Let’s face it. Everyone has some level of anxiety throughout the day. Stress can help motivate, but too much of it can leave one paralyzed with fear. Many people are turning to cannabis to relax and treat their anxiety, but there’s a fine balance between consuming just enough cannabis to relax the body and mind and consuming too much making some feel paranoid.
As an experienced cannabis user and a person with undiagnosed anxiety, I’ve gone through many overwhelming experiences after smoking a little too much weed. It wasn’t until I became a cannabis writer that I learned how to use the therapeutic plant to my advantage. When it comes to using cannabis for anxiety, the research is lacking leaving users high and dry.
On top of the limited research, different cannabis strains affect everyone differently. Factors like age, metabolism, genetics, and type of product shape each experience. Regular cannabis use can also lead to tolerance meaning users have to take more of the substance to feel the same effects. A tolerance break can usually reduce tolerance, but the cycle continues.
Despite the intricacies of using cannabis for anxiety, many people are replacing traditional medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines like Xanax to improve their mood disorders. As a person who took SSRIs for over a year, I can attest that the withdrawals are brutal, but it’s different for everyone.
SSRIs, specifically, increase the number of serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a naturally-produced neurotransmitter that regulates mood, emotions, appetite, pleasure, sleep, and more. While it’s mainly found in the membranes of the gastrointestinal tract, serotonin can also be found in the brain. Serotonin levels can increase by getting some sun, meditation, eating certain foods, and physical activity.
Research suggests that lower levels of serotonin in the brain is linked to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Some studies have shown that cannabinoids (chemical compounds found in cannabis) like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) can increase serotonin levels in some cases. A 2016 study found that mice that took a CBD-like substance had fewer symptoms of depression.
A 2011 report showed that higher cannabinoid levels in the body increased the efficiency of certain antidepressants. The anti-anxiety effects of cannabis can indirectly increase serotonin levels. Since the body produces its own version of cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids, cannabinoids like THC can mimic endocannabinoids like anandamide which affect memory, concentration, pain, and more.
Cannabinoids like THC bind to cell receptors in the brain, primarily the CB1 receptor, which is part of our endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system creates a balanced biological state in the body affecting a variety of systems that maintain our health. Keep in mind, marijuana use can be a double-edged sword when used to treat anxiety disorders.
Taking too much THC can make people even more anxious and paranoid. Cannabis users looking for stress relief should look for strains that have a balanced THC:CBD ratio. Most strains out there are bred for high concentrations of THC. CBD can help mitigate the side effects of THC. Taking CBD alone can eliminate the “high” and has helped many reduce their anxiety.
A 2012 report found that CBD can be an effective treatment for people with anxiety who are looking for an alternative to anti-anxiety medication. While more research needs to be done to assess the veracity of these studies, overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests consuming CBD lowers levels of anxiety. Another study on animals found that CBD can increase levels of serotonin quicker than SSRIs.
THC and CBD affect everyone differently so it’s important to keep track of strains, dosage, and more to assess efficacy. Finding the right dosage can be difficult, especially with edibles and smoking. Microdosing (taking small doses throughout the day) with tinctures, capsules, or dose-dependent vaporizers can provide a sustainable way to manage stress without overdoing it. I suggest users start off with 1 mg of THC, CBD, or a balanced ratio of both and build up from there.
Despite the limited research, cannabinoids have helped people overcome their anxiety. It’s important to remember than cannabinoids alone can’t cure anxiety but can help many get on the right track to make lifestyle choices that will benefit their mental health in the long run.