Does speaking in front of an audience terrify you? Have you ever said no to a dinner or party invitation because you didn’t want to endure sitting in public with all eyes on you? Have you ever dismissed a job opportunity because it required frequent interaction with too many new people? Do you shrink to the back of the room and avoid participating in class discussions? Do you skip things you want to do just to avoid being out in public?
These are just some of the scenarios that arise for people who are afflicted with social anxiety disorder.
The cluster of mental health issues labeled anxiety disorders affects about 40 million adults across the United States. Only about 37% of those people ever seek out treatment, and it usually takes them years to do so. Social anxiety disorder might seem like a subtle offender in comparison to some of the more debilitating disorders, but it is rampant, affecting 15 of that 40 million, or about 7% of all adults in the country. Believe it or not, social anxiety is the second-most-diagnosed anxiety disorder, coming after diagnoses of specific phobias.
Social anxiety is sometimes also labeled as “social phobia”; its distinction is that it constitutes an intense fear of being negatively judged in social and performance situations, to the point of avoidance—and extreme stress where avoidance is not possible. People with social anxiety go through major distress when engaging in many social situations that other people take for granted (i.e., the aforementioned parties, dinners out, or making a presentation at work). Symptoms are not merely mental, but physical. Machine-gun heartbeat, profuse sweating, roller-coaster-worthy nausea, diarrhea, panic attacks, and more all can affect sufferers when they’re put in an uncomfortable position. They can rationalize their fears as unfounded, but still feel utterly helpless against the tide of anxiety.
Severe cases of social anxiety disorder can hurt one’s life across work, friendships, romantic relationships, school, and so on. In turn, those who fail to thrive in these areas due to social phobia tend to develop major depression, and sometimes also develop alcohol and other substance abuse problems as a way to cope.
Nature, nurture, and genes play a role
The roots of social anxiety are not completely clear, but most experts agree that the disorder has both genetic and environmental causes. There’s definitely strong evidence that social anxiety can run in the family. Serotonin levels in the brain, and issues with the amygdala (that prehistoric “lizard” part of the brain that governs the “fight or flight” response) have both been implicated as having an influence on social phobia. Weather and societal norms can also play a big role—consider the fact that in warmer, more population-dense Mediterranean environments, there is a much lower rate of social anxiety occurring than in colder, more sparsely populated Scandinavian environments. There seems to be a “nurture” component here, too—growing up around other anxious people may also be linked to the development of the disorder.
Therapy and medications don’t work for everyone
Over one-third of social anxiety sufferers endure symptoms for 10 years or longer before they seek help. Not surprising, given the social nature of the disorder. Medications are often prescribed for people with this condition, but they are not always effective, and are in fact generally ineffective unless they are taken in conjunction with some form of regular psychotherapy. Common medications prescribed are anti-anxiety agents (benzodiazepines like Xanax and Klonopin) and SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants like Paxil or Zoloft. Statistics tell us that antidepressants are only 15% effective in treating social anxiety disorder.
The risks associated with long-term antidepressant use are pretty well known. Anti-anxiety medications are not typically safe for long-term use as they can be heavily sedating and are habit-forming. Lots of large-scale studies of social anxiety disorder medications have been found to be biased toward drugs marketed by the same companies sponsoring such studies, so statistics on their effectiveness should be taken with a serious grain of salt. If you’d like to get into more detail about medications and stress and anxiety, check out “Anxiety and Stress.”
Therapy is the most widely recommended form of treatment for social anxiety, and specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). But we realize the catch-22 of having social phobia and struggling with going to therapy on a regular basis. There’s also the considerable expense to consider—skilled CBT therapists do not come cheap.
Studies on CBD and social anxiety reveal a viable, safe new treatment
CBD has been shown to be a game changer when it comes to anxiety disorders of all types. It has natural anti-anxiety properties because of the way it works with our endocannabinoid system’s (ECS) According to Spanish scientists, CBD can go toe-to-toe with SSRI antidepressants, as CBD tends to have a faster effect on the neurological signals influencing serotonin levels than drugs like Zoloft do. According to the researchers: “The fast onset of antidepressant action of CBD and the simultaneous anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect would solve some of the main limitations of current antidepressant therapies.”
Perhaps most exciting when it comes to social anxiety disorder are recent studies done specifically on humans with anxiety disorders. In one Brazilian study, it was noted that social phobia patients reported a marked increase in anxiety after taking just one 400mg dose of CBD! Brain scans were used to validate patient reports, and revealed patterns that were consistent with lowered anxiety.
Another now-famous study done in late 2010 involved a set of patients with social anxiety disorder, who were asked to perform a “simulation public speaking test” (SPST). These patients were “treatment-naïve”—meaning they’d never received any other kind of treatment before. Half the patients were given a 600mg dose of CBD before the test, while the other half got a placebo. Various methods were used to record the patients’ experience. The CBD set experienced significant positive benefits: “Pretreatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance, and significantly decreased alert in their anticipatory speech. The placebo group presented higher anxiety, cognitive impairment, discomfort, and alert levels when compared with the control group.” What a difference just one dose of CBD could make for people afflicted with social anxiety disorder!
Everyone is different, so we’re not about to make a blanket statement that CBD is going to rid anyone reading this of their social anxiety. But we believe in CBD’s power as an anti-anxiety agent, and so do many researchers and medical professionals across the globe. And because CBD is safe, even at higher doses, and when used long-term, the risks involved with trying it are minimal.
This is something you can purchase discreetly and try on your own, without having to go visit therapists’ offices and deal with the social anxiety symptoms that might arise from feeling exposed and vulnerable. CBD might perhaps help get social phobia sufferers over that hump, at which point seeking out therapy is more bearable, too. CBD is also likely cheaper than a well-respected therapist. Honestly, we’d like to see therapists specializing in anxiety disorders recommending CBD in conjunction with therapy instead of Prozac, but we’re not there yet. The world is catching on, though…. If you’re a social anxiety sufferer and curious to try CBD, check out “What to Look for in a CBD Product” next.