When you stop to think about it, mushrooms are remarkable.
They’re closer to animals than plants on the tree of life.
They can break down plastic and petroleum.
The single largest organism on the planet is an underground honey fungus spanning almost 3 miles in the the state of Oregon.
They carry messages along their underground fungal networks using neurotransmitters that are very similar to the ones our brains use.
They’re a kind of “forest internet” which plants and trees use to communicate with each other.
And, as it turns out, they possess and confer some very impressive health and therapeutic effects. Several years ago, I highlighted the culinary varieties and explored their considerable health benefits. Go read that, then come back here because I’m going to talk about the different types of adaptogenic mushrooms today. These are the real heavy hitters, the ones that appear to supercharge immune systems, stimulate neuronal growth, improve memory and focus, pacify the anxious mind, increase the libido, and enhance sleep quality.
Let’s go through the most important adaptogenic mushrooms and the evidence for each. I’ll primarily stick to human studies, but may relay some animal studies if they seem relevant.
Reishi has been used in traditional Asian medicine for hundreds of years to treat diseases of the immune system. (Reishi is its Japanese name; in China, it’s called lingzhi and in Korea, it’s yeongji.) Other folk uses include all the regular stuff you expect—aches, pains, allergies, “qi”—but the majority of modern clinical evidence focuses on immunity, cancer, and inflammation.
But the interesting thing to remember is that inflammation figures into pretty much every modern ailment. Even conditions like depression and anxiety are often characterized by a surplus of systemic inflammation. If reishi can soothe the inflammation, it could very well help with all the other seemingly unrelated conditions, too.
- Reduced anxiety, depression, and fatigue and improved quality of life in breast cancer patients.
- Reduced insulin resistance.
- Reduced inflammatory markers and restored kidney function in kidney disease patients.
- Suppressed the growth of more adenomas (benign tumors with the potential to become malignant) in patients with existing colorectal adenomas.
- Boosted the immune systems of late-stage cancer patients.
Reishi is also said to be very good for sleep, though I wasn’t able to find a supporting human study.
Exercise caution if you have an autoimmune disease, as using reishi to”activate” the immune system that’s attacking you may—theoretically—increase the attack’s severity.
Reishi may also lower libido in high doses, as it inhibits the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone—albeit in rats. More rat research suggests that low doses of reishi could increase libido.
No human studies indicate this, but a rodent study found that giving reishi reduced time to exhaustion in a forced weighted swimming challenge (throw a rat in the water with a weight attached). They got tired faster.
Cordyceps is another mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote vitality and energy. For the men, that’s code for “better erections.” What does the evidence say?
It is broadly anti-inflammatory.
It’s an effective immuno-adaptogen: it boosts immunity when immune function is too low and dampens it when it’s over-activated. Autoimmune thyroiditis patients who took cordyceps saw dual-direction immunomodulation—too low got higher, too high got lower.
As for the “energy and vitality” claims, that appears to be true in mammals. We have evidence that rats, pigs, mice, and even yaks, goats, and sheep get boosts to testosterone status and sexual function when taking cordyceps, and that it improves brain function and cognition in small mammals, but nothing solid in humans. Still, the fact that it helps other mammals probably indicates utility for us.
Chaga is a mushroom with a long history of use in Northern Eurasia (Russia, Siberia) as well as a considerable body of animal evidence and isolated human cell evidence in support, but no real studies using actual live humans. That’s unfortunate, because chaga appears to be the real deal:
- Immunomodulation (mice).
- Increased endurance and improved lactate threshold during exercise (mice).
- Reduced cancer progression and spread (mice).
- Reduced DNA damage (human cells).
I hope we get some strong human studies in the near future. In the meantime, you can always run your own!
Lion’s Mane is a mushroom that looks like a pom-pom. Or a brain, which is fitting. Lion’s Mane’s main claim to fame is its purported ability to increase neurogenesis, reduce cognitive decline, and even regrow damaged nerves.
