Most people experience some sort of anxiety during their lives. Anxiety is a normal, natural response to stress and causes worry and feelings of unease. However, anxiety becomes a problem when it begins to interfere with daily living.
Research suggests that biological, psychological, and lifestyle factors all contribute to whether or not a person develops an anxiety disorder.
From a biological perspective, anxiety disorders are associated with an excessive excitability in regions of the brain that control emotion.
From the psychological perspective, the mental condition is a distorted pattern of thinking and behavior that has developed over time. Many experts believe that conditioning and learned behavior is at the root of chronic anxiety.
Physical factors like poor nutrition, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, and ill health can also contribute to anxiety and worsen the emotion.
Recent evidence shows that some people may have genetic predispositions to anxiety. This means that some individuals are more likely to develop a fear disorder should they be exposed to the right combination of lifestyle, environmental, and experiential factors.
Curious about whether or not cannabis will help with your anxiety? Here's the scoop on how cannabis helps anxiety, when it can cause problems, and the best types of cannabis to use.
Does cannabis help anxiety?
In many ways, cannabis is like a Band-Aid for anxiety. Cannabis treatment alone will not overcome anxiety worsened by malnutrition, nor will it undo the damage caused by years of chronic stress, trauma, or instability.
However, while the herb is not the end-all solution to the problem, it can be a powerful tool for overcoming learned fear and easing symptoms in times of need. In fact, a 2017 survey of 271 Canadian medical cannabis patients found that 63 percent of respondents favored the herb over pharmaceutical medications.
Of those, 16 percent reported choosing cannabis over benzodiazepines, the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs. Another 12 percent preferred the herb over antidepressants, which are also often prescribed to anxiety patients.
Wondering why so many are switching to the natural herb? Here are three ways that cannabis may treat anxiety:
1. Learned fear
Anxiety is a form of fear. Over time, the more this emotion is felt during certain situations, the stronger the reaction to that situation becomes.
For a simple example, a person with claustrophobia has a fear of being in small spaces. The more often this anxiety response is experienced in small spaces, the more a person learns to associate the small space with fear. Over time, this learned fear becomes amplified and can interfere with daily life.
Surprisingly, emerging evidence suggests that cannabis compounds can help the brain delete negative memories.
Research over the past decade has found that a non-psychotropic compound in cannabis may actually reduce learned fear. This is because of the fact that the herb engages with areas of the brain that are responsible for emotion, learning, and memory.
The compound is called cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the primary psychoactive molecule in cannabis, CBD does not cause a psychotropic “high”. Instead, CBD provides a slightly energizing yet calming effect on most people that does not distort thinking.
Additional research has shown that CBD is such a powerful anti-anxiety tool that it has been successfully reduced symptoms in patients with treatment-resistant schizophrenia in clinical trials.
2. Social anxiety
Have social anxiety? Taking a little (or a lot) of CBD before a nerve-wracking event may help you keep your cool.
Human research suggests that CBD may be particularly helpful for those with social anxiety. A 2011 experiment published in Neuropsychopharmacology gave 12 participants 600 milligrams of CBD and another 12 a placebo. The participants had been diagnosed with generalized social anxiety.
The participants were then asked to speak publicly at an event. The participants rated their mood during the test and researchers tested vital signs like blood pressure and heart rate. Overall, those given CBD showed less signs of anxiety than those given the placebo. The study authors ultimately found that
“Pretreatment with CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance, and significantly decreased alert in their anticipatory speech.”
Insomnia is a debilitating symptom in anxiety disorders. Many anxiety sufferers experience racing thoughts that can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Poor sleep can also worsen anxiety symptoms the next day. Chronically poor sleep can increase the likelihood of panic attacks which interfere with daily life.
Cannabis has a longheld reputation as a natural sleep aid. Research in human participants has found that cannabis that contains psychoactive THC can help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Some early research also suggests that cannabis extends the amount of time consumers spend in deep sleep, which is the restorative phase of the sleep cycle. During deep sleep, the body repairs itself from damage caused during the day.
For someone with anxiety, catching up on much-needed sleep can drastically improve quality of life and reduce symptoms of the condition.
Does cannabis cause anxiety?
Psychoactive cannabis and anxiety have a somewhat complicated relationship. In high doses, cannabis can aggravate anxiety. This includes causing paranoia, racing heart, racing thoughts, and increased social anxiety.
In low doses, however, THC is thought to have anxiolytic and antidepressant effects. In fact, a 2017 study found that low-dose THC successfully eased psychosocial stress associated with a mock job interview in human participants.
Higher doses had an opposing effect. The cannabis compound increased signs of stress and anxiety in the participants.
Interestingly, supplementing with some CBD may reduce the anxiety-provoking effects of THC. Preclinical research has found that CBD attenuates the psychoactive experience of THC, reducing the mind-altering and paranoia-inducing effects of the herb.
Experiencing THC-induced anxiety is a tell-tale sign that your dosage is too high. The ideal dosage will vary from person to person.
Some people may also be more prone to THC-induced anxiety than others. If this is the case, opting for cannabis products with higher levels of CBD may be a better option.
Best types of cannabis for anxiety
There are three primary types of cannabis available today. Most cannabis products available in dispensaries, coffee shops, and social clubs are high in THC.
However, cultivars high in CBD and cultivars that contain a mix of CBD and THC are becoming increasingly more available.
Thus far, research suggests that high-CBD cultivars may be the most beneficial for anxiety. However, many medical cannabis patients still enjoy the sedative and euphoric properties of THC.
If this is the case, opting for strains that contain both THC and CBD may be ideal. Another popular option includes using CBD during the day and THC at night to promote sleep.
However, medical cannabis is a highly personalized experience. While a canna-savvy medical professional can point you in the right direction, it’s often up to the patient to experiment and find the best routine and products for their individual needs.
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