Does cannabis cause or treat anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, tension, nervousness, or fear relating to a specific event or situation. People with anxiety often also experience some physical symptoms, including an increased heartbeat or sweating.
It is a normal reaction in response to stress or stressful situations. However, if people experience excessive anxiety, which becomes a persistent problem, they may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a protective mechanism and scanning the body for an illness seems like the right thing to do to protect ourselves. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States.
Depression is a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or disinterested in life in general for more than two weeks and when the feelings interfere with daily activities.
Major depression is a treatable illness that affects the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and functions. At any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of people suffer from major depression; the lifetime risk is about 17 percent.
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis sativa is a plant. People use the flower, the leaves, and even the seed oil, for recreational and medicine.
While cannabis comprises more than 120 active ingredients and compounds, the most abundant are cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
In recreational use, cannabis can trigger the following effects and feelings:
- elation or euphoria
- changes perceiving color, taste, sounds, time, or space
- an increased appetite
People who use cannabis can consume it in the following ways:
- smoking or vaping
- drinking it in tea
- consuming it in edibles such as brownies or cakes
- eating it raw
- rubbing a topical preparation on their skin
- consuming capsules or supplements
Aside from the recreational effects, there are several potential health benefits of CBD and THC, including the possible treatment of anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31.1% of adults Trusted Source in the United States experience an anxiety disorder some time in their lives,
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- feelings of worry
- a sense of being on-edge
- difficulty sleeping
- difficulty concentrating
Physical symptoms of anxiety include Trusted Source:
- increased heart rate
- shortness of breath
- feeling of weakness
- upset stomach
- hot flashes
Can cannabis treat anxiety?
There are limited human clinical trials that look at cannabis to treat anxiety. However, growing evidence, from animal studies to cannabis user surveys, suggests the drug could be effective. This is particularly the case when cannabis is in CBD oil form.
One 2010 study found that CBD oil reduced anxiety symptoms in people with social anxiety disorder. Participants had their brains scanned, revealing that CBD oil triggered changes in blood flow to regions in the brain linked with feelings of anxiety.
These findings suggest CBD oil can help treat anxiety. It also reveals the mechanism of how CBD interacts with the brain to achieve this.
A 2015 review Trusted Source analyzed previous research into CBD oil, stating the vast majority of the research used animal models. However, based on these studies, CBD oil could potentially reduce several anxiety disorders.
These included post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Human studies are needed to confirm these findings in animals. Furthermore, this research generally only used acute CBD dosing. Therefore, scientists need to conduct more studies to establish whether chronic dosing has similar effects, sustained effects, or both.
A 2018 survey looked at cannabis use in easing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It reveals that medical cannabis users reported a 58% reduction in anxiety and stress.
In addition, females reported a larger reduction in anxiety after using medical cannabis than males. It also showed that high THC and high CBD cannabis gave the most effective results in reducing stress.
Does cannabis cause anxiety?
In some cases, cannabis use may trigger anxiety. A 2014 study Trusted Source analyzed the effectiveness of medical cannabis in treating neurological conditions.
The results show that some people using the drug experienced anxiety as an adverse effect. It also suggests a link between anxiety and higher concentrations of THC.
However, experts do not know for sure if cannabis use triggers anxiety, or if people with anxiety disorders tend to use more cannabis.
The Drug Enforcement Administration also state that cannabis use can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Other remedies for anxiety
If people do not wish to take cannabis to relieve anxiety, there are several alternative methods to help with symptoms. These include:
- remaining active and engaging in regular exercise
- reducing alcohol consumption
- reducing caffeine consumption
- eating a healthy diet
- psychotherapy or counseling
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- medication, such as ant anxiety medication, beta-blockers, or antidepressants
How it can help
There’s no question that many people use marijuana for anxiety.
“Many clients I’ve worked with have reported using cannabis, including THC, CBD, or both, to reduce anxiety,” says Sarah Peace, a licensed counselor in Olympia, Washington.
