In a recent survey of Canadian medical cannabis patients, 58 percent reported treating their anxiety with cannabis. Another Canadian study published a year earlier found anxiety was the most commonly treated medical condition among non-cancer cannabis patients. Time and time again, people are turning to cannabis to relieve stress and reduce anxiety. But why is cannabis such a common tool for anxiety?
The cannabis plant's relationship with anxiety is a complicated one. Most studies end with conclusions like, "The precise relationship between cannabis use and anxiety has yet to be established. Research is needed to fully clarify the mechanisms of such an association." Researchers haven't yet figured out how and why cannabis is so beneficial for anxiety.
Plus, not everyone finds the plant's properties helpful. Certain doses and certain cannabinoids can trigger anxiety instead of sooth it. Experts are still trying to figure it out. There was a recent study indicating that certain groups of people are more likely to experience some of the more negative side effects of cannabis, having certain genetic markers or similarities that cause cannabis to cause anxiety, paranoia and stress responses.
Under what circumstances does cannabis reduce stress? What is the tipping point when too much turns into stress? Despite the confusion in the scientific literature, many patients are already profoundly reliant on the plant for anxiety-relief.
Whether you are a curious first-timer or already well-accustomed to the plant's anti-anxiety effects - the following covers the fundamentals of cannabis for anxiety and is well worth a read.
According to the DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), anxiety is "Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance)." Symptoms include restlessness, concentration issues, irritability, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, and feeling 'on edge.' From person to person, there is significant variability in the experience. How anxiety manifests for you, will be completely different from how it develops for someone else.
There are many kinds of anxiety, including social anxiety, general anxiety, and panic disorders. Many people initially write anxiety off as stress, but these are two very different experiences. Anxiety is a diagnosable chronic mental illness, which has lasting impacts on your quality of life where stress can most often than not be handled situationally.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in Canada. According to the most recent government-sponsored survey, there are more than 3 million Canadians over the age of 18 with anxiety. Close to a third of those with anxiety report, it has a severe impact on daily life.
Let's be clear; many people find cannabis useful for the treatment of anxiety - yet it can also cause anxiety. As one review stated, anxiety and panic attacks are one of the most common acute side effects. But not all strains trigger an adverse reaction, and not for all people. From what we know so far, anxiety, as it relates to cannabis, seems exclusively caused by THC.
As you probably know, cannabis is much more than a single compound. THC may be the most famous cannabinoid, but its only one compound among hundreds in the plant. The assumption is that each plays a role in influencing the function of our endocannabinoid system (what is the endocannabinoid system?), and different combinations of compounds may produce different effects.
Even if most medical cannabis patients report using cannabis for the treatment of anxiety, we still don't know precisely why. We also don't know how to determine which dose will work for each patient.
We know that the endocannabinoid system regulates stress, anxiety, and mood. We also know that cannabinoids interact for (mostly positive) benefits with the endocannabinoid system. Scientists assume it's through this interaction that cannabis helps regulate anxiety, but the details are still being studied.
An interesting aspect of cannabis is the relationship between THC and CBD. Did you know CBD can help reduce anxiety triggered by too much THC? When too much THC floods the CB1 receptors, it may then stimulate anxiety instead of relieving it. That's when CBD comes to the rescue. If you introduced CBD into the equation, it recouples THC-CB1 connection and reduces the strength and duration of the negative experience.
Remember, the research hasn't advanced enough to determine a strain, dose, or method of consumption suitable for anxiety. Until the research catches up with popular usage, it's best to pull what information we can from others and use common sense.
The most critical step to treating anxiety with cannabis is to determine a suitable dose of THC. Why? Because too much THC will lead into a short-lived, but uncomfortable anxiety-ridden spiral.
If you don't know your THC sensitivity (some are more sensitive to the effects than others), start with a low dose and slowly work your way up. A small dose is anything under five mg. If you have little to no cannabis experience, you may wish to start lower. Only increase the dose after a few hours. Remember, you don't need to feel high to reap the medicinal benefits.
Repeat the mantra "start low and go slow" over and over again. Smoking, vaping, and oils are useful methods of consumption for anxiety, as the dose is small and easy to control. Unless you are accurately aware of the THC content, you might want to skip edible options. Edibles are easy to over-consume.
Even if you can handle a higher dose of THC, most people stick to high CBD strains for anxiety. Look for strains with at least 4:1 ratio of THC:CBD, if not higher. The more CBD, the less intoxicating the strain, and the lower the risk of feeling more anxious. You can always start with strains like Charlotte's Web, which has little to no noticeable THC component.
Those delicious flavors and aromas in your favorite strains may have a few anti-anxiety effects as well. Research supports the following terpenes as anti-anxiety compounds:
That's one of the tricky aspects of cannabis as medicine. Everyone is affected by it differently and at a different intensity. Gender, age, tolerance, experience, metabolism, and more can all impact a useful dose of cannabis.
As mentioned, follow the mantra of starting low and increasing slowly. Look for high CBD ratios, and maybe experiment with terpene profile. We have a long way to go to paint a complete picture of how cannabis treats anxiety. By taking a few precautions, and undertaking a little self-experimentation, you can join the majority of other medical cannabis patients who seek to relieve their anxiety through cannabis.