Hello, friend. Come on in, have a cup of chamomile. We’re gonna take it real slow and quiet today. I don’t want you to freak out. Ok? DON’T FREAK OUT. Cuz today, we’re going to discuss a subject near and dear to the Gentleman’s swollen, misshapen heart- the positive and negative interactions between cannabis and anxiety.
Anxiety is a state of mental and emotional stress where people feel threatened, helpless, or insecure. Everyone feels anxious sometimes. Like, imagine I’ve suddenly crept up beside your shoulder, wherever you happen to be right now, and I’m whispering this article in your ear. You feel anxious now, don’t you? As you should. I’m cray cray.
Anxiety can also be a response to something that isn’t actually threatening. It can manifest in physical sensations such as shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, sweating, or a feeling of detachment. Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the U.S., affecting about 18% of adults in their lifetime. With so many people struggling with this condition, many have turned to using cannabis as a means to treat it.
What Exactly Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is when your brain hijacks your meatsuit to face the internal circumstances consciousness has created- whether they be present in your mind’s eye or pressing against the walls of your subconscious- with an external threat response. In other words, the combination of physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety are created by how we think and feel. The amygdala, a part of the brain that controls what we pay attention to and our “fight or flight” response, naturally plays a big role in anxiety’s process. The amygdala will send signals of perceived danger or threats to the hypothalamus, which then releases stress hormones like cortisol into the bloodstream. These stress hormones then increase heart rate and blood pressure, which can result in hyperventilation, rapid breathing, might even make you pee a little. No? Sorry, I didn’t realize I was talking to a room FULL OF LIARS!!!
Does Cannabis Help With Anxiety?
For me, anxiety can be debilitating when it becomes intense enough to interfere with my ability to focus on a task. From there, it can create a spiral, as the unresolved task causes further anxiety. I use cannabis to regulate my thoughts and impulses, essentially, and thus prize strains that don’t cause mental or physical fatigue (or will at least relent to sufficient doses of caffeine), so I can be productive. My worth to society is predicated entirely on my ability to produce value, just as the Great Gear Gods demand. And when I’m dead, just throw me in the trash.
Where were we? Oh, yes. Research has shown that the endocannabinoid system is involved in maintaining internal stress and anxiety levels. The drug can calm the mind, dull stress’ sharp edges, and even provide relief from physical symptoms. There’s also evidence that cannabis could work as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders. In addition, there have been studies that show cannabis could be used to treat chronic and specific phobias. Does it work on nightclowns? Cuz I really, uh, need it to work on nightclowns. Oh no. No no no. They’ve heard us.
Does THC Cause Anxiety?
It can, yeah. Depends on the person and the specific flower, really. We’ve discussed that the ubiquitous sativa/indica/hybrid designations aren’t really accurate, but I do find it useful shorthand to explain effects. Strains that make my thoughts race- sativas- are less than ideal for treating anxiety. Sometimes the overstimulation can be so overwhelming, I’ve gotta have a brief lie-down. I’ve found more success with hybrids and indicas.
So yeah, the stimulating effect of consuming cannabis may cause anxiety and paranoia. In these cases, the person is experiencing a drug-induced panic attack or an acute anxiety episode. Back in the day when weed was harder to come by, I’d get a panic attack whenever I’d come back from a dry spell. I always found it helpful for looking at a situation from an angle I had been too caught up in my own perspective to consider, but I get that it’s an undesirable side effect for many. My point is that tolerance plays a role in whether or not you’re at risk for a panic attack. These days, I’d suggest CBD- good CBD that you know works- as a counteragent if you get too high (works a treat with edibles, too).
How CBD Affects Anxiety
Speak of the devil! Ok, so there’s a lot of people out there saying that CBD is great for anxiety. And it may be for most people! Years ago when I first started this site, I did an experiment where I smoked CBD-heavy flowers for a week instead of my usual THC. It didn’t go great. Since CBD brings down the effects of THC and I personally use it to treat depression concurrently with anxiety, the lack of euphoria left me in a poor mood, prone to agitation. Seasoned THC users may find a CBD-only diet dissatisfying.
