Everyone’s experienced brain fog in their life—that unpleasant, fuzzy feeling that leaves you unable to concentrate on your day. What causes our brain fog though, and could CBD help to prevent or clear the sensation?
What is brain fog?
Brain fog is a broad description of a loose collection of sensations. It usually involves an inability to focus, trouble accessing memories, and general mental impairment. If you’ve ever felt spaced out, scatter-brained, or not quite mentally sharp, you’re not alone—occasional brain fog is experienced by just about everyone.
It’s also key to note that it is not a medical condition but a set of symptoms, as the central cause of brain fog is usually something temporary. However, if your symptoms are persistent over a longer period of time or prevent basic day-to-day functioning, have a chat with your doctor to rule out other factors that could be causing your brain fog.
Why do we get brain fog?
There is a wide range of reasons different people get brain fog, but they fall roughly into two categories—lifestyle or health factors.
Lifestyle aspects that can contribute to brain fog include a lot of the factors you might usually suspect. Dehydration and poor nutrition can both result in a brain fog as the body struggles to function properly without key materials. Insomnia or insufficient sleep causes a build-up of waste materials in the brain, which can impede the amount of mental “space” available. Stress acts similarly, diverting focus and releasing hormones that can cloud thinking. One or more of these factors can cause or increase the symptoms of brain fog, resulting in an unpleasant sensation.
There are also a number of health conditions that may lead to the features of brain fog. Inflammatory-type reactions such as asthma and allergies result in the release of histamine after the body is exposed to the reactant, which can accumulate to cause a cloudy, weighed-down feeling. Hormonal or medication changes are also able to cause brain fog as our internal systems calibrate themselves. Other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome or depression may underlie symptoms of brain fog through unknown mechanisms. As these require advice from medical professionals to diagnose and treat, they are out of scope for this article.
How does cannabis affect the body?
Cannabis contains at least 125 different cannabinoids, as well as hundreds of other chemical compounds, many of which are poorly characterized. Two of the most abundant are the well-known psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD), the focus of this article. These compounds cause different effects in the body when they are consumed, and it’s important to understand how they interact when using cannabis for a specific outcome.
When cannabis products are consumed, they affect a specific system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is a complicated signaling network that affects a range of major bodily functions, including appetite, motor control, mood, memory, and sleep. The ECS is active in everyone regardless of cannabis use, as it responds to self-produced compounds (endocannabinoids) as well as exocannabinoids, such as those found in cannabis. The system responds to changes that occur at particular sites—the receptors CB1 (mainly found in the brain) and CB2 (mainly found on immune system cells and body tissues).
THC is able to bind to the CH1 receptor very strongly, causing psychological effects such as feelings of euphoria and intoxication as well as changes in consciousness and memory processing. It’s also able to bind to CH2, which can cause side effects that include anxiety and immune system repression.
In contrast, CBD doesn’t bind directly to CH1 or CH2, but it can block THC and other cannabinoids from affecting the system. As a result, CBD consumption doesn’t cause a psychological “high,” but the obstructing action of CBD has been linked to reduced pain, nausea, and inflammation in some research.
Could CBD be useful for clearing brain fog?
With an ever-increasing number of cannabis consumers in the United States, a number of studies have investigated how CBD impacts the body so we can better understand its effects. Some research has indicated that using CBD may lead to a reduction in anxiety symptoms, while other reports suggest that it has an antiemetic effect and can decrease inflammation and pain for some users.
Using this information, it can be theorized that CBD may be useful at clearing brain fog in some circumstances. If it is the result of stress, anxiety, or inflammation, using CBD could help reduce the negative effects of brain fog by improving the initial concern. However, research specifically investigating the effects of CBD on brain fog is close to non-existent, so the use of CBD in this situation is speculative.
What else can be done?
Unfortunately, given the range of potential causes for brain fog, it is almost impossible to offer advice that will work for everyone as the underlying causes need to be targeted to alleviate the symptoms.
The best place to start is by checking in with some of the known lifestyle influences mentioned above. Make sure you’ve had plenty of water and nutritious food to properly fuel yourself. If you didn’t get a great night’s sleep, taking a quick nap can provide some refreshment. Stress reduction may be achieved by identifying and tackling the subject, or through a quick walk/yoga session.
There are many causes of brain fog that are not the result of lifestyle factors. Inflammatory illnesses, mental health conditions, and certain medications can give rise to the symptoms of brain fog, and the first step in resolving these is by seeing your doctor.
Will using CBD for brain fog make the symptoms worse?
Although an improvement from some symptoms of brain fog can occur after CBD ingestion, a small number of people can experience side effects such as nausea and fatigue, causing the overall episode to worsen. If you’re aware that you tend to get these side effects from CBD, it’s not the best option to use it in this situation.
However, if you haven’t tried it before, waiting to try CBD until your brain fog has subsided is likely a better option to see if you experience side effects. It's also important to check with your doctor beforehand if you’re taking other medications, as CBD can cause complications when interacting with some pharmaceuticals.
If you’ve used it before without side effects, there does not appear to be evidence suggesting that using CBD for brain fog is unsafe, although more research is required to support this.
What is the right dosage to use?
The amount of CBD that has an effect on the ECS can vary significantly between people, so a single universal dose is impossible to give. It all comes down to your personal experience with CBD product tolerance when choosing a dose for brain fog relief. Sticking to a low dose at first, then slowly increasing it with subsequent episodes can be a good strategy to identify an effective dose for you.
How should CBD be taken?
With edibles, vapes, oils, tinctures, nasal inhalers, and more, CBD is available in a wide variety of forms in today’s market. When looking for a product to help with brain fog, the ideal consumable is fast-acting and provides long-lasting symptom relief.
CBD oils can reduce pain when applied to specific areas, such as headaches. However, it will not be absorbed into the bloodstream in significant amounts, so won’t be very effective in decreasing brain fog.
Inhaling CBD by vaping or smoking are popular methods for consuming CBD. It enters the bloodstream from the lungs, which makes it almost impossible to determine an exact dose from this method. Inhalation has the benefit of high bioavailability in comparison to other methods, which means that a greater proportion of the CBD consumed can be used by the body.
CBD can also be consumed sublingually (under the tongue), where it is directly assimilated by the network of blood vessels found there. Sublingual products can be very effective, as they absorb quickly and have a high bioavailability. As well as this, dosages can be determined with much greater accuracy than inhalation methods, making it useful for working out your ideal amount through trials.
Edible products have a range of flavors, additions, and forms to make them enjoyable to consume. However, the incorporation of other compounds, particularly fats, can decrease the amount of CBD available to the body. This may result in more mild and slower symptom relief than other approaches.
The bottom line
Brain fog is a frustrating feeling to experience and it’s natural to want to get relief from the symptoms. Unfortunately, research investigating CBD as a treatment for brain fog is unsubstantial, but there is some anecdotal and theoretical evidence to suggest that it could be helpful.