I want to start this blog by saying, I’m tired of the hushed conversations people have about CBD oil. It is a legal substance in Texas [each state is different] and has done a great deal more for my health, and my mental health, in a few short months than any FDA regulated, anti-anxiety prescription drug has in the past 20 years. Let’s get this out of the way now: In Texas, as long as a CBD product is derived from legally-grown ‘industrial’ hemp and contains less than 0.3% THC, then it is legal. If you live in Texas, you can buy legitimate CBD oil via Amazon, People’s Pharmacy (Austin), and my favorite Veggimins.com.
I began taking CBD oil regularly in August 2018 and in two weeks I knew, with perfect confidence (I can’t stress that enough), that I could begin the weaning process from my prescription of sertraline (a generic for Zoloft).
I have anxiety. And when things are really bad, I have panic attacks. While the anxiety I’m used to, and lived side-by-side with since childhood, the panic attacks were relatively new for me. I only began experiencing them in relation to my health scare during the summer of 2017.
Since experiencing my first panic attack, I’ve had several since, and much to my humiliation, ambulances and first-responders were involved during three major episodes, two in public and one at home.
The summer of 2017 marked the 3rd time of my life where I would, out of necessity, go to my doctor and plead for help.
XANAX, My First Anti-Anxiety Drug
When I was 17, my right knee-cap dislocated. My anxiety spiked as I was still a high school student who had a part-time job and no car. My then shit boss said, you can either get to work or not have a job. I needed this shitty job as I was saving for a group trip with my theater class to New York. I had already paid out two-thirds of the cost of the non-refundable trip, so yeah, I hobbled around town via crutches and a full-length leg restraint to hold down that shitty job that was not convenient to replace. I had no rides, my mother wasn’t interested in helping me, and everyone I knew was as car-less as I was. The doctor took a look at me on a follow-up exam, teeth grinding and sleep deprived, and wrote a generous prescription for Xanax.
This doctor provided no expectation about being on the drug or how to come down from it. No plan was made regarding weaning. This doctor gave a 17-year old a high dose, starting out prescription of Xanax, and a ‘this will sort out your nerves’ sort of pep-talk.
A month later, I’m out of the prescription and falling over my own legs (one in a full-length restraint) as the ground seems to be moving. The room is literally spinning as I come down hard from this drug. This sensation lasted roughly 48 hours. By the time it was done, I was spun out. Exhausted. Coming down from Xanax abruptly was harder than walking to-and-from work, and school, in a full-length leg-brace.
ZOLOFT, Part I
This part is a bit blurry in my memory as I was seeing different doctors over a 2-year period of time and for different reasons (pre/post pregnancy, thyroid, anxiety). Between 2013 and 2015, I experienced several life stressing events that would see me on and off Zoloft and in varying amounts over two years. But the problem essentially starts the same…
I stopped sleeping.
In January 2013, I give birth and six months after E is born, I leave my job and move from San Antonio to Austin. My husband had already partially transitioned. He rented an apartment in Austin while I stayed in San Antonio to use up all my sick and vacation leave accumulated just for the purpose of maternity leave, and I might add, when your employer doesn’t offer maternity leave, you have to earn every damn hour of it.
I was stressed. My husband was offered an excellent opportunity in Austin, and the long-term plan was to move back home (Austin is not my hometown but having lived here for nearly two decades, I think I’m a legit Austinite now) so I figure we can live apart for six months. It was a short-term sacrifice for a long-term goal. I handled it well. But after E was born, and my husband only coming home on the weekends, I started to unravel. Sleeping became erratic. The post-natal doctor told me this was normal as the brain now recognizes the need for change in sleep with a new baby. While this information is correct, it was not correct for me. It was anxiety. Additionally, there was no way I could have known, or the post-natal doctor could have known, that my thyroid was in the early stages of shutting down. The thyroid plays a role in sleep regulation.
Quickly, I get us moved (I arranged the move and did all the packing, with a 6-month old) and after I get us unpacked, and I have a full-time partner again, I can’t settle. I’m not sleeping more than two or three hours a night.
I find a doctor and she says, “Anxiety,” and “let’s try Zoloft.” Okay. I admit, I’m good at coping with anxiety, but these past several months have been a bit more than I can deal with. My sleep “improves” to about four hours a night, and even then, unlike Xanax, you have to build the Zoloft up. This is not an overnight process. I was into the fourth, maybe fifth week before my sleeping hours increased. But the general anxiety reduced dramatically.
However, the cons far outweighed the pros of Zoloft. Which is why I, and millions of others like me, have a love and hate (mostly hate, for me at least) relationship with Zoloft.
1. Sleep improved (a bit for me, not much)
2. Anxiety reduced
1. Constant tweaking with the doctor to find the right dosage – with a four week test range in-between visits. It’s time-consuming and costly to get the dosage right.
a. Dosage too low (for me, this is at the 25 mg mark): ineffective.
b. Dosage too high (for me, this is at 100 mg mark): loss of feelings (I’m mean this in the literal sense, there is a reduction in anxiety and pretty much any feelings) loss of libido (for nearly six months I was dead below the waist), mental dullness, an inability to think quickly, an inability to react quickly, and a general sense of disinterest
2. Long introduction period. As noted earlier, Zoloft is not an insta-drug. It takes weeks of build-up before it begins to work. The average is six weeks.
