Can you use cannabis to manage anxiety?
Have you ever thought of using cannabis to manage anxiety?
When I first began using cannabis almost a decade ago, I found it worked wonders to manage anxiety. Back then, it didn’t really matter which strain I was smoking—cannabis almost always helped regardless of set, setting, dose, or strain.
But as I got older, things got more complicated. I began to notice that certain strains made me more anxious than others. High doses made me paranoid. Using cannabis with unfamiliar people or in unfamiliar places almost always made me hypervigilant, self-conscious, and on edge.
Anxiety evolves and changes, and so might how you treat it.
Cannabis is complicated, and so is how to manage anxiety. Your ideal strain, product, dose, and regimen may not look like mine, and you should expect your relationship with cannabis as an anti-anxiety medicine to shift over the years. Anxiety evolves and changes, and so might how you treat it. There are also many different types of anxiety, and cannabis may affect each differently.
This guide is meant to help you understand your options. Finding the perfect product and routine for you will ultimately require personal experimentation, and we’ll walk you through all the first steps to get started.
Research on marijuana and anxiety
Cannabis is relaxing. Well, it should be, but if you’ve ever smoked a little too much or underestimated an infused edible, you know quite well that THC can sometimes turn on this reputation.
When it comes to high-THC cannabis and managing anxiety, there’s one thing to keep in mind based on research: At lower doses, cannabis seems to help manage anxiety; at higher doses, it seems to worsen it. So if opting for a high-THC variety, be sure to pay close attention to your dose (more on that below). However, high doses of CBD appear to reduce anxiety.
The ECS is a vast system of receptors found throughout each of our bodies: in our brains, organs, guts, skin—these cannabinoid receptors are widespread and play an important role in ensuring that the body is operating in healthy balance. Our bodies naturally produce cannabis-like compounds—called endocannabinoids—that act similarly to cannabis compounds and also interact with the ECS, but sometimes their production goes awry. That’s where cannabis comes in as a potential therapy.
Studies show that the endocannabinoid system plays an important role in regulating anxiety, fear, and stress responses by regulating our behavioural response to stressful stimuli. Notably, cannabinoid receptors are abundant in areas of the brain involved in anxiety processing such as the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and areas of the amygdala. These studies also explain how THC can have opposing effects on anxiety as dosage affects neuron activity differently via cannabinoid type 1 receptors.
Another study published in Jan. 2020 showed that the endocannabinoid 2-AG (which activates the same receptors as THC) reduced anxiety-inducing connections between the amygdala and frontal cortex, suggesting another mechanism by which cannabis relieves anxiety in certain doses.
Cannabis terpenes are another area of interest when it comes to unveiling answers around the plant’s anti-anxiety effects. Terpenes are fragrant oils produced by the plant that make up its aroma, and researchers are exploring to what degree they provide additional therapeutic benefits. For example, the terpene limonene has been studied for its anti-anxiety benefits. Further research is needed to understand how individual terpenes impact the overall therapeutic experience of cannabis.
There hasn’t been much research investigating the interplay of cannabis and anxiety medications, but based on available studies and patient reports, we have a sense for which medications are riskier than others when it comes to mixing. Due to the lack of extensive research, it is advisable to first consult your doctor before combining cannabis and other medications.
SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)—like Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, and Lexapro—are among the most common prescriptions for anxiety. Very few adverse interactions between cannabis and SSRIs have been reported by patients. This also seems to be the case with NDRIs (norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors) like Wellbutrin, Aplenzin, and Forfivo.
- Sedatives (e.g., Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., imipramine/Tofranil, amitriptyline, doxepin, trimipramine/Surmontil)
- MAOIs (e.g. tranylcypromine/Parnate, phenelzine/Nardil, isocarboxazid/Marplan)
Another consideration is how cannabis may complicate symptom tracking. If you’ve just started taking anti-anxiety medication, you may want to hold on using cannabis so you can clearly see whether your anti-anxiety medication is working on its own.
How to choose the right strain for anxiety
Although research shows that certain types of cannabis seem to generally work better than others for anxiety, we’re all different. Finding the strain that knocks out your anxiety will require a bit of exploration, which is made easier by Leafly’s Cannabis Guide.
Leafly’s Cannabis Guide is a visual system that helps us better predict the potential effects of a strain using shapes and colors. By noting which shapes and colors made you feel better (or worse), you can easily shop for similar varieties on your next dispensary visit.
Here are a few strains that are generally rated well for anxiety that you might consider trying.
Cannabinoid profile: Balanced CBD/THC
Terpenes: Myrcene, pinene, caryophyllene
Harlequin is a commonly found balanced 1:1 CBD/THC strain, but there are many other varieties out there that look a lot like this one. With a lower dose of THC and a moderate dose of CBD, Harlequin’s cannabinoid profile is well-suited for anxiety fighters who don’t mind gentle euphoria. Its most abundant terpene is myrcene, which is believed to have a relaxing effect and has been used throughout history as a sleep aid.
Cannabinoid profile: CBD-dominant
Terpenes: Myrcene, pinene, caryophyllene
Looking for a safe first step into the world of cannabis? A CBD-dominant strain like ACDC can offer anxiety benefits without the buzz. Containing only trace levels of THC, ACDC uses the force of CBD and terpenes like myrcene to invoke a clear, calm state of mind. If you’re new to cannabis and leery of feeling high, ACDC or a strain with a similar chemical profile is the ticket.