Studies in fact show that Lion’s Mane can:
- Reverse mild cognitive decline in the elderly (for as long as they continue to take the mushroom).
- Help nerve-damaged rats regenerate destroyed nerves and regain their ability to walk.
- Improve the Functional Index Measure in patients with dementia.
- Reduce anxiety and depression in women.
The majority of Lion’s Mane customers aren’t interested in reducing decline. They want a boost. They want increased focus, improved cognition, more and better neurons. Judging from the reversal of cognitive decline in the elderly and the flood of online anecdotes about improved focus and cognition, I suspect that there’s something there.
That said, another common side effect I’ve heard about from many of the same people lauding its cognitive effects is reduced libido. So keep an eye out for that one.
You know how I do things here. I can’t in good faith make definitive claims based on mouse studies that show this or that mushroom improving memory, blasting tumor cells, and increasing sexual virility. Still, I also can’t discount the hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of years of traditional use of these mushrooms for many of the conditions, nor can I ignore (or write off as “placebo”) the thousands of experimenters out there online deriving major benefits from some of these mushrooms.
The only option, of course, is to try it for yourself, which I may do in the near future (and will write about my findings).
How to Choose a Mushroom Supplement
When you’re buying an adaptogenic mushroom extract, look for products that come from fruiting bodies (actual mushrooms) rather than mycelium (the “roots” of the mushrooms). Fruiting bodies tend to have more of the active constituents than mycelium. Fruiting body extracts will also be more expensive—mushrooms take longer to grow than mycelium—but the added potency makes up for it.
Look for products that list the beta-glucan content, not the polysaccharide content. Beta-glucans are the uniquely active constituents. All beta-glucans are polysaccharides, but not all polysaccharides are beta-glucans.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences with adaptogenic mushrooms. Have you tried them? How have they been useful for you (or not)? Thanks for stopping in, everybody.
Zhao H, Zhang Q, Zhao L, Huang X, Wang J, Kang X. Spore Powder of Ganoderma lucidum Improves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:809614.
Futrakul N, Panichakul T, Butthep P, et al. Ganoderma lucidum suppresses endothelial cell cytotoxicity and proteinuria in persistent proteinuric focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) nephrosis. Clin Hemorheol Microcirc. 2004;31(4):267-72.
Smiderle FR, Baggio CH, Borato DG, et al. Anti-inflammatory properties of the medicinal mushroom Cordyceps militaris might be related to its linear (1?3)-?-D-glucan. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(10):e110266.
Lin WH, Tsai MT, Chen YS, et al. Improvement of sperm production in subfertile boars by Cordyceps militaris supplement. Am J Chin Med. 2007;35(4):631-41.
Parcell AC, Smith JM, Schulthies SS, Myrer JW, Fellingham G. Cordyceps Sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) supplementation does not improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004;14(2):236-42.
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Anxious traveller? This woman refused to let anxiety hold her back from exploring the world. These are the tips that help her stay calm under pressure.
The post “I Travel Solo Even Though I Have Anxiety — This Is How I Cope” appeared first on Women’s Health.
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The inability to get out of bed. A crippled sense of self-worth. Constant dread and continuous isolation. Most people would be able to recognise the classic signs of depression at its worst.
The post 7 Signs You Might Be Depressed And Not Even Know It appeared first on Women’s Health.
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There are a million reasons your symptoms might seem like they’ve “come back” or have gotten worse, even if you’re meds had been keeping your mood pretty stable.
The post Feel Like Your Antidepressants Stopped Working? Here’s What Could Be Happening appeared first on Women’s Health.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’ll be answering your CBD questions from the past few weeks. CBD, or cannabidiol, is exploding in popularity, but there are many unknowns. People have a lot of questions and there aren’t many definitive or comprehensive guides, so today I’ll do my best to make sense of it. We’re all piecing things together based on limited data—which, I suppose, is the fundamental human experience.
What’s the difference between hemp and CBD?
Hemp is a (recently legalized) industrial form of cannabis used in the production of paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, and overpriced Bob Marley shirts sold along Venice Beach. Hemp seed can be eaten (and is a fantastic source of magnesium, one of the best). Hemp is the plant.
CBD is cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in both hemp and cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD won’t get you high.
Due to legal issues, most big name online retailers won’t allow sellers to list “CBD oil” or “CBD” products, let alone CBD content. Descriptions like “full spectrum hemp extract” often mean CBD is present in the hemp oil, but it’s tough to know exactly how much. I recommend investigating the product, searching for the company that makes it, and seeing if they give more explicit details on their website. Even then, make sure the company is the actual seller on Amazon or else you may end up with a counterfeit product sold by wholesalers.
The best bet is to buy directly from the product website.
Is there oil for diabetics??
Although there aren’t any human trials that give CBD to diabetics to see what happens, there are some reasons to think it could be helpful:
Lowering stress. As stated in previous posts, CBD is an effective anti-stress agent. Stress is awful for anyone with diabetes. It increases blood sugar levels. It induces insulin resistance. And if you’re a stress eater, it can increase cravings for high-carb junk food that you really shouldn’t be eating in the first place. In other words, stress exacerbates all the physiological conditions a diabetic is already experiencing.
Improving sleep. Perhaps the most popular use of CBD is to improve poor sleep. Just about the best way to induce some serious glucose intolerance is to get a bad night’s sleep. A diabetic already has poor glucose tolerance; it’s pretty much the defining characteristic of diabetes. What’s worse, a bad night’s sleep has been shown to make a person more susceptible to the allure of junk food.
Inadequate sleep is a strong and independent predictor of type 2 diabetes risk. The less sleep you get, the higher your chance of developing diabetes.
Anything that reduces stress and improves sleep will improve a diabetic’s health. If CBD does that for you, it’ll probably help someone with diabetes. So in a roundabout, not direct way, CBD oil has the potential to help reduce the risk of diabetes and improve the symptoms.
Good MDA folks … does anyone have any experience using CBD oil in lieu of an SSRI to help with anxiety and panic? I’m using CBT techniques to deal with anxiety and panic episodes, and cutting back on my dosage of my SSRI with the intent to eliminate over the next couple of months. I was considering giving CBT oil a try (organic, full spectrum), starting out with just a drop or two and building up to a therapeutic dosage. Also, does CBT oil cause fatigue for anyone? It’s the last thing I want to happen as it’s a big reason I want to eliminate taking the SSRI?
Give it a try, making sure you keep your doctor in the loop.
There are several parallels between anti-depressants and CBD. Both antidepressants and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid receptor systems in the brain. Both antidepressants and CBD can stimulate neurogenesis and counter the depression-related reduction in brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
Any compound that’s used for sleep has the potential to increase fatigue. Sleep is fatigue at the right time. Fatigue is sleep at the wrong time. In an Israeli study of 74 pediatric epilepsy patients using CBD to quell their seizures, 22% reported unwanted levels of fatigue, so it’s a common complaint. Just consider that these were kids taking fairly high dose CBD to quell seizure activity, and that you may not have the same issue taking lower doses at a higher body weight.
Does CBD oil break my fast?
The dosages involved in most CBD oils include at most 1/8 teaspoon of carrier oils, so that’s not enough calories to impact your fast in any meaningful sense.
I haven’t seen any evidence that CBD itself inhibits or impedes ketosis, autophagy, or fat-burning. So, no, there is no indication that CBD oil breaks your fast.
How do I figure out how much cbd is in hemp oil?
As I indicated earlier, it’s impossible to know unless you buy a hemp oil that explicitly states the CBD content.
CBD oil is so expensive. Are there any other options for getting CBD?
You could make your own. It’s actually legal to buy “CBD flower,” which basically looks exactly like the cannabis or weed you’d buy on the street or at a legal dispensary, only it contains little to no THC and tons of CBD. One recipe I saw involved slow-cooking an ounce of the CBD flower in a cup of coconut oil for 8 hours, then straining out the solids. Whatever method you use to cook it, it requires fat, as cannabinoids are fat-soluble.