Commonly reported benefits of marijuana use include:
- increased sense of calm
- improved relaxation
- better sleep
Peace says her clients have reported these benefits along with others, including greater peace of mind and a reduction in symptoms they found unbearable.
Peace explains her clients have reported that marijuana in particular helps relieve symptoms of:
- social anxiety
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks or trauma responses
- panic disorder
- sleep disruptions related to anxiety
What Peace sees in her practice is on par with most of the existing research around marijuana and anxiety.
Other things to consider
While marijuana might seem like a way to avoid the potential side effects associated with prescription medication, there are still some downsides to consider.
Negative side effects
- Increased heart rate
- Increased sweatiness
- Racing or looping thoughts
- Problems with concentration or short-term memory
- Irritability or other changes in mood
- hallucinations and other symptoms of psychosis
- confusion, brain fog, or a “numb” state
- decreased motivation
- difficulty sleeping
Smoking and vaping marijuana can lead to lung irritation and breathing problems in addition to increasing your risk for certain types of cancer.
Plus, vaping is linked Trusted Source to a recent increase in potentially life threatening lung injuries.
Tips for safe use
If you’re curious about trying marijuana for anxiety, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk for it worsening your anxiety symptoms.
Consider these tips:
- Go for CBD over THC. If you’re new to marijuana, start with a product that contains only CBD or a much higher ratio of CBD to THC. Remember, higher levels of THC are what tend to make anxiety symptoms worse.
- Go slow. Start with a low dose. Give it plenty of time to work before using more.
- Purchase marijuana from a dispensary. Trained staff can offer guidance based on the symptoms you’re looking to treat and help you find the right type of marijuana for your needs. When you buy from a dispensary, you also know you’re getting a legitimate product.
- Know about interactions. Marijuana can interact with or reduce the effectiveness of prescription and over-the-counter medications, including vitamins and supplements. It’s best to let your healthcare provider know if you’re using marijuana. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you can also talk to a pharmacist.
- Tell your therapist. If you’re working with a therapist, make sure to loop them in, too. They can help you evaluate how well it’s working for your symptoms and offer additional guidance.
Oral CBD to ward off anxious feelings
CBD oils and oral sprays are also becoming more popular with consumers. People take sublingual oils by dropping the liquid under their tongue.
The mucous membranes are filled with tiny capillaries, so the CBD is absorbed quickly and directly into the bloodstream.
Since switching to CBD oil, Gill says she takes it morning and night. “Currently, I take 25 mg [milligrams] of full-spectrum high-CBD oil twice a day — in the morning and before bed. I also frequently take it during the day to relieve my anxiety symptoms. It’s the first thing I reach for [when] my mind starts racing.”
She adds that it also helps with her chronic pain. “In total, I take at least 50 mg of full-spectrum CBD oil a day, and I usually take 75 to 100 mg,” depending on pain and anxiety levels that day.
Sublingual CBD oils are a great choice for people who have trouble swallowing capsules or are unable to take gummies.
Oils do have a tendency to taste a little “weedy” though, which might be a turnoff for some people. There are oils on the market that are infused with other ingredients, like peppermint, which helps to dial back any unpleasant flavors.
Edibles to help fight anxiety without judgment
San Diego restaurateur Beau Schmitt uses CBD gummies to treat his anxiety. He takes two to three gummies in the morning and then again before bed to help him sleep.
“I take gummies (vs. oils or vaping) because dosing is consistent, they’re convenient, and I don’t look “druggy” while conducting business or interacting with our staff,” he tells Health line.
Pulling out your oil dropper might get you some funny looks, but no one is going to think twice about you eating candy in public. “CBD gummies are discreet so you can take them in a professional environment without everyone asking you questions,” he points out.
“Especially since they target anxiety relief, the last thing you want is someone bugging you about dropping a tincture under your tongue or blowing smoke out a window.”
When it comes to how to take it, there are many different forms and products that CBD comes in, including:
What are the side effects of CBD?
Studies have found that CBD causes few side effects. But people treated with Epidiolex (which is nearly 100% pure CBD) experienced side effects such as:
- Decreased appetite