Feeling anxious? You aren’t alone. While experiencing anxiety is a normal part of life, anxiety disorders have now become the most common form of mental illness. Affecting over 40 million Americans—that’s 18% of the population, anxiety can make a big impact on an individual's quality of life.
Anxiety is characterized by feelings of panic, fear or uneasiness. It can also cause physical symptoms like dizziness, heart palpitations, tingling in the hands and feet, shortness of breath, tense muscles, nausea and insomnia. These symptoms can be frightening, painful and even debilitating. That said, many patients say their symptoms have been relieved with the help of cannabis.
Take Alex, a 31-year-old designer from the San Francisco Bay Area, who says his anxiety has been greatly helped by cannabis. Alex says that before he started using cannabis during the day, his anxiety was overwhelming.
“Throughout the day, I would just be a wreck,” Alex explains. “I would just worry too much about things that honestly didn't matter or just focus on the negative aspects or actually get flustered and rush because of my anxiety and make things worse.”
Alex had been using cannabis to relax in the evenings for years, but worried about how it might affect him during the day. He says things changed when he learned about microdosing.
“Just taking one hit in the morning before I would go into work. ... The difference was night and day,” he says. “I would definitely have a more calm feeling overall. I wouldn't rush to things. I wouldn't let the anxiety or the pressures of the stress get to me.”
Alex says that while using these microdosed inhalations of cannabis vapor, he’s able to function much better than he did without cannabis.
That said, Alex cautions newcomers to “try it out and experiment with it at home, before you use cannabis to curb anxiety at a workplace or even with friends or social situations.” He explains that it’s important to know “what’s going to work for you in terms of dosage, and even how you're going to consume it.”
Alex isn’t alone. Patients often report that cannabis helps with their anxiety in a number of ways. Marijuana helps with many of the painful symptoms of anxiety by relaxing muscles, easing chronic pain and reducing nausea.
Cannabis can also have a direct effect by lessening the intense feelings of anxiety. Research shows that when patients are treated with cannabis, not only did their subjective levels of stress decrease but so did biological markers such as cortisol levels. This happens because compounds in the plant, such as cannabidiol (CBD), stimulate the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptor.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) naturally regulates anxiety by dampening excitatory signals in the brain. So, when the ECS is stimulated by cannabinoids, it triggers the same natural response. For patients who have an excess of this anxious activity in the brain, cannabis can play an invaluable role in dampening its effects.
This explains why so many patients say cannabis has helped them take back control of their lives.
If you suffer from anxiety and think cannabis might be right for you, the best first step is to talk to a doctor. You can consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it's easy, private and 100% online. Whether you have a medical marijuana card or live in a state where you can purchase through recreational means, you’ll want to start exploring which strains and methods of using cannabis are best for you.
Vaping and smoking are the most common choices for treating anxiety, but many patients have also found success with marijuana edibles and topicals. This can vary greatly from patient to patient, so some experimentation may be necessary.
The same is true when it comes to cannabis strains. While some say cannabis that’s high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) helps reduce their anxiety, others say THC actually worsens it. If you’re sensitive to the anxiety-inducing effects of THC, looking for varieties high in CBD or tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) may be a better fit.
There are many types of cannabis that people find helpful for treating anxiety and its painful symptoms. It’s up to you to find the ones that work best for you.
Stay tuned for our next installment of the Cannabis for Newbies guide, where we’ll get into how cannabis can help relieve pain.
Photo credit: Shine Tang