Here’s a place you can buy CBD flower online. (Note: I don’t have any experience with that company or any other that markets CBD flower or CBD products, so buyer beware.) There are many such places. Just search for them.
CBD is everywhere these days. Should I definitely use it?
Not necessarily. Like anything, it has its uses, there’s great potential, and as new research comes out I foresee the discovery of new modes of action and new applications. However, in all fairness, it’s being overhyped when promoted as a cure-all or panacea.
For what it’s worth, I’m not using it myself. I don’t feel the need, haven’t felt a “CBD deficit.” Don’t assume it’s yet another essential supplement that you simply must have. The basics are the important things—sleep, food, exercise, community, love, micronutrients.
CBD is best used for people who have an established need for it. Chronic pain patient who wants to stop using so many opioids? Great candidate. Kid with epilepsy for whom keto and meds aren’t working? Give it a try. Anxiety and insomnia? Better than just going with narcotics right off the bat. (But as always, work with a physician for any medical issue.)
That’s it for today, folks. If you have any more CBD questions, write them down below and I’ll be sure to answer them!
Rudnicka AR, Nightingale CM, Donin AS, et al. Sleep Duration and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Pediatrics. 2017;140(3)
Mcneil J, Forest G, Hintze LJ, et al. The effects of partial sleep restriction and altered sleep timing on appetite and food reward. Appetite. 2017;109:48-56.
Fogaça MV, Galve-roperh I, Guimarães FS, Campos AC. Cannabinoids, Neurogenesis and Antidepressant Drugs: Is there a Link?. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2013;11(3):263-75.
Tzadok M, Uliel-siboni S, Linder I, et al. CBD-enriched medical cannabis for intractable pediatric epilepsy: The current Israeli experience. Seizure. 2016;35:41-4.
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Here, women share the unexpected ways they keep their depression in check. One of their strategies might just help you uncover how to handle depression.
The post 5 Women Share What Finally Helped Them Get A Handle On Their Depression appeared first on Women’s Health.
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Here’s what you need to know about “smiling depression,” including what to do if you think you have it, and how to get help.
The post Yes, “Smiling Depression” Is A Thing — Here’s How To Know If You Have It appeared first on Women’s Health.
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These heavy blankets promise a sense of security capable of relieving stress and anxiety to help you sleep better. But do they really work?
The post Will Using A Weighted Blanket Really Help Soothe Your Anxiety? appeared first on Women’s Health.
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Our busy lives have led to us being more stressed out than ever. Here’s how breathing techniques can help you manage your stress and lead to a calmer you.
The post Feeling Burned Out? Try This Super Simple Breathing Technique appeared first on Women’s Health.
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Anxiety is normal. It’s something we all have experience with—to one degree or another. Most people are anxious about something that hangs over them and follows them around like a personal rain cloud. Then there’s the deeper but still familiar anxiety many of us carry. The anxiety about our self-worth. The anxiety of performance, of social situations. This type can grip us in an uncomfortable, but hopefully not chronic, way.
But not all anxiety is run-of-the-mill—or manageable. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, for instance, might have trouble leaving the house, ordering a coffee from Starbucks, going to work. Anxious thoughts cycling through their brains often keep them up at night. When untreated, people with this level of anxiety can end up living in a state of perpetual fear.
The conventional approach is to take anti-anxiety meds, which can be genuinely life-saving for some people. Nonetheless, these can come with downsides that vary depending on an individual’s dosage and reactions—and the nature of the particular medication itself. Some meds result in few side effects, but others’ effects can be heavy. For instance, there are the benzodiazepines, highly-addictive tranquilizers with the potential for abuse. They make driving unsafe. They lower productivity. They sedate you. When necessary for the severity of the condition, these side effects may be worth it.
In other cases, a person might have more space to experiment and want to explore a different route.