Cannabinoid Profile: THC-dominant
Terpenes: Caryophyllene, limonene, myrcene
This should be prefaced with one big caveat: When it comes to THC-dominant strains, there is a lot of variation in the types of strains consumers prefer. If you take a look at Leafly’s strain database sorted by strains highly rated for anxiety relief, you’ll see many different terpenes (colours), indicating that consumers may not agree on the “best” strain for anxiety. Imagine that.
But many experienced consumers would recommend something like Bubba Kush. This strain is known for its calming, blissful high that helps you sink deeply into your relaxation routine, whatever that may be. With warm flavours of earthy coffee and black pepper, Bubba Kush brings a sense of cosiness to mind and body for those accustomed to a fairly strong THC high.
To explore more strains rated highly for anxiety relief by other Leafly users, browse the Leafly database.
You can also check out hand-curated suggestions in this article from Leafly.
To summarize the general effects of different cannabis consumption methods and product types:
- Inhaled methods (vaporization and smoking) offer the most immediate relief, but the effects don’t last as long as ingestible methods.
- Ingestible methods (edibles, tinctures, capsules, etc.) take a while to kick in but offer longer-lasting effects.
- Inhaled and ingestible cannabis should both be dosed with caution, but edibles especially require care as their effects can be intense and last several hours if too large of a dose is consumed.
Above, we explored the ways CBD and THC affect anxiety differently—keep that in mind when choosing a product, and always make sure you select a product with the CBD and THC levels that suit you.
- Cannabis flower — Dried buds that you can smoke or vaporize. Find a strain you like (probably one with moderate to high levels of CBD, but that’s cool if a high-THC strain is your cup of tea), and inhale it for fast-acting relief. Inhalation methods take effect much faster than ingestible methods.
- Pre-filled oil vapes — A vaporizer pen that comes preloaded with cannabis oil so you don’t have to hassle with setup. Take a small puff and gradually take more if needed; the effects are fast-acting, but if you’re new to cannabis, wait a several minutes before trying another puff to ensure the dose is right.
- Cannabis tincture — A liquid extract that is applied and absorbed under the tongue. It typically takes effect faster than other ingestible methods but takes longer than inhaled cannabis. It offers the benefits of precise dosing and clean, smoke-free experience. CBD oil is a particularly popular choice for anxiety relief.
- Cannabis edibles — Foods and beverages that are infused with cannabis oils. Cannabis edibles can take up to two hours to take full effect and can be felt for several hours afterwards. If using cannabis for anxiety, consider taking a very small dose to start. A “microdose” (that is, a dose too small to induce euphoric effects) has been useful for consumers looking to dull anxiety while keeping a clear head. Visit the Green Easy Shop to see all the edibles we have available to help manage anxiety
Dosing guidelines for cannabis vary depending on two things:
- How you consume it
- The THC and CBD levels of your product
High-CBD products are a highly recommended starting point. Not only has CBD been found to effectively relieve anxiety, but it’s also non-intoxicating so you don’t have to be as careful about dosing as you have to be with THC products.
With CBD oils and edibles, consider starting with 10mg and increase or decrease your dose until you’ve found the sweet spot for your symptoms. Or puff on a CBD vape or CBD-rich flower until you feel the anxiety starting to lift.
If you want to fold a little THC in, here’s what you should know about dosing:
- If you’re ingesting it, the dose will usually be written in milligrams (mg). For example, you might find edibles that contain 10mg of THC or CBD per serving.
- A liquid tincture may show the total milligrams per bottle and suggest a serving in millilitres. It may recommend taking one or two droppers-full.
- Inhaling via smoking or vaporization is a little different—flower and oils typically present potency as a percentage by weight. So a flower may have, for example, 16% THC, while oil could contain somewhere around 80% THC. New consumers should aim for smaller THC percentages and higher CBD percentages.
To reiterate, someone using cannabis for anxiety should start with a small dose. If you buy a 10mg THC edible, take half or a quarter of it to start—you can always add more if you’re not feeling anything in an hour or two, but undoing overly intense effects is an entirely different (and difficult) challenge.
Likewise, with a flower or vape oils, take just a small puff and wait.
You might even consider micro-dosing cannabis—that is, taking a very small dose (such as 2.5mg THC)—one that’s too low to induce any euphoric effects, but still provides benefits by stimulating our natural endocannabinoid system.
Making cannabis helpful, not harmful
Cannabis is a tool, not a cure. Honestly assess whether it’s helping you achieve your goals—or if it’s enabling you to avoid them.
Cannabis is a tool, not a cure. Like other medications prescribed for anxiety, cannabis can be helpful in dulling symptoms of anxiety, allowing us the ability to functionally move from day to day and foster healthy habits.
Ideally, cannabis will ease stress and motivate you to take care of yourself. It can spark creativity and curiosity, fueling projects and hobbies that help you stay present. It can inspire you to cook a healthy dinner that tastes ridiculously good after a bowl of Purple Kush. It can ignite interest in getting outdoors with friends and family, or allow us to sit in meditation for a few minutes each day.
That’s not to say cannabis has to motivate you to join a gym, create art, hike a mountain, or be around other people in order to help you. Sometimes, relaxing with your favorite strain and a video game is exactly what we need, especially when we feel overworked and burnt out.
When using cannabis for anxiety, take note of how you’re using it. Honestly assess whether it’s helping you achieve your goals—or if it’s enabling you to avoid them.
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