Can cannabis make me more anxious?
A 2017 national survey of over 9,000 Americans revealed that 81% believe that medical cannabis has the potential to provide health benefits, including stress and anxiety relief. However, there are also individuals who believe that using marijuana can elevate their anxiety. A medical marijuana patient suffering from anxiety might wonder which of these is more accurate to his or her unique situation.
On one side, many anxiety patients are prescribed medical cannabis and report feeling calmer, more relaxed, and more well-rested. However, while this may be true for some, other patients have experienced the opposite effect, where using cannabis strains high in THC could be associated with heightened anxiety symptoms, such as increased heart rate or paranoia. This is because higher amounts of THC overstimulate the amygdala, responsible for processing threatening stimuli in the body, resulting in a sense of anxiety in some users. Genetics may also play a role based on the location of the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Cannabis is generally believed to provide a more positive experience when there are more receptors in the anterior of the brain versus the back, which is associated with more anxious experiences.
So, what is the solution for medical cannabis users suffering from anxiety? A 2017 study measured the emotional response in two groups of healthy adults taking different amounts of THC. One group consumed a smaller amount, 7.5mg, and another group consumed a higher amount, 12.5mg. It was reported that the group that consumed only 7.5mg experienced a reduction in negative feelings and stress, while the group that consumed 12.5mg experienced opposite effects, including heightened anxiousness. Therefore, it can be determined that even though genetics and neurological makeup may play a role in THC sensitivity, it is generally believed that smaller amounts are key to mitigating anxiety symptoms in medical cannabis patients.
However, THC is not the only chemical compound present in marijuana. Another important cannabinoid that plays a role in anxiety reduction is CBD. Unlike THC, CBD is widely available in most of the country and can be easily isolated and sold in tinctures and other forms for consumption. A 2011 study compared the effects of 400mg of CBD versus a placebo. It was concluded that CBD is a potentially helpful treatment in mitigating anxiety and PTSD symptoms, such as nightmares and recurring negative thoughts, observed through lower anxiety levels and a decreased heart rate. This may be done through the altering of serotonin levels within the brain’s CB1 receptors, also responsible for controlling depression symptoms. Unlike THC, medical cannabis certification is not required to purchase CBD products, and the risk of negative experiences is significantly lower.
Bergamaschi, M. M., Queiroz, R. H., Chagas, M. H., de Oliveira, D. C., De Martinis, B. S., Kapczinski, F., Quevedo, J., Roesler, R., Schröder, N., Nardi, A. E., Martín-Santos, R., Hallak, J. E., Zuardi, A. W., & Crippa, J. A. (2011). Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(6), 1219–1226. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.6
Childs, E., Lutz, J. A., & Wit, H. de. (2017, May 30). Dose-related effects of delta-9-THC on emotional responses to acute psychosocial stress. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S037687161730220X.
Keyhani, S., Steigerwald, S., Ishida, J., Vali, M., Cerdá, M., Hasin, D., Dollinger, C., Yoo, S. R., & Cohen, B. E. (2018). Risks and Benefits of Marijuana Use: A National Survey of U.S. Adults. Annals of internal medicine, 169(5), 282–290. https://doi.org/10.7326/M18-0810