In some cases, people choose to try natural anxiety aids. These are supplements, nutrients, and herbs that have been designed across millennia by nature (and maybe some input from green-thumbed healers). They might not always be enough for something as serious as a clinical anxiety disorder (please talk to your doctor before making any adjustment or addition to your medication), but at least some may be important complements to a prescribed regimen.
For those who want or need an alternative strategy for anxiety beyond meditative practices and general good health, these natural remedies may be worth a try.
First, the NUTRIENTS….
These are basic vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that your body needs to work. They are non-negotiable. You don’t have to get them through supplements—in fact, that should be a last resort after food—and I wouldn’t expect “drug-level” effects, but you do need to get them.
1. Long Chained Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Some human evolution experts maintain that the human brain wouldn’t be the human brain without steady and early access to coastal food resources—fish and shellfish rich in long chain omega-3s. If the long-chained omega-3s found in fatty fish and other sea creatures made our brains what they are today, it’s safe to assume that our brains work better when we eat them today. And if we’re talking about anxiety, that appears to be the case:
Studies in substance abusers find that supplementing with enough fish oil (and, yes, here’s what I use regularly) to raise serum levels of the long chain omega-3 fatty acid EPA reduces anxiety, while increases in DHA (the other long chain omega-3) reduce anger. Rising EPA levels after supplementation predicted the reduction in anxiety.
In healthy young medical students, omega-3 supplementation (2 grams EPA, 350 mg DHA) lowered inflammation and anxiety. Follow-up analyses revealed that reducing the serum omega-6:omega-3 ratio also reduced anxiety scores.
And in early pregnancy, high DHA levels predict low anxiety scores.
Magnesium deficiency is a risk factor for anxiety. The evidence, considered by some to be low quality, nonetheless suggests that supplementing with magnesium can reduce subjective anxiety. The mechanistic evidence is stronger, as magnesium is one of those minerals that plays a role in hundreds of very basic and essential physiological processes—including the generation of ATP, the body’s energy currency. Without adequate energy production, nothing works well. One’s mental health is no exception.
Magnesium supplementation reduces subjective anxiety (the only kind that matters) in the “mildly anxious” and in women with premenstrual syndrome.
Magnesium L-threonate, a form particularly good at getting into the brain, is worth trying for more immediate, noticeable effects.
Zinc deficiency is common in people with anxiety, including Chinese males and Americans. And although mainlining oyster smoothies probably won’t fix serious anxiety, a follow-up in the group of Americans with low zinc levels found that zinc supplementation did reduce anxiety levels.
4. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, helps regulate production of serotonin and GABA—two neurotransmitters that control depression and anxiety. In mice exposed to anxiety-producing situations, pyridoxine increases GABA, reduces glutamate, and reduces anxiety. In humans, correcting a magnesium deficiency with magnesium and vitamin B6 has a stronger effect on anxiety than magnesium alone. (Good to note: women on hormonal birth control may be depleted of vitamin B6 as well as other vitamins and minerals.)
The best sources of vitamin B6 are turkey, beef, liver, pistachios, and tuna.
Now, the NATURAL INTERVENTIONS….
These aren’t essential nutrients. Rather, they’re plant compounds with pharmacological effects and, in most cases, hundreds of years of traditional usage for dampening, inhibiting, or resolving anxiety.
Kanna comes from a succulent plant native to South Africa. The story goes that an anthropologist noticed elderly San Bushmen nibbling on a particular type of succulent plant while displaying incredible cognitive ability and remaining calm, cool, and collected. The fact that they weren’t dealing with daily commutes, traffic jams, annoying bosses, and mounting bills probably had something to do with it, but it turns out that the succulent plant wasn’t hurting the cause.
Kanna has been shown to dampen the subcortical threat response, which is normally heightened in anxious states. It also increased well-being and resistance to stress in health adults who took it in a safety study.
Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea and available as a supplement, isn’t going to obliterate your nerves before a big performance. One study showed that it (along with the benzodiazepine Xanax) reduced resting state anxiety but not experimentally-induced anxiety. Then again, neither did Xanax.
