Anxiety and cannabis have always had a somewhat paradoxical relationship. Many cannabis strains are said to help treat anxiety, yet there are countless people around the world for whom cannabis actually gives them anxiety. One of the most common answers non-users give when asked why they don’t like smoking weed is that it makes them anxious and therefore the whole experience is just unpleasant. Instead of controlling or at least reducing their anxiety level, consuming cannabis actually sends them into a spiral of emotions, with their anxiety levels so high it can be paralyzing.
For others, cannabis is an incredibly effective tool for calming anxiety. Knowing where you fit on the scale is dependent on many factors such as your tolerance at the time of consumption, the cannabinoid and terpene profile and more.
We have discussed our previous blog about what to do when you feel too high, but why does anxiety happen with cannabis in the first place?
How does cannabis relieve anxiety?
Every time there is a stimulus, our cells react and release chemicals that travel to the brain. The brain, in turn, interprets the chemical signals and dictates how our body reacts. In stressful cases, the brain cells release excitatory chemicals that go to the brain regions responsible for processing emotions, fear, anxiety, stress, and memory.
Once these brain regions are activated, the fight or flight response kicks in. We feel anxious; our muscles tense up; and our heart rate and breathing pattern speed up. We also tend to sweat when we’re anxious or afraid, as well as feeling nauseous and lightheaded. These changes prepare our bodies to either face the situation or flee.
This cascade of events has to end, of course, so the brain cells start releasing inhibitory chemicals to control the process. The brain cells also begin reabsorbing the excitatory chemicals to reduce their levels.
The endocannabinoid systems found in our brain cells are also triggered by stress and anxiety. Since their primary role is to maintain homeostasis, they “tell” the brain cells to stop releasing excitatory chemicals.
People with anxiety disorders are found to have an imbalance in these brain chemicals, with high levels of excitatory chemicals, compared to the inhibitory ones. This chemical imbalance is why they’re easily triggered by stressful situations, sending them into panic and anxiety attacks.
The cannabinoids found in cannabis also interact with the brain cells’ endocannabinoid systems. They activate the endocannabinoid system, prompting it to regulate anxiety, fear, and stress response. In addition to this, the cannabinoids also activate other receptors responsible for anxiety, fear, and stress control. These receptors tell the brain cells to release inhibitory chemicals as well as stop their production of the excitatory chemicals.
It is through these effects that cannabis reduces stress levels and controls anxiety attacks.
How does cannabis worsen it?
In some cases though, cannabis can actually worsen anxiety and heighten stress and fear. This effect is primarily caused by THC, the major psychoactive cannabinoid found in weed.
To better understand how this happens, we’ll take a quick look at the cannabinoid receptors. There are two major types of cannabinoid receptors; type 1 and type 2. Type 2 is more involved in inflammation control, while type 1 is more involved in physiological functions like memory, anxiety, fear, emotions, motor, sensation, pain, sleep, learning, appetite, pleasure, and reward, among others.
Now, THC, compared to CBD (the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid), attaches itself very well to the type 1 cannabinoid receptor. When THC binds to this receptor, it produces a variety of therapeutic effects. It decreases pain, reduces stress and anxiety, uplifts the spirit and makes you feel happy, and promotes sleep. It is also through this receptor that THC can stimulate appetite or induce the giggles.
However, when there’s too much THC stimulating the type 1 cannabinoid receptors in the brain, either through a lack of tolerance or a highly potent product, THC will actually worsen stress and anxiety rather than helping them. High THC levels can also overstimulate the type 1 cannabinoid receptors found in the amygdala, the brain region responsible for emotions, fear, and paranoia.
Other Reasons for Adverse Effects
THC is not the only factor, however, that plays a role in anxiety. We react differently to cannabis because our endocannabinoid system is unique to each person. Like our fingerprint, no two endocannabinoid systems are the same. So Joe Schmo may feel an improvement in his stress and anxiety levels after consuming a high-THC strain, while Mary-Jane, in an ironic and cruel twist of fate, may actually feel worse after taking the same strain.
The terpenes found in cannabis also have an effect on anxiety levels. According to researchers, strains rich in terpinolene may have anxiety-inducing effects. Guaiol, another type of terpene, may also induce anxiety. However, strains rich in terpenes like eucalyptol, carene, linalool, caryophyllene, limonene, myrcene, and bisabolol may help reduce anxiety.
How do you use cannabis responsibly if you have anxiety?
You can’t predict your exact reaction to cannabis, especially if it’s your first time trying it. However, you can reduce the risk of developing anxiety and paranoia by following a few steps before consumption. Knowing the strains to try or avoid is key. An AAAA Jack Herer is typically more likely to give you anxiety than your uncle’s Fred’s backyard weed, but that is not always the case. Reviews and anecdotal evidence by people that have tried the strain can be a good indicator, although you have to keep in mind it may very well react the opposite with you. It really pays to know their cannabinoid and terpene profile as well, though I imagine Freddy is not sending his shwag in to get tested at the lab.
According to many cannabis consumers, the best strains for anxiety relief are:
Bubba Kush is a name respected throughout the industry. Reliable for its amazing taste and calming effects, many people treat their anxiety with this strain (though be warned, it can contain higher levels of THC depending on the batch)
With a unique terpene profile and an incredibly soothing high to match, Violator Kush is a strain sought after by those seeking relief. Often contains CBD as well.
Purple Gods Green Crack
Our current batch is very effective in treating anxiety. A go-to calming strain for much of our staff.
The CBD strain that paved the way for so many others, Charlottes Web is high in cannabidiol and low in THC.
If you feel like the anxiety and stress are suffocating you, then place some drops of CBD oil under your tongue. CBD has calming properties. It also takes the edge off of the negative side effects of THC.
Controlling your consumption is also another way of reducing the risk of anxiety attacks. Some strains are fast and hard hitters, while others are creepers. If you’re new to cannabis consumption, you need to take it low and go slow. This means starting at a low dose and assessing your body’s response to the strain before gradually increasing your dose.
If you’re concerned cannabis giving you anxiety but wish to try so anyway, then do it in a place you’re comfortable in and surrounded by people you trust. Should you develop adverse side effects, you want to be with people you know and trust. The environment can play a huge factor in how you react to cannabis. Even experienced users can get anxiety if they consume in a place their not comfortable with. Be it in a large crowd, or an area you don’t know, you don’t want to give your mind more reasons to be anxious.
Cannabis can relieve anxiety for some and for others, it can induce it, which is, well, annoying and for some, it can be quite frustrating. Seeing the relief that others get from cannabis when it only gives you anxiety can be deflating and frustrating. Just know that everybody is different and it may just be a matter of adjusting the variables to something that works better for you. So if you are suffering from anxiety and you want to use cannabis to control it, then you need to know the strain you’re using, its THC level and terpene profile, as well as taking into consideration your tolerance/ experience with cannabis and where/who you are consuming the cannabis with.