That being said, evidence suggests that CBD is a safe and effective way to treat anxiety disorders and depression, may be able to reduce psychosis, and reduce stress via the endocannabinoid system’s (CB1 receptors). Studies also show that CBD can help treat social anxiety disorder, and it may have an effect on other symptoms of anxiety disorders. I’ve also read the theory that CBD can be used as a neuroprotectant from deleterious effects of long-term THC use, so I like to add some in to my regimen regularly. The combination of the two cannabinoids provides a more balanced high in my personal experience, and one where I’m less likely to forget where I put the key to my…Disappointments Room.
Benefits of Using Cannabis For Anxiety
Cannabis is widely used for treating a variety of symptoms, including anxiety. If you’re looking for a treatment that can help you with your anxiety, here are some of the benefits of cannabis:
Research shows that people who consume cannabis have lower levels of stress hormones in their body, which may help reduce stress levels in people who suffer from anxiety disorders. Hell, I’m so chronically low-stress that I got carded today. Over 40 with a baby face, baby. Doin that whole Paul Rudd thing but my hair is way better. Not his fault, I’m sure he’s doing his best.
Lessens Physical Symptoms
There are many physical symptoms that people experience when they have an anxiety disorder. These include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, hot flashes, and muscular tension. Cannabis can help with all of these symptoms, and it can also be used to manage the pain associated with anxiety-related disorders.
Many people with anxiety disorders also have issues sleeping. Cannabis can help them fall and stay asleep, which is important for lowering stress levels and improving the quality of life.
Safer Alternative to Anti-Anxiety Medications
Studies have shown that many benzodiazepine drugs, which are typically prescribed for anxiety disorders, have dangerous side effects. In addition, benzodiazepines affect neurotransmitters that affect mood and anxiety. Cannabis on the other hand has very few side effects, and has been found to be an effective alternative for treating anxiety disorders.
In addition to reducing stress levels and helping with sleep, cannabis can also help stabilize moods. Research shows that chronic cannabis use can help reduce symptoms of depression and make people feel more optimistic about their lives.
I know when I’m living off my nerves that my appetite can disappear. Some people find that using cannabis stimulates their appetite. This means that they are less likely to feel tired after smoking or eating, and will instead want to eat a lot of food or snack throughout the day. This is very beneficial for people struggling with anxiety to the point that it’s making it difficult for them to eat regularly.
No Known Anxiety Drug Interactions
There are no known drug interactions between cannabis and any other medication used for treating anxiety. In fact, CBD may even be able to boost the effects of certain anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines and SSRIs. That being said, you should really talk to a doctor about the medicines you’re taking and not some internet bozo.
Side Effects Of Using Cannabis For Anxiety
While the side effects of using cannabis for anxiety are minimal, there are some to be aware of. If you’re considering using cannabis to treat your anxiety, there are some things you should be aware of:
People who suffer from anxiety can sometimes exhibit respiratory issues. These can include excessive coughing (especially at night), shortness of breath, and wheezing. A pulmonary specialist at the National Cancer Institute found that smoking cannabis increased both respiratory rate and tidal volume which may worsen symptoms associated with asthma or COPD.
Loss of Motivation
THC, the active component in cannabis, also has some sedative properties when consumed in high doses. While this usually doesn’t cause people to become lethargic or sleepy, it will sometimes make them more introspective and less likely to make any decision, especially those that require a lot of thought.
Cannabis can also cause dizziness at times. This may occur if someone uses too much cannabis or doesn’t wait long enough for an effective dose to take effect. Dizziness can also be a side effect of consuming cannabis and other medications such as alcohol, or it can occur if someone stands up too quickly after smoking.
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The question of whether marijuana can help with anxiety is nuanced. What works for me might not work for you, so you’ll have to experiment. There’s plenty of other non-pharmaceutical methods that can help you combat anxiety- exercise, diet, proper sleep, meditation, heck, even cleaning up your room. I think we should consider cannabis not as the answer itself, but as a very important tool to add to this kit. Vaya con Dios, compadres!