Cannabis for Anxiety
January 27, 2022
by Ma Raim
There is some debate on how cannabis impacts anxiety. Many people say that cannabis can help manage anxiety, while others claim it causes anxiety. So, which is true?
It may be a bit of both.
Many factors influence how cannabinoids impact a person's brain. As a result, there may be situations where cannabis can help manage anxiety, while others may induce feelings of paranoia.
Before we get into how cannabis can help manage anxiety symptoms, we will describe anxiety in terms of the DSM diagnosis.
Description of Anxiety
Anxiety is the experience of tension, worry and physical changes such as increased blood pressure. It becomes a diagnosable disorder when it impacts a person's day-to-day function; this may include recurring intrusive thoughts or avoiding certain situations due to unmanaged worry.
According to the diagnostic statistical manual (DSM-5), to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, there must be a presence of excessive anxiety about several topics that occurs more often than not and is challenging to control.
It is accompanied by at least three of the following symptoms: edginess or restlessness, fatigue, impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank, irritability, increased muscle aches and soreness, and difficulty sleeping.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in Canada, affecting approximately 4.6% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
Traditional Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
Typically, anxiety disorders are treated with a combination of medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and psychotherapy.
While psychiatric medication used for managing anxiety can be pretty effective in managing anxiety symptoms, they also have several challenging side effects. Cannabis may be an effective alternative to traditional medication; however, it's important to note that cannabis is not a substitute for other therapeutic treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
CBD or THC for Anxiety
One of the most important factors influencing whether or not cannabis will lead to anxiety and paranoia is the cannabinoids involved. The intoxicating feeling associated with THC can, for some people, lead to feelings of paranoia.
If managing symptoms of anxiety is your primary goal, you may want to consider using CBD alone.
What if you are a THC user already? Or prefer smoking as a method of consumption.
THC may be able to help with anxiety to a certain extent, but it seems as though there is a tipping point—meaning THC will help manage symptoms until the dose reaches a certain threshold where paranoia symptoms may set in. So, we recommend starting small and increasing slowly over time. Also, consider using CBD and THC together.
Another thing to consider is strain. Strains with higher CBD are likely to be more effective in improving symptoms associated with anxiety. For some, the differences between sativa and indica may also be a factor.
It may take a bit of trial and error to find out what works best for you. Check out our online dispensary to find your favourite cannabis flower, or try one of our best CBD products.
Not sure which strain may be best for you? Leafly has a guide for determining which strains may be best for managing anxiety symptoms and other common mental health related symptoms.
How Does CBD Help Anxiety?
While the clinical research on CBD and anxiety is still in the preliminary stages, according to researchers, the endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in our ability to react appropriately to fear and is linked to our stress resilience and ability to maintain emotional homeostasis.
So, what we can look at is animal studies on CBD and the fear response as a starting place for understanding how CBD can help manage anxiety.
A 2010 study on rats found CBD reduced a previously established fear response. A subsequent 2012 study found the 5HT(1A) receptors (involved with serotonin) are likely involved with this effect. After establishing a fear response and showing CBD effectively reduced this effect, they injected some rats with a 5-HT(1A) receptor antagonist, and CBD no longer extinguished the fear response.
A 2013 study found, in preliminary trials, that ongoing treatment with CBD creates an anti-panic effect. Acute treatment of CBD did not appear to induce the same effect in this trial. These results indicate ongoing use of CBD tends to be more effective in managing symptoms of panic rather than attempting to treat panic as the symptoms arise.
What About Studies on Humans?
A 2010 study on those who suffer from social anxiety found CBD decreased their symptoms and improved their overall mood. Additionally, a brain scan showed a change in blood flow in regions of the brain that typically become active when a person experiences anxiety.
A subsequent 2011 study found that CBD taken before public speaking helped manage symptoms associated with social anxiety.
A 2013 study attempted to test CBD's impact on the conditioned fear response in humans. These studies on humans are not performed in the same manner as with animals; however, they found that CBD impacted reinstatement of fear responses after extinction. These results suggest that CBD could be helpful in treatments for anxiety disorders like phobia and PTSD.
Other Impacts of Cannabis on Anxiety
Anxiety is also often associated with higher levels of stress and sleep disturbances, which can be improved with cannabis.
Using CBD to Manage Anxiety
Preliminary research suggests continued consumption of CBD is likely to provide better results than managing acute symptoms. Consider adding CBD capsules, tinctures, or edibles to your regular health and wellness routine.
Don't forget to track your doses and how you're feeling to determine what works best for you.
Further reading on cannabis and health: