Does Medical Marijuana Reduce or Increase Anxiety? That Depends.
Feeling stressed out and anxious? Cannabis may or may not be just what the doctor ordered. Reducing anxiety and relieving stress are two of the top reasons given by Florida patients requesting medical marijuana cards. Some patients swear by cannabis as a way to treat anxiety disorders such as GAD, OCD, PTSD, and panic attacks, however others claim that marijuana gives them feelings of paranoia and increases anxiety. How can medical marijuana have one effect on some people and a different effect on others?
The Entourage Effect
Unlike most prescription medications, the effects of cannabis are not due to a single active ingredient. Cannabis is a very complex plant which produces a variety of active ingredients, most notably cannabinoids and terpenes. The balance of these compounds often determines the effects of a particular strain. Certain cannabinoids and terpenes are known to reduce anxiety and improve mood. The overall effect produced by any particular strain of cannabis is known as the entourage effect. But that’s not the entire story.
Cannabis is Biphasic
Cannabis, as a drug, is considered to be biphasic. What that means is that it has different effects depending on the dosage. A perfect example of a biphasic drug is alcohol. In small doses alcohol can increase energy and sociability, but in large doses it’s a powerful depressant and can knock a person out for hours.
The same is true with cannabis and anxiety. Certain strains, in small doses will relieve anxiety. However, taken in larger doses, many users report severe feelings of paranoia.
The Role of Hormones and Neurotransmitters
When our brains perceive danger, they release a variety of hormones and neurotransmitters to prepare us to face that danger. This effect is known as fight or flight response. When the danger is over, a different set of hormones and neurotransmitters are produced that bring about feelings of safety and contentment. This second process is known as fear extinction. When these systems go awry this can result in conditions such as general anxiety, PTSD, panic attacks, OCD, and so on.
One of the hormones that plays a big role in reducing anxiety is serotonin. Often referred to as the “bliss molecule,” serotonin is responsible for such effects as runner’s high. People who experience chronic depression and anxiety often have low levels of serotonin, high levels of serotonin uptake inhibitors, or a lack of serotonin receptors. Cannabidiol, or CBD, one of the cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis, has the ability to mimic a cannabinoid compound which is produced without our bodies known as anandamide which has the ability to increase serotonin production.
Another cannabinoid compound found in cannabis, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC has the ability to interact with certain receptors in the brain such as dopamine receptors which play a big role in the brain’s reward circuits resulting in feelings of euphoria. However, in high doses parts of the brain which are involved in emotions such as the amygdala can be hyper-activated by THC resulting in intense fear and paranoia.
How To Use Medical Marijuana For Anxiety
If you are a resident of a state where cannabis is legal experiencing anxiety you should consult with a qualified medical marijuana doctor. However, here are some considerations for using marijuana to help relieve anxiety.
- Start with small doses and work your way up. Also, space your usage out over time. Large doses or constant consumption of any strain can cause paranoia, especially in new users.
- Stick with strains that are high in CBD and terpenes. According to High Times, Granddaddy Purple and Jack Herer strains are often used to treat general anxiety. Girl Scout Cookies strain is known to relieve symptoms of PTSD. Strawberry Cough is said to be good for treating social anxiety. And Northern Lights is a good strain for treating OCD. However, these recommendations may not apply to everyone.
- For sudden onset conditions such as PTSD and panic attacks, a fast onset consumption method is recommended. The method with the fastest onset time is inhalation either via smoking or vaping. The effects of inhalation are almost instantaneous. If inhalation is not an option for you, sublingual tinctures will have a faster onset time than edibles.
- For more generalized anxiety, edibles and capsules, although they require more time to take effect can deliver the medicine more evenly over time.
How To Get Medical Marijuana
If you are a resident of a legal state interested in trying medical marijuana to treat anxiety or other medical conditions, you will first need to consult with a certified doctor in order to get a medical marijuana card. To get started, simply fill out the MMJ patient registration form, press submit and a physician or clinic representative will contact you as available.