Although there is some scientific research behind cannabis use for anxiety, currently the majority of evidence is only from people who have successfully self-medicated with cannabis for anxiety.
However, that does not mean that cannabis is not effective for treating anxiety: Thousands, if not millions, of people have successfully treated their anxiety with cannabis. Not only is cannabis effective in treating anxiety, its also extremely effective in reducing stress – one of the main causes of developing anxiety.
This article discusses the benefits of using cannabis to treat anxiety and the possible negative effects. By the end of this article, we hope you have learnt enough to make an informed decision on which cannabis strain will best suit your condition.
Anxiety is natural
Anxiety is a naturally occurring response that helps humans to cope with threats. Small levels of anxiety are necessary to motivate humans to take action in life. However, when anxiety builds up, it can become a negative downward spiral. Some people develop general anxiety disorder (GAD), which can result in restlessness, moderate-severe insomnia, dizziness and heart palpitations. If there is a history of anxiety in your family, you’ll be genetically prone to developing anxiety during any point in your life.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are pharmaceutical medications which are prescribed for depression, anxiety, panic disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. Currently in the UK, you are far more likely to be prescribed SSRIs, not cannabis, for anxiety.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which influences mood, emotions and sleep. SSRIs block serotonin reuptake in the brain which in turn increases serotonin availability.
There are side effects to SSRIs, which consist of agitation, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, low sex drive and erectile dysfunction. Caution is required when taking SSRIs if you have other health conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy, as they can trigger symptoms of other conditions. It should also be noted that SSRIs can react with other medications.
Pharmaceutical medication addiction
Benzodiazepine medications, such as Valium, are used to treat panic disorders, PTSD and other conditions, can become addictive.
Cannabis does not produce side effects of the same severity as pharmaceutical medications, nor can you become physically addicted to cannabis.
Cannabis for anxiety
Many people believe all cannabis strains will cause/worsen anxiety. However, cannabis is used as a remedy for treating moderate anxiety by thousands of people.
Research has shown that brains which have been exposed to high levels of stress contain a shortage of endocannabinoids. The cannabinoids contained in cannabis mimic natural endocannabinoids produced by the body and fill in the shortage, activating our bodies endocannabinoid system, which is why cannabis produces a relaxing, stress relieving effect when consumed.
Cannabis is a natural, non-addictive medicine. Side effects of cannabis are minimal and gradually wear off as the chemicals are broken down by the body. The side effects can consist of:
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
- Slow reaction times
- Increased heart rate
- Psychological dependence
CBD, another prominent cannabinoid found in cannabis has been reported by the WHO (World Health Organization) as non-addictive and non-toxic. There is evidence of CBD as an effective treatment for anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, social phobia, pain, depression, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, schizophrenia and drug addictions.
Why cannabis can increase anxiety
Unless the strain is known, most cannabis found in the black market will be high THC cannabis, such as variants of skunk. While skunk and other high THC strains are effective in treating conditions such as nausea and insomnia, they can exasperate the symptoms of anxiety and paranoia.
Even in users who do not feel anxious or paranoid, high THC cannabis can cause episodes of extreme paranoia, especially if consumed in an edible, as it seems that THC can amplify any feelings you have prior to consumption.
Other factors which can contribute to heightened levels of anxiety are:
- Frequency of use: Users who consume high THC cannabis on a regular basis (daily) are statistically more likely to start feeling anxious in the long run.
- Dose: High doses of high THC cannabis, especially when consumed as edibles, are likely to induce feelings of anxiety and paranoia.
- Set/Setting: You should be clear minded and in a relaxed, happy environment. Set/setting is often overlooked, and can account for causing episodes of unexplained paranoia when consuming cannabis.
It should also be noted, if there is a reason for your anxiety, i.e. an underlying problem, cannabis will not solve the problem. In the short term, cannabis will reduce your anxiety, but you must also address the underlying problems – if there are any. When underlying problems are not addressed, cannabis will only mask the problems and you’ll still have them in the long run. This can also cause psychological dependence on cannabis.
Sativa or Indica?
When self medicating for anxiety/paranoia, choosing the correct cannabis strain is vital. It is advisable to not consume cannabis high in THC. Instead, your strain of choice should contain as little THC as possible and a high CBD content. Not only is CBD effective in treating anxiety and paranoia, it also counteracts the negative effects of THC.
CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it will not make you feel high like THC does. A study which analyzed the brain activity of people with anxiety, found that those who used CBD had brainwave patterns which were similar to that of anti-anxiety medication use.
Now you know to look for a cannabis strain with minimal THC and maximum CBD contents, what strain group should you look in, Sativa or Indica dominant?
If you already have anxiety or are prone to anxiety or paranoia, Sativa strains may not be the best choice of strain, as the high-energy, cerebral feelings can exasperate the feelings of anxiety. You should aim to consume Indica strains which will relax you and combat your symptoms of anxiety, without producing an intense cerebral effect.
You may be thinking that if CBD is anti-anxiety and won’t get you high that you can consume pure CBD. While pure CBD on its own will combat anxiety, depression and many other conditions, consuming a full cannabinoid profile is thought to produce greater benefits.
This is known as the entourage effect. Individual cannabinoids on their own do have health and medical benefits, but when combined, their effect is stronger and more beneficial.
Other natural ways to minimize anxiety
Reduce tobacco, alcohol and caffeine intake
If you consume cannabis mixed with tobacco in a joint, you may be unnecessarily be increasing your anxiety. Tobacco use is known to increase anxiety. So it’s best to try and quit tobacco smoking. Hemp buds which are high in CBD are an effective substitute for tobacco, you can check out our top 5 CBD bud shops in the UK here.
If you regularly consume alcohol, you may be increasing your anxiety levels. Try to cut down on alcohol consumption if you are trying to combat anxiety/paranoia.
Consuming coffee and energy drinks raises your heart rate, which in turn can increase anxiety levels. Again, if you’re trying to reduce anxiety but consume numerous coffees/energy drinks throughout the day, try cutting down.
Exercise is a free medicine which has been found to be effective in treating anxiety and depression. Exercising daily naturally releases endorphins, which make you feel good. This is also sometimes referred to as “runners high”.
We’ve not tried this ourselves, however there are various reports from people who have started to feel paranoid after consuming cannabis edibles or smoking too much, that smelling (not sniffing/inhaling!) or chewing black peppercorns relieves their paranoia episode. We can’t imagine the taste is very pleasant, but if it works, it must be worth it!
Stigma against cannabis use is a major problem in the UK. Since the law now states you are able to be prescribed cannabis for medical conditions, however doctors are only able to prescribe cannabis for severe conditions, such as epilepsy, only after all other medication has been exhausted.
As more UK doctors are educated on the benefits of cannabis as a substitute to many commonly prescribed pharmaceutical medications, stigma should reduce and availability of various strains should increase.
The cost of prescribing pharmaceuticals is far more expensive than prescribing cannabis, and in many cases, cannabis is a much safer medication to be using.
If you self-medicate using cannabis without a prescription, not only does a large proportion of society look down on you, but you could also face prosecution, which is ridiculous in this day and age.
Remember: Indica strains with the lowest possible THC content and highest possible CBD content, are most effective for treating anxiety/paranoia.
Have you found any strains that are effective in treating anxiety/paranoia? Or do you have any tips for reducing anxiety/paranoia?
Tell us in the comments below so that others can benefit from your findings.