Can CBD help with anxiety and insomnia? The short answer - yes. The long answer: KushKush investigates.
Words: Mary Landers
Spoiler alert: I’ve already failed at my new year’s resolution. That’s right, resolution - as in, singular. I only had one and couldn’t even pull that off successfully! As my grandmother would say: oh, shitballs. (I kid you not). This year I was going to achieve that elusive work-life balance, but so far all I’ve really managed to do is check my emails incessantly (uhm, what if there’s an emergency?) and moan about my clients every time someone comes within earshot of me. Oh shitballs, indeed.
See, the problem is that my job comes with a lot of, ehh, challenging clients and their negativity is starting to rub off on me. Along with said negativity comes a whole host of symptoms I wish I wasn’t feeling: like scary heart palpitations before bed, a constant lump in my throat and radical insomnia.
So, what’s a girl to do?
I do what I always do in a crisis, which is crowd-source a solution. You know what comes up a lot (a lot a lot)? Cannabis, in all its forms: joints, tinctures, oils, edibles - you name it. I usually roll my eyes when people suggest cannabis as the answer to everything. Seriously, it suddenly went from being the ‘devil’s lettuce’ to an all-encompassing cure-all… How did that even happen? But the more people I speak to, the more curious I become.
‘I love the ritual of smoking a joint,’ Maxime, 31, a film maker in Cape Town, tells me over a Virgin Margarita. ‘There’s something really soothing about rolling a joint, lighting it, and exhaling the smoke.’ While I’m not totally with her on that one, I am intrigued as to why she smokes. ‘It’s recreational as well as a medicinal treatment I rely on to help with my anxiety.’
As a filmmaker and director, Maxime says her job demands a lot of mental juggling and, because she works with lots of different people every day, she often finds herself entrenched in other peoples’ energy. ‘By the time I get home, I’m exhausted but my mind is racing.’
As a result, she struggles to engage with being at home, or shifting the momentum so she can just chill out. And that’s where cannabis helps. ‘Smoking a joint helps me feel calm - I’m able to gather myself and put the day behind me.’ If she doesn’t have that after-work spliff, she feels tired and wired and spirals into an anxious vortex. “I’ll feel quite frantic and then often struggle to sleep.’
While the promise of lowered anxiety and a good night’s sleep piques my interest, I’m not yet ready to leap straight into smoking and decide to investigate softer options first.
Enter Zara, 44, a retail-store owner in Durban, who recommends I start with CBD gummies for my insomnia. After having a panic attack a few months after giving birth to a colicky, refluxy baby that refused to sleep, she was prescribed an anti-anxiety anti-depressant medication, which she admits was a lifesaver at the time.
But taking pharmaceutical drugs long-term didn’t sit right with her, so she’s worked hard since then to find a more natural way of living. ‘I can now identify the red flags of my anxiety - a tight chest, a 'stretched' brain and staccato thoughts that I can't switch off. But a pattern of insomnia is still the biggest trigger for me, and one I watch like a hawk.’ Sleeping pills make her feel ‘blank’; so she relied on herbal remedies like sceletium to keep her in check, until she found cannabis gummies, which, she says, have been a game-changer.
Eating a cannabis-laced sweetie before gently nodding off to sleep sounds non-scary, so I take one just before getting into bed. Instead of the usual heart palpitations and me playing out multiple scenarios in which I fire my own clients, I fall asleep almost instantly and wake up the next morning feeling rested, warm and snug. Hey, I could get used to this. I take the gummies every night for the rest of the week, but while I’m enjoying my newfound sleepiness, I’m still anxious during the day. Can CBD help with anxiety as well?
Amy, 29, a Cape-Town based teacher, says she was so anxious and traumatised after experiencing two life-threatening experiences within the space of five months, she was diagnosed with compound PTSD. ‘It’s like PTSD, but much, much worse!’, she explains.
To help her cope, she went to therapy and took anti-anxiety meds but decided to stop the meds when she started lactating. ‘I thought: Enough is enough! What the hell am I doing to my body?’ That’s when she decided to give CBD oil a try. ‘I was scared of getting high but the CBD effect is far more subtle’. It helped calm her mind and because her head felt clear, it helped regulate her sleep. ‘I realised that better quality sleep is crucial to recovering the physical body from anxiety.’
This all sounds rather promising so I buy a bottle of CBD oil, put 10 drops under my tongue (this proves harder than I thought possible!) and wait… I was expecting to suddenly feel better - my stress melting away - and am disappointed when that doesn’t happen. But after two weeks of taking it every day, I suddenly realise those horrific heart palpitations have stopped and I’m feeling more optimistic.
Then, a miracle happens. One night, my ‘special’ client sends me an after-hours email (a common occurrence) and instead of immediately replying, I roll my eyes and calmly delete my email account from my phone. You know what? It can wait until I’m back in the office. Looks like this whole work-life balance thing may actually be doable, after all.
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