Theanine is instead a mild anxiolytic. If you get anxiety from caffeine, take 200 mg of theanine with your coffee. It will smooth out the experience, reduce/remove the anxiety, and leave the stimulation.
Kava is a plant native to the South Pacific. Traditionally, its roots were chewed fresh with the resultant liquid often spit into communal bowls for consumption, pounded to release the moisture, or sun-dried, ground, and steeped in water to make an intoxicating, relaxing mild sedative. Nowadays, the active kavalactones are also extracted and pressed into capsules.
I don’t use kava, but I have tried it a couple times in the past. For what it’s worth, I don’t have anxiety issues but it did seem to pair well with caffeine (similar to theanine).
8. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola rosea is a longtime favorite adaptogen of mine. It hails from the barren wastes of Siberia, where for millennia people from all over the ancient world coveted it. There’s something about the harsh environment of the northern tundra that made rhodiola rosea incredibly resilient—and bestows upon those who consume it a similar type of mental resilience.
A 2015 study sought to determine the impact of rhodiola on self-reported anxiety, stress, cognition, and a host of other mental parameters. Eighty subjects were divided into either a twice-daily commercial formula (containing 200 mg rhodiola) group or a control group. Compared to the controls, the rhodiola group showed notable improvements in mood and significant reductions in anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression after 14 days.
There’s a great lavender farm on the island of Maui. One of the favorite memories from that trip is strolling through the fields of lavender, brushing against the leaves and flowers, just basking in the relaxing scent that permeated the entire property. A very low-stress environment, to be sure.
One study gave lavender oil capsules to major depressive disorder patients suffering from anxiety who were already taking antidepressants. Not only did adding the lavender reduce anxiety, it also improved sleep.
Perhaps the most impressive study is this one, where generalized anxiety disorder patients either received lavender oil or a benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drug. Patients receiving the lavender had the same beneficial effects as the benzo patients without the sedation.
Lavender oil aromatherapy also seems to reduce anxiety, at least in cancer patients. One weakness of aromatherapy research is the difficulty of giving a “placebo smell.” Essential oil scents are quite distinct.
10. CBD Oil
As I wrote a couple weeks ago, CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis.
Most recently, a large case series (big bunch of case studies done at once) was performed giving CBD to anxiety patients who had trouble sleeping. Almost 80% had improvements in anxiety and 66% had improvements in sleep (although the sleep improvements fluctuated over time).
In a five-year-old girl with PTSD (a category of patient that just shouldn’t exist) in whom pharmaceutical anxiety medications did not work, CBD oil provided lasting relief from anxiety.
What do you folks like for anxiety? What’s worked? What hasn’t? What did I miss?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.
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De souza MC, Walker AF, Robinson PA, Bolland K. A synergistic effect of a daily supplement for 1 month of 200 mg magnesium plus 50 mg vitamin B6 for the relief of anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study. J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2000;9(2):131-9.
Lu K, Gray MA, Oliver C, et al. The acute effects of L-theanine in comparison with alprazolam on anticipatory anxiety in humans. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2004;19(7):457-65.
Terburg D, Syal S, Rosenberger LA, et al. Acute effects of Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin), a dual 5-HT reuptake and PDE4 inhibitor, in the human amygdala and its connection to the hypothalamus. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013;38(13):2708-16.
Nell H, Siebert M, Chellan P, Gericke N. A randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial of Extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin) in healthy adults. J Altern Complement Med. 2013;19(11):898-904.
Fißler M, Quante A. A case series on the use of lavendula oil capsules in patients suffering from major depressive disorder and symptoms of psychomotor agitation, insomnia and anxiety. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):63-9.
Woelk H, Schläfke S. A multi-center, double-blind, randomised study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. Phytomedicine. 2010;17(2):94-9.
Shannon S, Opila-lehman J. Effectiveness of Cannabidiol Oil for Pediatric Anxiety and Insomnia as Part of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Report. Perm J. 2016;20(4):16-005.
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