What are Panic Attacks and what is Panic Disorder?
While often thought to be the same thing, panic attacks and anxiety attacks are different. Anxiety attacks initiate in reaction to a stressor. For example, a person may feel apprehensive or fearful of a certain situation. Anxiety attacks are short-lived; when the stressor goes away, so does the anxiety.
In contrast, Panic Disorder does not relate to a stressor. Rather, it involves repeated and unexpected instances of intense fear. This precedes symptoms such as heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, and abdominal distress. Sometimes, the symptoms mimic those of a heart attack or another serious medical condition. As a result, extensive testing is sometimes necessary to correctly diagnose Panic Disorder.
Panic Disorder affects roughly 1.7% of American adults. This equates to around 2.4 million people. Women are twice as likely to develop the condition than men, and 50% of all people who have a panic disorder develop it before the age of 24.
Common progression of panic disorder:
As the frequency of the attacks increase, the individual avoids situations where they believe another attack may occur. Although an isolated panic attack might only last for a few minutes, it leaves a deep psychological imprint.
The memory of the fear and terror they experienced can devastate their self-confidence and cause serious disruption to their everyday life. Eventually, they could develop one of these Panic Disorder symptoms:
- Phobic Avoidance: Patient starts avoiding certain environments or situations because they believe they are like the locations where they have previously suffered a panic attack.
- Agoraphobia: At one time, this condition was associated with open spaces and public places only. Now, it is believed that agoraphobia can develop after panic attacks. While it can develop at any time, it usually happens within a year of the first recurring panic attacks. It manifests as a fear of having a panic attack in a place where it is hard to escape from.
- Anticipatory Anxiety: This can have a severe impact on your life. Rather than feeling relaxed and ‘normal’ in the time between panic attacks, you feel tense and nervous due to a fear of future attacks.
Common symptoms of panic attacks:
- Racing Heart
- Sweating and/or Shivering
- Tunnel Vision
- Tightness in the Chest
- Nausea or Vomiting
What Causes Panic Disorder?
Unfortunately, doctors have been unable to pinpoint the reasons why certain people get Panic Disorder, although it does seem to be partially hereditary. Other causes could be stressful life events (such as entering a new workplace, getting married, having a child, or the death of a loved one) and thinking in a manner that exaggerates your normal bodily functions. Alas, the precise reason is unknown, although Panic Disorder is the subject of detailed scientific investigation.
We understand that a structure deep within the brain known as the amygdala coordinates fear response. This is a complex structure, and according to research, abnormal activation in this part of the brain could produce anxiety disorders.
Another possibility is that Panic Disorder, as well as associated panic attacks, are caused by a physical issue or a medical condition such as:
- Withdrawal from medication.
- Use of stimulants such as cocaine, caffeine, or amphetamines.
- Low blood sugar.
- Overactive thyroid gland.
- A minor cardiac problem called mitral valve prolapse, which happens when one of the heart’s valves fails to close properly.
CBD and Panic Attacks
As of now, it is known that THC can have a calming and soothing effect on the human body. This occurs when the anandamide in our bodies react with the THC in cannabis. Recent studies, however, show that CBD may also have positive effects on panic disorder suffers.
One study published in Neurotherapeutics, examines CBD as a possible treatment for anxiety disorders. The conclusion states that preclinical trials suggest CBD’s effectiveness in reducing anxiety behaviors.
The researchers found that cannabidiol helped with various disorders, including SAD (social anxiety disorder), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), PD (panic disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). It stated that the anxiolytic actions of the cannabinoid depended on CB1 receptors and 5-HT1A receptors in several brain regions. The study also stated that further investigation of the additional receptor actions could uncover more mechanisms.
It went on to say that findings in experiments involving humans supported preclinical discoveries, and suggest a minimal sedative effect, a lack of anxiogenic effects, and a safety profile described as ‘excellent’. The study did point out that the findings are mainly based on ‘acute CBD dosing’ in healthy people. This means additional research is needed to find out if chronic dosing is effective in the relevant clinical populations.
One of the most recent reviews of studies involving CBD and anxiety was conducted by Soares and Campos in 2017, where it was published in the Current Neuropharmacology journal. The researchers pointed out that SSRIs, the current first-line treatment for Panic Disorder, are not effective in the long-term, and carry an array of side effects that cause patients to discontinue the treatment.
In contrast, CBD has anti-anxiety properties, and the duo put the theory to the test on both human and animal subjects. The research concluded that “CBD seems to be a promising drug for the treatment of PD.”
Soares and Campos also found that a single dose of 300mg of CBD caused a significant decrease in anxiety levels after a simulated public speaking test. In a different study in the review, a 600mg dose of CBD caused a major reduction in anxiety in people with social anxiety disorder.
Final Thoughts on CBD for Panic Disorder
As things stand, anecdotal evidence into the benefits of CBD for anxiety disorders such as PD is mounting up. We know that there are tens of thousands of people all over the world who swear by CBD. As well as an increasing number of experts that believe cannabidiol has potential therapeutic use for patients with anxiety. There is no risk in trying CBD for Panic Disorder so if you or someone you know is currently suffering this is something you should definitely try!