3. Long weaning period. When you and your doctor decide it’s time to come off the drug, you have to come down by degrees. Completely exiting the drug can take months as stopping all together can shock the body and brain.
a. This means new prescriptions for lower levels of the drug, i.e. lots of doctor visits.
b. Exiting the drug too fast and you risk withdrawal symptoms and can possibly induce an overwhelming amount anxiety and even panic attacks.
In 2014, we buy a house, our first house, and I’m more confident now. I’m comfortable with being a full-time parent to a baby. My hypothyroidism is discovered and I’m medicated for it. I’m feeling better. My quality of sleep has definitely improved now that I know it was my malfunctioning thyroid that was causing so many problems. I begin the drawn-out weaning method and eventually, I successfully exit Zoloft.
ZOLOFT, Part II
Last summer, I had a health scare that induced several panic attacks. They ripped through me like nothing I had experienced before. Any pain I was familiar with, up until that point, felt like child’s play. Every second that goes by is essentially the second your brain tells you that you’re going to die. That means a 60-second panic attack is 60-seconds of understanding that you are dying and there is nothing you can do about it. And that’s the mental pain. I’ve recounted the physical pain before in previous blogs.
I really hate it this time. For the first six weeks, while the Zoloft builds in my system, I’m prone to panic attacks and the anxious thoughts are compounded daily. Since I’m not a rookie, my doctor starts me out at 100 mg to jump start the process and then plans to taper me down to 75 mg in roughly two months after the reintroduction period.
It does the job I’m familiar with. After about 8 months, and down to 50 mg daily, I have a casual across-the-yard talk with my neighbor. She’s a great woman and had her own medical scare, diagnosed with cervical cancer earlier in the year. She experienced anxiety to the point of sleeplessness, never mind the debilitating, garbage-thoughts anxiety induces. We shared experiences. She was prescribed Zoloft too but was immediately unhappy with it. By chance she went to People’s Pharmacy looking for something to help with sleep and anxiety as six weeks is a lot to ask someone to wait for relief. They sold her on CBD oil, praising its properties for reducing the effects of anxiety and enhancing sleep.
She told me all about it and how it saved her mind and improved her health. She could sleep again. She advocated it so strongly but did more than that, she ran back to her house and gave me one of her bottles that was nearly done but had enough that I could try it over several days. I felt the positive effects on the first try.
1. Works within 20 minutes. I felt calmer. I felt like me. Like I was myself without being choked by the mental and physical anxiety. Not a “druggy” calm (prescribed or otherwise). Not a “doped” calm. Not a “high” calm. Just calm. As in, Christina is just calm. This is a Christina without anxiety. After a few days use, I nearly cried at the wonder of it. I’ve never known mental relief like this. Not through therapy. Not through prescriptions.
2. I sleep more and with less restlessness. I went from four hours to seven hours of sleep.
a. Now that I’m sleeping properly through the night, I’m not tired at all during the day like I was while on Zoloft.
3. No weaning period. This is not an addictive substance. This is not a build-up substance. There is no withdrawal. Don’t like it? Don’t take it.
4. Doses can change by next use. No long waiting periods in-between new doses, trying to find a leveled out plateau, costing you time and money on doctors and prescriptions. Not enough positive effect based on your experience with CBD oil? Take it up by 20 mg on the next try. 200 mg feel like too much? Reduce it by 20 mg on the next try. And you will know by your first use if it is either doing something positive for you or not. Doses of CBD oil, and it’s effectiveness, can vary by an individual’s metabolism, body weight, etc.
1. Cost. CBD oil ain’t cheap, but then neither is its regulation. The liquid version, which I take, costs more but works the best. I don’t need much either, I take approximately 6 drops on the tongue, not even close to the 1 fluid oz technical serving. 1 bottle of CBD oil lasts me a long time.
2. Taste. It’s a plant-based, oil extract. As delicious as it sounds.
I’ve tried the pill form as well as the oil, and oil is hands down the more productive of the two. This is currently my favorite CBD oil:
I wanted to put this blog out there because CBD oil is blowing up for people who need an alternative to prescription drugs for their anxiety and depression, sleeplessness, and for pain relief too. And yet, are ashamed or fearful of the perception of using CBD oil despite its overwhelming benefits. We’d rather discuss our ineffective, big-pharma drugs and keep our fingers crossed regarding unwanted properties like addiction, withdrawal, and whether or not, you know, it’s actually useful.
After taking the CBD oil consistently for two months, I confidently tapered down my Zoloft from 50 mg daily, to 25 mg daily, to 25 mg every other day until I emptied my last refill. This took about two months. No hiccups, no freak-outs, no panic attacks, no withdrawal symptoms. For the first time since 2015, I strongly believe I may never have to get on another anti-anxiety drug the next time life throws a wrench in my works. And there will be a next time – I’m a realist. But now I’m a realist with real help.
Take the stigma away. Talk about your experiences. Please comment. Please share.