In most states where Medical Marijuana is legal, one of the most frequent questions surroundings using marijuana for anxiety. Most states do list Anxiety as one of the approved uses of medical marijuana, but it’s still an individual question to determine if it’s the right approach for you.
Anxiety and Cannabis
On a worldwide basis anxiety disorders have the highest lifetime prevalence of any mental illness and can cause very severe consequences in some cases and due to the prevalence create great costs to society. And yet the medical/pharmacological choices to treat anxiety disorders are associated with both a high level of adverse effects, including addictiveness as well as generally low efficacy.
Anxiety disorders as defined by the DSM5 (Fifth edition of the: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD),
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD) – also called social phobia,
- Specific phobia,
- Panic disorder,
Additionally though no longer classified within anxiety disorders it should be noted that both PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) have a high component of related.
Weed for Anxiety
As access to and knowledge of the potential of cannabinoids has increased, Medical Marijuana, along with CBD, and more recently Delta 8 THC are used frequently by individuals in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders, and in fact, anxiety is often one of the diagnoses allowed in states where medical marijuana is controlled for certain conditions.
Additionally the three most commonly reported benefits of cannabis usage are:
- Improve sleep and ability to fall asleep
- A sense of relaxation
However… Whether weed is good or bad for anxiety and can give anxiety relief to an individual at any point in time is not a simple as a yes or no answer. This is further complicated in the case of individual cannabinoids and their specific traits – not to mention the diversity of the same chemical on different individuals and potential interactions with other medications that the patient may be using. It is therefore important that before taking marijuana you should speak with your physician and discuss any potential side-effects or drug-interactions.
Potential side-effects of THC/weed in anxiety
The worst thing you can do if you’re trying to treat your anxiety is to dose too high leading to potentially inducing:
- more anxiety
- racing thoughts
- rapid heart rate
- inability to concentrate
- hot and cold sweats
- panic attacks
Anxiety Relief or Aggravation
While to many people marijuana is relaxing, for others it can have the opposite effect particularly with higher dosages of THC as for example when you smoke too much of too strong weed for too long – or eat too much of an edible. It’s very common and happening more due to stronger and stronger weed with increasingly high levels of THC as well as people eating more edibles – and getting a higher dose is common as people often take too many gummies or eat too much of a chocolate bar or pot brownie.
It is increasingly being reported that Delta 8 THC – a hemp derived cannabinoid which has a similar chemical structure to the THC we normally talk about – may have less of a tendency to cause anxiety or panic in people who may otherwise have that tendency with THC (Delta 9). It therefore may also be a better choice for treating anxiety but no definitive studies exist.
THC for anxiety
THC is reported to be effective for many in relieving anxiety and fear – however the key point to remember is that while in many individuals THC may help with anxiety symptoms in others – and in particular with higher doses, THC may aggravate your condition, depending upon:
- your sensitivity levels
- the dosage
- your history of usage and
- whether you are using alcohol or other medications and/or drugs (Read here about the risks and considerations of taking anti-anxiety meds and marijuana together).
- for edibles it matters if you ate on a full or empty stomach, and be careful to give it time before consuming too much
We recommend that you opt for a less intense THC strain but if opting for a high-THC selection, be even more vigilant and certain to pay close attention to your dosage.
Usually dosage via inhalation by smoking or vapes is the most accurate way of controlling the effects. As the THC is absorbed in the lungs and goes directly to the blood and then the brain – you know pretty quickly how much of an effect it had. Then you can take another hit if you feel that the desired effect has not been reached.
The mechanism of action is believed to be mediated in the cannabinoid – CB1 receptors in the brain.
CBD for anxiety
CBD – which is legal in the US since the 2018 Farm Bill has become a booming business due to its purported benefits in relieving individuals from two things in particular – anxiety and pain. It is a particularly attractive due to its tolerance, safety profile and lack of risk for abuse, addiction and dependency.
While we have plenty of people who swear by CBD there are no randomized controlled large trials which we can point to. However a synopsis of clinical and pre-clinical research printed in September 2020 points to hope that CBD can help with anxiety and that further investigation is needed.
CBD is of particular interest since the receptors that it affects are different from THC which has a strong affinity for CB1 receptors in the brain and CNS (central nervous system). CBD however interacts with receptors in both the central (CB1) and peripheral nervous systems (CB2) as well as others associated with the regulation of fear and anxiety) including the 5-HT1A receptor (which is where serotonin binds). It is this receptor that is believed to be involved in the rapid onset of diminishing anxiety with CBD. CBD may also activate CB1 receptors thus increasing the ability of endogenous (naturally occuring) cannabinoids (e.g. anandamide) to have more effect.
Delta 8 THC for anxiety
What little pre-clinical and clinical research has been mainly conducted on CBD and THC. However Delta 8 THC – which is legal under Federal Law since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill has had very little research. However among individuals who use Delta 8, they report that whereas they may develop anxiety or panic with THC – this is significantly reduced and indeed it is believed by many that Delta 8 may be a better cannabinoid for the relief of anxiety disorders,with a reduction in symptoms.
Anxiety disorders may additionally be treated using psychological approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and cognitive processing therapy,4 although these therapies tend to be costly and limited to some therapeutic contexts.7 Thus, there is a strong and urgent need to develop novel treatment approaches for anxiety disorders.
Alternative methods for treating anxiety
If your anxiety is so severe that it is impeding your ability to live a normal life then you should strongly seeking the advice of a mental health professional. You may be suffering from a more severe form of anxiety – called Anxiety Disorders.
Also – while cannabis or CBD does provide temporary relief there are healthy additional steps that you can take for better mental health and living a calmer life with a sense of well-being and less anxiety. These include:
- getting enough sleep
- healthy diet
- progressive muscle relaxation
- avoiding alcohol
- avoiding caffeine
- quitting smoking of cigarettes (Can CBD help you quit?)
Risks associated with marijuana use for anxiety
2) Addiction/Dependence on weed
We’d love to say otherwise but weed/cannabis/marijuana containing significant amounts of THC – does potentially cause dependence and addiction.
While federally illegal – marijuana is tolerated and State laws are more important when considering using marijuana for anxiety or other uses. Currently medical marijuana is legal for adults in 33 states while recreationally legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia. CBD is federally legal but local jurisdictions do need to be considered.
Cannabis and Anxiety Summary
It is important to check with your doctor before adding new therapies to your regimen, especially when it comes to anxiety or depression.
Do not stop taking any medications without the advice and consult of your healthcare professional.
Medical Marijuana has been shown to be an effective contributor to relaxation, but selecting the right strain for your needs as well as your personal tolerance and sensitivities is crucial.
CBD (with zero or less than 0.3% THC) should be considered – perhaps in advance of THC containing products. Delta 8 may prove to be an effective choice for anxiety but more research and trials are necessary for all cannabinoids.