As more states legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, researchers are looking harder at claims about its benefits. In particular, there’s a lot of interest in marijuana for anxiety. Concerns over the growing trend for anxiety and depression include the failure to get help for potentially serious issues. Self-medicating the symptoms can prevent people from addressing the cause of the anxiety or depression. As we learn more about the actual benefits of marijuana for anxiety, it’s also important to look at the potential risks.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
All of us feel anxiety from time to time. It’s normal to worry about things that matter to us. But with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), feelings of anxiety take over your life. You worry over every little thing, even when the worst case scenario isn’t really a big deal. When you can’t keep your mind off what worries you, it might be a case of GAD.
GAD isn’t something you get overnight. It usually starts at an early age, developing over time. You might worry about normal, everyday matters. You can’t control your feelings or nervousness about what “might” happen. Maybe you know you worry a lot more than you should. GAD also causes problems with concentration and makes relaxing difficult to impossible. Other signs and symptoms of GAD include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Headaches and other unexplained pains
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems falling or staying asleep
- Feeling out of breath
- Sweating a lot
- Frequent urination
- Feeling light-headed
Young people with GAD often worry about academics or sports performance. Other common worries include catastrophes. Adults, on the other hand, might worry about issues like job performance, not being on time, finances, health, or their children’s health.
Adults and children with GAD worry so much that they have problems functioning with everyday life. Symptoms aren’t always the same. They might worsen with a physical illness or at times of added stress or conflict.
Causes of GAD
Sometimes GAD runs in families. No one knows why it only occurs in some family members and not others. Researchers have identified several areas of the brain and certain biological processes which play a role in anxiety. However, they haven’t yet discovered the impact of stress and environmental factors on the development of GAD.
In diagnosing GAD, doctors consider underlying medical conditions and medications that might cause signs or symptoms. A psychological evaluation is often performed along with the physical exam.
How Doctors Treat GAD
Depending on the cause of the signs and symptoms, doctors might prescribe medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of treatments. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of therapy used for patients with GAD. It helps address the ways a person thinks, behaves, and reacts to situations which lead to anxiety and worry.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the most common medications prescribed for anxiety. These medications are also used to treat depression. They can take weeks to start working and often cause side effects. Some of the most common are headaches, nausea, and sleeping problems.
Another class of medications, benzodiazepines, are highly effective at reducing anxiety. However, these sedatives can lead to tolerance and dependence with continued use. Most doctors only prescribe them for limited periods of time.
When Is Using Marijuana for Anxiety Okay?
We all get nervous or anxious about certain events in our life. Our anxiety is often what drives us to take action to get things done or to make sure our needs are met. In fact, it can be useful to feel anxious in some situations. Worrying over some situations can keep you from getting hurt or killed. For example, what if you’re running late getting home and the only shortcut is through a dark alley that you know is frequented by drug dealers. Worries over what might happen could keep you from making the wrong choice and taking the unsafe shortcut.
Although we all experience anxiety to some degree, we don’t all have the same triggers. Yours might be issues at work. Maybe you’re creating a presentation for a difficult client. For some people, planning to take a test causes anxiety. For others, it’s going to the dentist. Different people also experience nervousness or anxiety to different degrees. So, how do you know when your anxiety is normal and when it’s a problem?
An anxiety disorder is when your feelings of anxiety, nervousness, or fear are intense. They prevent you from doing things you want to do. The basic difference between normal anxiety and GAD is the intensity of your nervousness. If your anxiety only occurs right before a big test or a dentist appointment, it probably doesn’t interfere with normal day-to-day life. If you avoid events and situations because of incessant worry, it isn’t normal. If you have any of the signs and symptoms of GAD, you should talk with your doctor about them.
Any time you use medication or a substance to treat or cope with a medical problem, you are self-medicating. People often self-medicate their mental disorders with drugs and alcohol. Now that marijuana is legal in a growing portion of the country, more people are self-medicating by taking marijuana for anxiety. It provides immediate relief without the consequences of using an illegal drug.
Research has shown that marijuana does decrease anxiety when it contains low doses of THC. This is the component of the drug that produces the “high.” Another component, CBD, decreases anxiety regardless of what level it’s at. While studies show that marijuana can help people cope with anxiety in the short-term, it isn’t recommended for long-term use. It might help alleviate the fear and anxiety we all experience during certain events. But repeated use over the long-term can actually make matters worse. It also means you aren’t getting medical treatment for the condition causing your anxiety.
Repeated use of marijuana for anxiety hasn’t shown any reduction of symptoms. Some individuals see an increase in anxiety symptoms. Too much marijuana use can also lead to feelings of fear or paranoia and has the potential to cause memory loss. It’s also possible to develop a tolerance to marijuana so that you need more of it to achieve the same high.
The Connection Between Anxiety and Depression
Many people who experience depression also have anxiety. Sometimes the worries over events lead to the onset of depression. The coexistence of these disorders makes it more difficult to treat. It also makes it important to get medications and therapy that impact both conditions positively. Otherwise, the treatment for one might cause worse symptoms of the other condition.
The legalization of medical and recreational marijuana has led to an increase in research. There’s still a lot we don’t know about how the drug works. A lot of what we do is based on what people who have used the drug for years have found. Some features of marijuana use are based on user experience. The problem with that is that every person’s experience isn’t the same. A lot of people swear by the effects of smoking marijuana for anxiety relief. Others experience more anxiety after they use it. Some have more success with certain strains or doses than others. That makes it harder to predict the outcome on a person-by-person basis.
The more we learn, the more valuable the drug will be for doctors treating a range of conditions. Currently, researchers are looking into the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for depression. While the results remain inconclusive, there is potential for future sufferers who experience both depression and anxiety.
Although marijuana is typically considered a sedative, its effects vary because of the biological systems of the body. One of the most common side effects is anxiety.
Marijuana for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another type of anxiety disorder. PTSD often occurs after traumatic events and it manifests in panic episodes, sleep disturbances, and severe levels of anxiety. Treating this type of anxiety disorder with marijuana often has good results. Using cannabis before going to bed helps sufferers fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. It also helps suppress nightmares. Like other forms of anxiety, PTSD is best treated with high levels of CBD.
Marijuana for Social Anxiety Disorder
This anxiety disorder is another area of controversy related to treatment with marijuana. Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is the intense anxiety or fear of negative evaluations or rejections in social settings. The disorder is also a phobia since it involves the fear of being in certain settings.
Like other anxiety disorders, this one can cause a rapid heart rate, intense sweating, and nausea. People with SAD are at an increased risk of developing a major depressive disorder and often start abusing alcohol. The potential for developing alcohol and substance abuse disorders is one reason for the controversy.
Also like other anxiety disorders, long-term studies on the use of marijuana for treatment are lacking. On the other side of the coin, only a small percent of those with symptoms ever seek traditional medical treatment.
Many experts recognize CBD as a viable treatment for SAD when administered over a short period of time. Many people with the disorder are less likely to avoid social situations when using marijuana is an option.
Tips for Using Marijuana for Anxiety
If you’ve used marijuana in the past and it increased your anxiety, it’s probably best to pass on it as a cure for anxiety. You aren’t as likely to get the results you want.
If you just want a way to relax before a big event, using marijuana might have the calming impact you want. The process by which marijuana alleviates anxiety is still a mystery. But there are some things you can do to enhance your experience.
- Don’t start with the intention of using it long-term. If you have signs and symptoms of GAD, see your doctor. There could be an underlying cause that requires medical treatment. Don’t ignore symptoms of anxiety and fear that interfere with your quality of life.
- Do your research on the different strains of marijuana available. Also, learn the different components and how each one contributes to anxiety or to calm. Those with a sedative effect are more likely to give you the desired results. The difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana isn’t just how the plant is used. It’s also the way different strains affect you. Generally, those with a higher THC to CBD ratio are more likely to increase anxiety. Those with a lower ratio may reduce anxiety, but there’s no guarantee.
Indica strains are usually more relaxing whereas sativa strains are more stimulating. Some of those sold as indica still cause anxiety symptoms in some people.
- Consider using CBD oil instead of smoking cannabis. CBD lacks the THC that gives marijuana its psychotropic effects. It has been proven to reduce anxiety more effectively than other cannabis products. Experts believe it might even make an effective treatment for addiction.
- If you’ve recently started experimenting with marijuana for anxiety, tell your doctor. Now that it is available legally, there’s no reason to keep your use to itself.
- The effects of oral products (tinctures and edibles) are slower. That can make dosing marijuana for anxiety a little more difficult. If you choose these types of products, start with smaller doses. Then, adjust depending on how they work for you.
- The legalization of marijuana also makes it easier to be selective about the products you buy. Buyers have safer options so they get quality products that don’t pose unwanted risks. There’s still not enough research to get guaranteed results. But there is enough to help you make good choices in the strains of cannabis that will help you get relief from anxiety.Anxiety makes life more challenging for many people. When you’re ready to try cannabis for anxiety, contact Left Coast Collective for the best cannabis products for your needs. Our range of products includes flowers, pre-roll, vape, concentrates, and edibles from some of the top brands in the industry. We always strive to deliver a high quality experience to every customer!