidents often don’t experience any pain until they’ve had a chance to unwind.
The body’s flow is balanced again and ready to respond to new challenges.
Photo: Merck Manuals
The SNS and PNS are interdependent. Both roles in their delicate dance serve indispensable contributions. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case for individuals with chronic stress that can drive sympathetic dominance. This is not the case for the average American adult at all today.
Our reptilian brains are highly efficient at recognizing stress, regardless of context. As long as we don’t make a conscious intervention, our bodies can’t tell the difference between a tight deadline and a hut aflame.
At a reigning 57%, a global study by Gallup reveals U.S. and Canadian workers claim to feel overwhelmed by stress daily.
Upon repeated exposure, the amount of stimulus required to trigger your SNS decreases. The vital organs managed by the PNS never have a chance to regenerate under sympathetic dominance. This exacerbates any underlying illnesses and creates vulnerability for more.
Under acute stress, cortisol suppresses the immune system, which is why it’s easier for you to get sick when you’re acutely stressed out. However, chronic stress seems to be different, and through an unknown mechanism, the body chronically generates a troop of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines to counter-attack the perceived threat. These are the chemicals behind pain, swelling, heat, and redness.
Engaged too frequently or too long, these cytokines habituate. The inflammatory response persists even when there’s no danger. In severe cases, the cellular defense system stops telling the difference between foreign invaders and domestic cells; ultimately, attacking its own.
The direct cause remains a mystery, but the correlation is strong. It doesn’t take long for chronic inflammation to manifest under perpetual stress.
Research shows that victims of childhood abuse experience higher rates of digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and infectious diseases. The same goes for individuals suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Emotional stress is the main contributing factor to the 6 leading causes of death in the U.S. Research indicates Inflammation is the middleman:
An overwhelmed body doesn’t perform to standard, and a body under severe chronic inflammation won’t perform at all; it succumbs.
Whether CBD’s benefits derive from quelling inflammation or the stress that caused it is a question akin to the chicken and the egg; the answer also might be both!
Either way, CBD and the 100+ chemical compounds found in Cannabis sativa are known to decrease both inflammation and stress.
Engaged as early as fetal development, the responsibility of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is to create and metabolize cannabinoids.
We are born producing the same stress-relieving chemical compounds the government banned for 50+ years.
Despite the information gap, researchers find the ECS paramount in regulating functions like:
- Motor control
- Immune function
- Reproduction and fertility
- Pleasure and reward
- Temperature regulation
Alongside the ANS, our ECS learns from each stressful exposure. It releases endogenous cannabinoids to support relaxation and homeostasis recovery accordingly.
Like every other biological system, it loses strength when neglected.
People under high stress have suppressed endocannabinoid function, meaning they can’t rely on their conscious minds to rest. Luckily, phytocannabinoids like CBD exhibit the same desired effect.
The real solution to stress-induced chronic inflammation is to focus on the parasympathetic mode. Our society has yet to recognize sympathetic dominance for the epidemic it is. Odds are, millions more will suffer at the hands of the American cortisol crisis before priorities shift.
A quote reads, “The greatest weapon against stress is the ability to choose one thought over another.” CBD relieves inflammation and restores your ability to assess obstacles consciously.
Stress will always be a part of life, and the way it takes form can increase longevity if we manage it so. If you don’t take proper measures to fill your cup, you won’t notice or associate your symptoms with stress overload until it’s too late.
The rhythm of our output-obsessed society will only become worse as our lives automate. Outsourcing healing methods our primal bodies recognize, like CBD, will make all the difference.