The Benefits & Risk Of Cannabis For Anxiety

The Benefits & Risk Of Cannabis For Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations, but when it becomes intrusive, disrupting one’s life in unsustainable ways, there are a variety of modalities that can be helpful in regulating and controlling reactions. Some people choose to utilize Western medicine prescribed by their doctors, but others prefer a seemingly more natural solution with fewer side effects: cannabis.

While marijuana is seeing a huge change in public perception and legalization, there is still limited research into how marijuana can help or hurt people. Today, marijuana is legalized for medicinal or recreational use in over 35 American states, and people use it for a number of health conditions, including irritability, sleeplessness, excessive worrying, and anxiety. Even in the strictest states, like Texas, medical marijuana is accessible for eligible individuals with a qualifying condition.

There is a wide range of evidence that suggests that marijuana can help alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety, but are there any risks? Read on here to explore the benefits and downsides of using cannabis for anxiety.

What is Cannabis?

Marijuana is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. The flower, leaves, and even seed oil can be processed for recreational and therapeutic applications. Cannabis affects the human body through a multitude of cannabinoid and terpene compounds, including cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

When using marijuana, these compounds bind with receptors in your brain and body to produce many of the effects associated with the plant. From the psychoactive high and sedative effects to pain relief and mood affecting benefits, there are many possible side effects of marijuana, including:

  • Elation
  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Increased Appetite

Marijuana use can even result in changes to your perceived sense of taste, color, sound, time, and space. Science has found many uses and potential health benefits associated with marijuana as a sleep aid, to help cancer patients with their appetite, control seizures, and more.

How to Consume Marijuana

There are numerous options for consuming marijuana that range from smoking dried flower and vaping concentrated oils to drinking it in tea, eating it in baked goods or candy, taking it in supplement form, or using it externally through topical creams and lotions. Some people even process their own marijuana concentrates for use in food and drinks they prepare at home.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

It’s normal to feel anxious in stressful situations, and anxiety disorder isn’t something that affects everyone and should be diagnosed by a medical professional. Currently, the National Institute of Mental Health believes that about 30% of adults may suffer from persistent anxiety symptoms that affect their everyday lives. Those diagnosed with an anxiety disorder may turn to alternative sources to find more natural remedies that address their symptoms.

Some symptoms commonly associated with anxiety disorders include:

  • Irritability
  • Feelings of Worry
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling On-Edge
  • Difficulty Concentrating

There are also physical symptoms common with anxiety disorders including:

  • Upset Stomach
  • Increased Heartrate
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Hot Flashes
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Cold Hands & Feet
  • Jaw Pain

With these symptoms frequently affecting their everyday lives, it’s no surprise that many people with anxiety disorder are seeking relief.

Cannabis for Anxiety

Because some of the reported side effects of marijuana use are relaxation, sedation, and euphoria, many people believe that cannabis is the solution to their anxiety. There are two potential ways in which cannabis can be used to affect anxiety symptoms: one with a CBD-focused product and one with a THC-focused product.

CBD for Anxiety

CBD is the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis. Studies that explored the oral use of CBD as an aid for anxiety found that it significantly reduced subjective anxiety. Parametric mapping showed that CBD has an effect on the limbic and paralimbic systems, decreasing ECD (ethyl cysteine dimer) uptake in the hippocampus and increasing it in the posterior cingulate gyrus. Basically, these studies showed that CBD changed the way that blood flowed to the areas of the brain that regulate anxious feelings.

Some studies exploring the use of CBD for anxiety looked into specific anxiety disorders like PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and even OCD. The initial findings are hopeful, but scientists still need to establish how consistent dosing will affect anxiety symptoms, as well as the long-term effects on patients.

THC for Anxiety

When it comes to THC use for anxiety, the cannabinoids in the plant bond with receptors in the endocannabinoid system, dopamine system, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis to modulate the body’s response to stress. Working in harmony, these systems dictate the balance between distress and well-being. Most studies about THC and anxiety found that lower doses of THC resulted in decreased anxiety, while higher doses of THC created an increase in anxiety and paranoia.

Risks of Using Cannabis for Anxiety

So there is some evidence that cannabis can be effective for people suffering from anxiety, but are there any risks that should be considered? Part of the problem here is that cannabis affects each person differently. While some people experience relief from their symptoms, others find them to be exacerbated. What could be causing this discrepancy, and how can pharmaceutical companies create a single solution for everyone?

Some scientists believe that THC is the most significant factor in your body’s response to cannabis. Because higher levels of THC have been shown to increase symptoms associated with anxiety, like increased heart rate and racing thoughts, excessive usage could trigger more anxiety in some people. Other side effects of marijuana that may increase anxiety instead of decreasing it include breathing problems, dizziness, paranoia, and a reduced ability to concentrate.

Is There a Risk of Addiction?

Marijuana is not generally considered addictive, but around 9% of users experience physical and psychological dependence. The chances of dependence on marijuana increase for people who start to use it before their brain has fully developed. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough data to determine the risks of long-term heavy marijuana use. Since methods, dosage, and consistency of use change from person to person, it’s difficult to gauge the risks and side effects for the general population.

Balancing the Risk

While it may sound like people are taking a huge risk choosing to self-medicate with cannabis, the alternatives aren’t risk-free. The FDA has disclosed that many of the more traditional anti-anxiety medications, like benzodiazepines, have massive potential for abuse and consistently result in addiction.

Benzodiazepines, like Xanax and Valium, are seemingly common. Everywhere you look, you hear about a cousin or a friend who takes them regularly for anxiety or insomnia. These drugs work by releasing a massive wave of dopamine into your brain with every dose, resulting in mood-boosting, feel-good sensations. In addition to chasing that feeling, benzodiazepines can permanently alter the receptors in your brain, resulting in a high chance of addiction, with over 40% of people eventually developing a dependency on their prescriptions.

When comparing the risk of addiction to benzodiazepines with the risk of addiction to marijuana, the difference is stark – and one that makes it unsurprising that so many people turn to cannabis as opposed to traditional pharmaceuticals.

How to Use Cannabis Safely

At the end of the day, how you address your anxiety is up to you. Some people find that mindfulness techniques and better sleeping habits are all they need to make a difference, while others choose to utilize prescriptions and therapy to address their symptoms. If you decide that cannabis may be the solution for you, consider a few safety tips to ensure a better experience.

CBD First

If you don’t have any experience with cannabis, you may not want to dive into using marijuana head-first. Start with CBD-only or high-CBD products to test how cannabis may affect your anxiety. Because higher levels of THC can make your symptoms worse, you want to avoid high-THC products.

Keep Track

Once you start using cannabis for your anxiety, it’s important to track how it affects you. Keep your dosages consistent until you know exactly what to expect from cannabis products. As you start changing how much you consume, the consumption methods, and the time of day you use cannabis, you’ll need to track changes here as well.

Start Slow

If you aren’t sure how cannabis will affect you, it’s best to start with a low dose. A dispensary can explain THC and CBD ratios and offer guidance relating to recommended products based on your symptoms. These staff are trained, but they aren’t doctors, so you should also speak with your primary physician for additional support.

Consider Drug Interactions

You might already be on medications for anxiety or other health conditions, so adding another element to your regimen could have unintended consequences. Always consult your physician about potential drug interactions and contraindications to make sure that cannabis is safe to combine with your current prescriptions.

Talk to Your Therapist

Many people who have anxiety already work with a therapist to address their symptoms. If you have a therapist, let them know your plans with cannabis so they can check in on your progress and modify your treatment plan as needed.

Are you ready to consider cannabis as an alternative solution for your anxiety? Go slow and steady, while listening to the advice of professionals to ensure the best possible experience.

Author Bio:

Tess DiNapoli is an artist, freelance writer, and content strategist. She has a passion for yoga and often writes about health and wellness, but also enjoys covering the fashion industry and world of fitness.