Mental Health Matters: Cannabis and Anxiety

May 29, 2018

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Almost everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their life. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States affecting approximately 40 million adults age 18 and older each year—that’s 18.1% of the total population.

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While everyone’s anxiety manifests differently, common symptoms include feeling nervous or restless, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, difficulty concentrating, nausea and experiencing a sense of impending doom. For some individuals, anxiety is associated with a particular life event and once said event has passed so does the anxiety; however, others experience anxiety on a more consistent basis. These individuals may find that their anxiety makes it difficult for them to participate in everyday activities like work, errands or social engagements. Treatment varies based on the needs of the individual, but options include psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation therapy, diet and lifestyle changes and medication. Currently, antidepressants like SSRIs and low-dose antipsychotics are the most prescribed for the treatment of anxiety. The prescribing of benzodiazepines has certainly decreased in recent years due to the opioid epidemic, but there are still those who prescribe Xanax, Valium and Ativan to combat the symptoms of anxiety. 

If you want to avoid taking pharmaceuticals, consider giving cannabis a try. For anyone who’s eaten too much of an edible or smoked too much of a joint, the idea that cannabis could decrease anxiety instead of cause it might seem strange. The key is all in the dosing—microdosing to be exact. With THC in particular it’s important not to go overboard, a little bit goes a long way! THC binds to our CB1 receptors, many of which are found in the areas of our brain that assess threats and manage our response to fear. When THC binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain, the brain’s reactivity to threats is decreased. Hence why when you take the right amount of THC, you can experience a decrease in anxiety. THC has a bi-phasic dose effect—meaning at a low dose it does one thing and at a higher dose it does the opposite. The line between the two is actually finer than you might think. A study conducted at the University of Chicago examined this idea with individuals who had used cannabis before, but did not consume on a regular basis. The results showed that at 7.5mg of THC the subjects experienced “mild mood elevation and a sense of well-being”, but at 12.5mg of THC the subjects felt anxious. A difference of a mere 5mg of THC is all it took for anxiety to set in, which is why it’s always best to start low and go slow with THC products until you have a better idea of how a particular product affects you. 

Of all the cannabinoids, CBD may be the best option to alleviate unpleasant anxiety symptoms. In recent years, scientists have begun to gain a better understanding of what occurs in the brain when someone is experiencing anxiety. The amygdalae, masses of grey matter located inside each cerebral hemisphere that regulate emotions, have been identified as playing a pivotal role in anxiety disorders. Serotonin also comes into play, specifically via the 5-HT1A receptor—a subtype of serotonin receptor that is the most common throughout the cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala. What does this have to do with CBD? Peer-reviewed studies conducted in recent years have found that CBD inhibits the degradation of anandamide. This is significant, as individuals with anxiety and depression tend to have decreased levels of anandamide. Another peer-reviewed study found that CBD treatments actually increased serum anandamide levels in the brain. CBD has even been found to interact with the 5-HT1A neuro-receptor according to another peer-reviewed study. It should also be noted that CBD has immunostabilizing effects that seem to be particularly effective for managing the overactive fight-or-flight reflex that plagues many individuals with anxiety disorders. Since CBD isn’t psychoactive in the way that THC is, you don’t have to worry about the paranoia or increased anxiety that can sometimes occur when you take too much THC. 

Just like with any other condition, everyone will respond to cannabis differently and it’s important to be patient during the trial and error process of finding what works best for you. Keeping a journal can be a helpful way to maintain a record of how different strains, products and doses make you feel which will in turn help you make educated decisions about your medicine. This information is super helpful for your bud tender as well—the more detailed and honest your feedback, the better they are able to recommend products for you. Want to give medical cannabis a try? Find a licensed dispensary near you by using the Hopegrown search bar at the top of the page!

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for resources and more information. Those currently in crisis can call 1-800-273-TALK, text MHA to 741741 or visit the National Suicide Prevention Line

SOURCES

1. ADAA Facts & Statistics

2. The Neurobiology of Anxiety Disorders: Brain Imaging, Genetics, and Psychoneuroendocrinology

3. Trying cannabis for anxiety? Here’s why less is more

4. Using CBD To Treat Anxiety

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